Saturday, December 11, 2004

Auction Sales with Lynn Sanders

Auction Sales with Lynn Sanders

Twenty years ago Lynn Sanders had an old late-40’s model International truck with a low-boy trailer. Lynn and Rick took off for an auction in Roundup and that thing never got over 35 miles per hour. They stopped and cleaned the carburetor and set the points; even so, could not get the darn thing to run well. But they made it to Roundup and Rick bought an old baler and a 3-bottom spinner plow. Could get the baler started but the drive belt was in bad shape so it did not have enough traction to drive it up into the trailer. They had two boomers and a half length of chain and worked until they could wench that thing up there one-quarter inch at a time until we had it on the trailer. Only Lynn and Rick would ever attempt anything like that.

It is the baler Rick uses to this day. Son-Jay was still in high school then and he is in his 30s now. Paid $2900 for it and then brought it home and put in another thousand dollars worth of belts. Six months later they went to another auction and Lynn bought the very same model baler. He paid $3000 for his in better shape and only twenty miles from home. Just got in it and drove it to his house. He is lucky that way.

For two decades Lynn and Rick have been going to auction sales and having a grand time buying stuff and then trying to decide how to use it. They’d drive down the road together and pretty soon they’d have everything figured out in the whole world. How to raise their kids and everybody else’s, make politics work and the economy go. They had it all under control. I don’t know how to explain it…they just really connected. Somehow ranching gave them a common bond; their philosophical bents were similar. They found it fascinating and fun to buy old equipment and then keep it running.

But those who know Lynn are drawn to more than simply his ingenuity …there is something about Lynn and his wife Julie that I call inherent goodness. That goodness is found in every one of their family members. It is hard to think of anyone with more fond thoughts than I have when thinking of Lynn and Julie Sanders.

It is a privilege to call the Sanders friends.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Undaunted Stewardship

Undaunted Stewardship

The coffee pot is on. We spent the afternoon sitting around the ranch house kitchen table discussing long term goals…talking about our role as good stewards of the land… to preserve and improve the land … the roots are deep and the conversation is serious. Rick is the 5th generation in his family to think about the next season’s challenges as he tries to make a living in production agriculture. Like his father before him, Rick ponders how he will be able to pass it on to the next generation.

Another cup of coffee and more paper work later…Rick proclaims in his usual no-bullshit manner: “The bottom line is the bottom line… You can’t starve a profit out of a cow and you must take care of the land if you expect it to take care of you.” That is his way of explaining his goals to remain economically viable … to follow ecologically sound practices and to leave the land in better shape than it was when he became responsible for it over 25 years ago.

It is as though all of a sudden…”we looked around and discovered that we are all on the same page.” It is unique because some of these groups have historically been on opposing sides and now they are coming together…historic, conservation and agricultural groups agreeing…we need to spread the word about good stewardship…And this program, the Undaunted Stewardship Program, is a way to recognize the Montana’s farm and ranch families who are preserving Montana’s open space and scenic beauty while producing food and fiber using agricultural practices that are environmentally sustainable.

Last summer a local Boy Scout Troup camped on our ranch near the old Duck Creek School House as they followed Clark’s trek along the Yellowstone. Montana is where the Corps of Discovery spent more time than anywhere else. Today thanks to generations of agricultural stewardship, these historic landscapes still look largely the same – more so than in any other state. Our goal: to keep them that way. Undaunted Stewardship Certification recognizes those who help keep them natural, productive – and agricultural.

Other Montana ranch families are having these same discussions. They want to tell their story… and ideas have progressed to reality resulting in the development of what has become one of the largest partnerships in the state…the Undaunted Stewardship Program. It is a partnership between Montana’s agricultural and conservation organizations and individual ranch families. Led by Montana State University, the Montana Stockgrowers Association, and the Bureau of Land Management … ranchers are working to preserve Montana’s history, environment, and rural communities by encouraging sustainable stewardship of private agricultural lands. Sixteen other organizations complete the public/private partnership … from CattleWomen, to Woolgrowers … from the Wilderness Association to the Grain Growers… from the Governor’s Office to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Office.

