Beef/Cattle Extension Program
Eickhoff Family Ranches, Grass Range
have been progressive with stock water development
partly out of necessity because of drought."
by Dave Phillips, MSU/Fergus
County Extension Agent
Starting with six cows and a bull on Upper Flat Willow
Creek in 1937, the Eickhoff Family Ranches were founded
by Roy and Mildred Eickhoff. They acquired their first
deeded land in 1948 and have grown steadily since.
Roy and his family came to Montana in 1917. As a teen,
he worked on area ranches. Roy's father, Theodore, requested
"TE" as his brand. The brand office arbitrarily
added an "X" so one of the ranch brands still
used today is "TEX." Mildred's father, William
Spicher, homesteaded in northwest Mussellshell County
in 1910. That original homestead has been owned by the
Eickhoff family for the past 25 years. Roy and Mildred
were married in 1935. Roy died in 1995 at the age of
88. Mildred, now 86 years 'young,' is still actively
involved with ranch operations.
The family now runs three separate operations: Elk
Creek Cattle Company (Lyle and EDee Eickhoff); the Mike
and Patti (Eickhoff) Vlastelic Ranch; and the Eickhoff
Ranch, owned and operated by Wayne and Ginger Eickhoff,
their son Allyn and his wife, Tiffani, and their children,
Lukas, 4, and Makenna, 2. Another daughter, Meri Mainwaring,
lives in Broadus where she is a teacher and her husband,
Earl, is a banker.
Horses are a big part of Lyle and EDee's operation,
and their children are very active in college rodeo.
Darcy competed at the National College Finals Rodeo
last year; Ross is nationally ranked at present.
Mike and Patti's children are JoDee, a teacher in Terry,
and Jamie, studying business administration at MSU-Billings.
Wayne and Ginger's oldest son, Ken, and his wife Brenda
live in Denver. Ken is a CPA with the State Credit Union.
Wayne has served on the Grass Range School Board, the
Fergus County Weed Board , and is currently a member
of the governing board for the Central Montana Medical
Center in Lewistown. Mike is a member of the Grass Range
School Board and serves as a volunteer on the Grass
Range ambulance crew and the Grass Range Fire District.
Mike also is an owner/operator with "Agri Business
Resources," a distributor for Moorman's Feeds,
headquartered in Bozeman. Lyle continues to be very
active with the local high school rodeo association.
Wayne calls the ranch an "old fashioned, traditional
cow-calf operation" comprising about 17,000 acres;
about 90 percent is deeded. The ranch includes about
3,000 acres of cropland and approximately 900 mother
cows. Currently, all cropland is devoted to the cattle
operation in hay, feed grain or improved pasture. Wheat
was eliminated about five years ago. Until recent drought,
300 to 400 calves were backgrounded each year. The cows
are black-hided with a few faced cows as a result of
the Hereford background used prior to 1970. Eickhoff
Family Ranches believe in retaining replacement heifers.
All cows are raised and are one-iron cattle. "We
take advantage of the powerful genetics available in
central Montana," says Wayne. Calving starts around
March 1 with calves marketed around Oct. 25, usually
by private treaty. All three operations pool cattle
to make load lots for marketing. The video auction has
been used for marketing calves. Beef Quality Assurance
(BQA) practices are followed on the ranches; all calves
are pre-conditioned and weighed either at the ranch
or Grass Range (4 miles away) at the time of sale.
For many years, 325 cow/calf pairs were trailed to
the Little Snowy Mountains for summer pasture. In 1991,
the ranch did a land trade that "blocked holdings
in the Grass Range area. In the past, horses were a
big part of the ranch For many years, 12-15 colts were
raised each year.
How does your ranch differ from others in the
"We are probably more traditional,"
says Wayne. No artificial insemination is used. Pregnancy
testing is done on the yearling heifers in the fall;
older cows are not usually pregnancy tested unless feed
supplies are in "dire straits." The ranches
are run with minimal purchased inputs. The goal is to
maximize pounds of production while minimizing purchased
inputs. Almost all labor is provided by the family,
and the three families trade around within themselves
and with neighbors to get the work done.
What has been your most effective management
strategy in recent times?
The ranches have worked hard to convert leased land
to deeded land that is more consolidated and closer
to Grass Range. "We have been progressive with
stock water development partly out of necessity because
of drought. We've drilled four wells and constructed
about 10,000 feet of pipeline with another 3,000 feet
scheduled for this year. We've also developed numerous
springs," said Lyle. The ranch has cut cow numbers
by about 10%; in 2001 a group of cows went to outside
pasture. The plan was to sell the cows before bringing
them back home, but the market dictated they come home.
Even with the transportation, "we came out OK,"
says Wayne. Hay meadows are grazed more extensively
in the dry years. "We're usually able to cut some
hay anyway after the rains, regardless of when the rains
come," says Mike. Wayne adds, "a lot of what
we do is dictated by environmental and climatic conditions,
especially the drought. We balance the bills with the
cash flow." Mildred adds, "You do what you
have to do and always pinch the pennies so you can buy
more land when it is available and if we need it."
"We also use the local Extension Service for nutritional
guidelines. Most recently, a class by Dr. Paterson on
various feedstuffs and how to achieve the lowest cost
while still meeting body condition score goals on the
cows was a big help," according to Wayne. The ranch
has used a lot of high protein tubs during the dry summers
to supplement the dry grass and short grass conditions.
What is your biggest challenge?
For Mildred and Roy, it was the growing family how to
make it possible for their children to be a of the Eickhoff
Family Ranches. Lyle, Mike and agree that, even today,
the inter-generational transfer of ranch property is
a big challenge along with planning and the inheritance
tax. Environmental management is not necessarily a challenge
but something that needs to be done. "I don't think
are tough on the environment," says Wayne, "but
environmental concerns are going to continue to cause
a cost squeeze." In the Grass Range area, as with
many areas of the state, the competition for land by
non-ranching interests has driven land prices up to
the point where it isn't practical to expand, and pasture
rent is getting prohibitive. Agricultural operations
can't buy land based on the productive potential and
capability of the land. "It seems we always needing
to increase in size to have economy scale," says
What do you think are the biggest challenges
to the livestock industry?
Competition! "I'm worried that the cattle industry
is going to get too much competition from the American
countries, namely Brazil, much on the of soybean competition
now," says Wayne.
Questions & Answers is a joint project between
MSU Extension and the Montana Beef Council. This column
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promotion and research projects funded through the
$1 per head checkoff. For more information, contact
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