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Beef/Cattle Extension Program

Rancher Profile: The Griffin Ranch, Custer County

By Kent Williams, Custer County Extension Agent

Describe your operation.

"Their goal is to produce a feeder calf that will be ready for slaughter in the April market."

Located east of Miles City along the Powder River, the Griffin Ranch is owned and operated by Buford and Phyllis Griffin and their sons Bill and Don. Bill is married to Ronda, and they have one daughter, Amy. Don is married to Pam, and they have three daughters, Nicole, Brooke and Callie. The families work well together.

The home place was purchased in 1967 and they have added land to their holdings four times since then. The ranch currently consists of 23,040 acres of deeded land and 12,800 acres of BLM and state leases. Soon after purchasing the original place, work began with diking and leveling ground along the river to expand their feed base with irrigation. In 1977 the Griffins planted corn for silage for the first time. The ranch now has 500 acres under irrigation, which is planted to corn and alfalfa.

In 1977 the weaned steer calves weighed 469 pounds and the heifers 429. The next year they began warming up their calves with home grown feeds and selling them in April at 650 pounds. The current program is weaning calves early, getting them on feed and selling 900-pound calves in January. All calves are sold in mid-January with the heavy steers delivered immediately and the lighter steers and heifers delivered the first of February. They are able to do this with their mostly English/Continental cross cattle. Breeding is Angus and Simmental, and care is given to select bulls for low birth weight and high yearling weight EPD's. The ranch currently runs around 800 pairs and 100 replacement females.

How does your ranch differ from others in your area?

The Griffins feel that a major difference between their ranch and many in southeastern Montana is the irrigated feed base. Good quality alfalfa and corn silage have allowed them to sell backgrounded heavy feeder cattle in a seasonally higher market. Their goal is to produce a feeder calf that will be ready for slaughter in the April market.

What has been your most effective management strategy in recent times?

While technology has done a great deal for everyone in agriculture, there is no substitute for hard work and doing as good a job as possible with the basics. Doing the right things at the right time is critical to the success of their ranch. Timing is everything when it comes to planting, irrigating and weaning calves. They need to be there picking up calves when they are dropped into the snow with -25o conditions. This management style can lead to times of high intensity, but family members deal well with it as long as it doesn't last too long.

What is the biggest challenge to your operation?

Water quality and quantity in the Powder River are critical to successfully grow the crops for their feed base. This tends to be an annual battle for the ranch and they always need to be ready to irrigate when the opportunity presents itself. The Griffins also struggle with having enough labor to get work done properly and on time.

What do you think are the biggest challenges to the livestock industry?

The Griffins are very concerned about the amount of animosity within the livestock industry and feel it is full of conflicting viewpoints that have hurt the unity of the industry. Two issues of concern are the potential loss of the Beef Checkoff and the Johnson Amendment banning packer ownership of cattle. While this may sound good on the surface, it is their opinion that it may backfire. In the Griffins' situation, for the last several years, buyers from two major packers have bid against each other in an in-house video setting at the local sale barn and bid several dollars per hundredweight above the going market for their source-verified, non-implanted, and BQA certified feeder heifers. The buyers take these cattle and finish them to fit their needs in the hope that a high percentage of them qualify for high-end labeled products. A packer ban would end some of these labeled programs just as they appear to be taking off and creating an increase in beef demand. This ban would also eliminate buyers for everyone at the sale barn.

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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