Monday, October 18, 2004

University’s Environmental Studies Program visited the ranch

Graduate students from the University’s Environmental Studies Program visited the ranch:

Senator John Esp, Professor Tom Roy and a number of his graduate students

In letters of thanks dated October 18, 2004, Professor Roy wrote:What we do as educators should enable students to become critical thinkers and I don’t know that I have had a richer experience in seeing students appreciate and utilize their thinking capacities than we did [at Crazy Mountain Cattle Company] in Big Timber.

I can say with certainty that each of us returned to Missoula with a much fuller and I hope deeper understanding of ranching-farming in Montana and I think I can safely say a common agreement with you and your neighbors that keeping agricultural land in production is essential to Montana’s future.

I know that we all came away with new perspectives on land conservation easements and the controversy surrounding reintroduction of the wolf into Yellowstone National Park. Indeed on our drive back to Missoula we spent the four hours discussing the wolf. I wish you could have been there. Among the five of us there were a range of opinions about what should be done and varying degrees of sympathy for ranchers and the wolf. But all agreed that ranchers had to have the tools to succeed in keeping their ranch operations viable. I don’t think we would have had that same conversation driving to Big Timber.

For me the most exciting part of our visit was the realization driving home that students were thinking independently…that they had listened and been open to new perspectives and had recognized the limitations of what they had presumed to know. When we got to Missoula I told them that the most important thing that they could do in the years ahead was remember these three days and our discussion and never forget to challenge accepted “wisdom” no matter from what side it came.

Two of the students came in today to ask if they could use a class period to share their experiences in Big Timber with those in the class who could not come. I said certainly and they shall focus upon their new understanding about land conservation, wolf reintroduction and noxious weed issues. I can assure you that the voice of the rancher will be heard in a way we have not articulated before.

I believe that what we are about in Environmental Studies is building healthy communities. The environment is one piece of such communities…as are jobs, good schools, a sound economy, adequate health care etc. I wish I was smart enough to know all that healthy communities require and how we insure such communities across Montana. I am not. But I do believe that meeting and spending time together as we did is the beginning of learning and figuring out how we can keep Montana a special place for all of us and I am going to propose to the university faculty that we plan a similar adventure to Big Timber for next year. I would like to think that our conversation has just begun.

The students join me in the sincerest thank you we can extend.

Appreciately, Tom Roy,
University of MontanaDirector Environmental Studies Program
Missoula, Montana

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Montana ranchers offering paying guest bunkhouse hospitality

Montana ranchers offering paying guest bunkhouse hospitality

October 10, 2004

By Jeff WelschBozeman Chronicle Sports Editor

Rick Jarrett and life-partner Karen Searle call it "metamorphosing to something radically the same."
Fellow cattle ranchers Leo and Lois Cremer warily view it as a way to salvage a lifestyle dating back to the era when their families came to the sweet-grass country in wagons.

With similar skepticism, neighbors Kenny and Donna Laubach see it as a chance to put a favorable face on their culture while learning about other cultures they may never experience.

The three Sweet Grass County families, along with five others scattered among the hayfields and coulees, have undertaken a unique venture they hope will sustain a fading lifestyle for themselves, their children and grandchildren.

They're calling it Montana Bunkhouses, a co-op of eight vast spreads offering paying guests authentic ranching experiences.
· One has the classic cattle drive.
· Another has lambing and raises pheasants.
· Another has calving by day and trout fishing on the Yellowstone River by evening.

Still another combines the total ranching experience on 6,000 semi-arid acres with cabins tucked into remote corners of property overlooking the Boulder River valley.

"Each ranch is so unique," said Searle, who hatched the concept at an agriculture conference in Europe two years ago.

"It's, 'What would guests enjoy most?'"

If all goes as planned, guests eager to escape the rat race and reconnect with the land will call Searle, a.k.a. The Matchmaker, for the working vacation that suits them.

