Beef/Cattle Extension Program
Rancher Profile: Louie Petrie Cattle Company
Sonny and Nellie Obrecht; Sam, Linda, Tyrel and Sydney
Mike Schuldt, Blaine County Extension agent
greatest management challenge is to make the right
decisions to hold the genetics that grandpa and
dad developed without sacrificing the farm."
Like most Montana producers, managers of the 45,000-acre
Louie Petrie Cattle Company near Turner have had to
take drastic measures to cope with the drought.
Describe your operation.
This family-owned cow-calf operation is located near
Turner, Montana on the Saskatchewan border. The Louie
Petrie Cattle Company is operated by Sam and Linda Obrecht
in partnership with Sam's parents, Sonny and Nellie
Obrecht. The ranch has been owned and operated by this
family since 1901 and with Sam's son Tyrel helping out,
it is in the fifth generation.
in Mutton Hollow of Woody Island Coulee, the ranch began
as a large sheep operation and was primarily stocked
with sheep until the mid-1950s when Nellie's father
took over half of the ranch and stocked it with cattle.
The other half was stocked with both sheep and cattle
until Sonny and Sam purchased it and brought the ranch
back under one ownership.
Currently all of the sheep have been replaced with
850 black Angus cattle on this 45,000-acre ranch. The
ranch includes both deeded and BLM leased pasture in
conjunction with 220 acres of irrigated hay ground and
up to 600 acres of dryland hay depending on the year.
Sonny has had the cattle in an intensive A.I. program
since the early 1960s, and the yearlings have been bred
using synchronization techniques for 20 years. This
has led to a herd with consistent premium genetics and
has allowed the Obrechts to keep, feed and successfully
market replacement heifers to increase their income
The BLM has been a good partner in the operation, with
the leased land working well into the rest-rotation
pasture system. Each of the two BLM units is divided
into seven pastures, with six pastures grazed each year
and one rested. To optimize grazing potential, each
rotation is timed so that the pastures are grazed at
a different stage of the growing season each year. Water
improvements and improved grass variety seeding have
enhanced the grazing value of the deeded pastures .
How does your ranch differ from others in the
One of the major differences is the lack of crop aftermath
or stubble for fall pasture. The grazing rotation has
had to provide for sufficient fall pasture while many
local ranchers can take their stock to stubble after
weaning to relieve pressure on the pasture land.
What has been your most effective management
strategy in recent times?
This area is in the fourth year of one of the worst
droughts in history. Currently our moisture is at 44%
of normal for the year, and this has caused management
to focus on drought survival strategies. In 2001, early
weaning took the stress from the short pastures and
allowed condition to be replaced on the cows. Other
successful strategies include developing additional
water sources and moving half the cows off the ranch
to leased grass in Nebraska.
What is your biggest challenge?
DROUGHT!! Managing through the short-term drought
crisis has forced Sonny and Sam to make decisions that
normally wouldn't be considered. The decision to truck
a portion of the herd 905 miles away has been difficult.
But this strategy is designed to hold the genetics that
have been developed through 40 years of A.I. breeding.
When weather conditions change, the ranch will still
be able to offer the high-quality replacement cattle
that they have built a reputation around.
The grass condition on the ranch is critical with short
moisture and one of the coldest springs on record. Supplemental
feeding was necessary in mid-May, not a common practice
for this area. The large dam that collects the irrigation
water for the ranch has been dry and unable to supply
sufficient livestock water since October 2001. The outlook
for 2002 is bleak, even with just 420 pairs left at
The greatest management challenge is to make the right
decisions to hold the genetics that grandpa and dad
developed without "sacrificing the farm."
The ranch must remain financially sound so when the
drought breaks, the ranch can rebound and resume business
as usual. It is very difficult to pay debt on land that
is not producing while having to pay for the pasture
to replace that production.
What do you think are the biggest challenges
to the livestock industry?
One of the greatest challenges that we face is the
increasing role that radical environmentalists play
in the development of livestock management policy, especially
when it relates to public lands grazing. Public policy
changes are increasingly more costly for livestock operators.
Conservation easements purchased by public agencies
are one such policy that in the long run will work against
the production agriculture business. Sam feels selling
an easement is selling off part of the ranch, reducing
the asset value of the property. This decreases the
overall health of the ranch business.
Another challenge that all production agriculture businesses
face is increasing overhead costs without a proportionate
increase in income. Over the years, agriculture as a
whole has seen increased efficiency bigger machines,
more automated forage harvesting and better feeding
systems to make up for this discrepancy. We have efficiently
reduced our communities to a skeleton of what they used
to be. Ranches no longer need the hired help and the
families that come with them, and farms are larger and
have displaced the small family farm that sent kids
to the Turner school. The challenge is to balance production
so that we keep our community healthy.
Questions & Answers is a joint project between
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