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> Department > Home > Beef > Beef/Cattle > Profiles
Beef/Cattle Extension Program

Eickhoff Family Ranches, Grass Range

"We have been progressive with stock water development partly out of necessity because of drought."

by Dave Phillips, MSU/Fergus County Extension Agent

Describe your operation.
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 area?
"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 Mike.

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.

Beef: Questions & Answers is a joint project between MSU Extension and the Montana Beef Council. This column informs producers about current consumer education, promotion and research projects funded through the $1 per head checkoff. For more information, contact the Montana Beef Council at (406) 442-5111 or at

View Text-only Version Text-only Updated: 08/14/2009
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