The selling point, one they're still not convinced will actually take root, is this: Montana Bunkhouses is not to be confused with dude ranches, where guests retreat in luxury, have guided fishing/hunting and ride "tail-to-head" on somnambulent horses.

"The intrigue is what we do is real," says Jarrett, a fifth-generation rancher who lives with Searle in a century-old home on 2,500 acres in the shadow of the Crazy Mountains on Duck Creek.

And their goal is, for them, a poignant one:

"Being in a position to pass it on to my kids," Leo Cremer said. "If I screw it up, my kids won't have the opportunity."

Tough times are not new for family ranches.

Even as beef prices reach all-time highs, operating costs have skyrocketed and ranch hands are nearly impossible to round up.

Government regulations seem to change hourly and the reintroduction of the wolf hangs over them, real or imagined, like an ominous cloud.

The seven-year drought has forced innovative and expensive searches for water.

Corporations and wealthy out-of-staters are gobbling up land as ranching families grudgingly sell increasingly valuable property they can't afford to inherit.

Searle was laid off from her job at the Livingston hospital. Lois Cremer and Donna Laubach were forced to seek 9-to-5 jobs in Big Timber to make ends meet.

"You look at the books at the end of the year and you scratch your head," Leo Cremer said. A

dds Kenny Laubach, who owns 3,000 acres with two miles of private access to the Yellowstone: "The banker does, too."

Hope surfaced when Searle traveled to Spain to promote a kids cow camp. A woman there, hearing Searle's story, asked why she hadn't considered a co-op similar to the popular European Farm Holiday model.

When Searle returned, she and Jarrett scribbled the concept on paper, determined to remain true to authenticity and to limit stays to one family or group.

Jarrett and Searle, an affable couple whose steady stream of hearty laughter belies their constant challenges, made a list of fellow ranchers they deemed suited for Montana Bunkhouses.

"We were real careful about who was doing it," Jarrett said. "We wanted a cohesive group."

The Laubachs and Cremers were skeptical, first about bringing the outside world into theirs and then about people paying to help out with ranch chores, wade to their hips in irrigation ditches and be up to their elbows in calf placentas -- possibly in sub-zero weather.

"You could get the wrong guests and say, 'why the heck am I doing this?'" said Laubach, brother-in-law of Montana State men's basketball coach Mick Durham.

Not even assurances from bunkhouse members Terry and Wyoma Terland, who for nine years have charged nearly $2,000 for summer cattle drives, allayed the early doubts.

"You guys will be surprised what people will pay to do," Wyoma Terland insisted. "There's so much romance and spirit. It's a life-altering experience for most people.

" Perspectives began to change when Travel Montana sent Montana Bunkhouses six travel writers, including one from Sunset Magazine who stayed with Jarrett and Searle.

The writer was eager, his wife wasn't. While he spent an entire day working on fencing and irrigation, she went antique shopping.

The next day, buoyed by his experience, he coaxed her into helping with the project.

She stayed all day.

"I never got on the four-wheeler without her after that," Jarrett said. "She loved it. It was an eye-opening experience for her and us. It gave us the confidence to go forward."

A television crew from Taiwan was similarly engrossed. And then came a family from the East and a 12-year-old boy who was on Cremer's heels like the family pet for nearly a week.

They have also had guests from Europe.

"You meet wonderful people and they become friends," Wyoma Terland said. "They don't leave as strangers.

"And we show people back East that we're not all out decimating the land or killing the wolf."

Thus far, business has been slow.

Montana Bunkhouses has a Web site, bought an advertisement and distributed brochures, but as lifelong ranchers treading new ground they're not even sure their pricing is right.

"We're kind of flying blind yet, really," Leo Cremer said.

Their hope, of course, is that the concept flourishes. Other ranchers around Montana have contacted them, but thus far there are fewer clients than bunkhouses.

At this point, at least, the ranchers are beginning to embrace the idea.

"I'm proud of our lifestyle," Donna Laubach said. "I wouldn't mind showing it off."

But the primary reason for this "metamorphosis to something radically the same" is heard through the voice of Jarrett's 8-year-old granddaughter, Jordan, who, along with 5-year-old brother Jess, clearly is at home on the range.

"Papa," she said to Jarrett recently, "I'm going to buy this land from you, just like your dad."

Montana Bunkhouses Working Ranch Vacations LLC

Ten Sweet Grass County ranch families work cooperatively to provide a unique vacation experience. Enjoy the opportunity to meet and get acquainted with authentic Montana ranch families. Montana ranch hospitality at its best. Ranch experiences vary by the season and include everything from riding the ditches with the irrigator to haying and fencing. Lambing and calving in the spring. Bird watching and hiking and photography in every season. Read a book in the shade of the tree next to the babbling brook or have another cup of coffee at the ranch house. See the Charlie Russell sunrise and experience the sunsets. Move cattle to summer pasture or be part of the fall round up. Live the old west ranch experience.

Lodging, meals and ranch activities are included in the working ranch vacation rates. Accommodations may vary from private bunkhouses or guest bedrooms in the ranch house to vacation home rentals. You can even choose to stay in a sheep wagon or a tipi. Ranch vacation rates vary from $150 to $200 per person per day based on availability of seasonal and family rates. Rates for vacation home rentals or a luxuriously furnished bed and breakfast (with or without the option of working ranch activities) vary from $50 to $200 per night. There is a three-day minimum stay for the working ranch vacation.

Contact Karen at Montana Bunkhouses Working Ranch Vacations, LLC, to request more information or to make a reservation with the ranch family most suited to your interests whether they be cattle, sheep, horses, farming, history, hiking, wildlife, fishing or hunting. Don't be confused by all of these options. Just call Karen, she knows what each ranch has to offer and she will help you find the ranch vacation that suits your interests and fits your budget. Email: or phone her in the office at 406/222-6101 or at the ranch 406/932-6719.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

“The wolf is knocking at my door.”

“The wolf is knocking at my door.”

The wolf is knocking at my door...says he.
The wolf is knocking at my door ... says she.

That was the first verse.
Now we sing:
The wolf is in the kitchen eating my supper.

Just about noon today the phone rang and it was the cowboy (Cort) who stays with the cattle at the grazing permit on Taylor's Fork.
He had been out moving a bunch of cattle and heard an awful racket.
Cattle bellerin.
He went on high to investigate and got there just in time to count 12 wolves.
They had the cattle all bunched up in a corner.
He fired a few warning rounds and the wolves left and the cows seemed ok.
but a closer look turned up a dead calf.
He headed for the closest spot that he could get cell phone coverage.
A three hour ride.

Rick told him to go back and tarp the animal to keep it from the ravens.
And he started making phone calls.
Within a half hour he had the district "wolf guys" headed to cow camp to verify the kill.
They had to drive from Helena and planned to meet Rick near Bozeman
...turns out they had just walked in the door from a trip to Deer Lodge where they were trapping problem wolves.

Saundra caught horses.
I packed the cooler with food.
Rick packed his 270.

More phone calls.
The wolf guy had to call the grizzly bear guy so they could get a helicopter to fly over and locate the grizz with her cub...
the one that most certainly was headed for the dead calf and would not appreciate Rick and his fellow investigators poking around her "dinner".
One of the state investigators had a saddle but no horse.

Saundra caught more horses.
I packed more food.
Rick calmly assessed the situation: Well...we've been lucky up until now.
But today we weren't so lucky.

In less than three hours Rick was out of cell phone range and i have nothing new to report on the wolves.
I'm home holding down the fort.
I called the horse shoer who dropped everything and drove to the ranch.
He just left after shoeing 4 more horses.
In order to keep the cattle will be a 24/7 effort.
More than one man or one horse will be up to...especially in this heat.

We depend on the mountain simply bring the cattle home before our 90 days of grazing are up would mean less winter feed here at the home place.
And the question looms....will we even be able to go to the mountains with the cattle next year.
Hard to say.
Hard to say.

And that is the ranch report.
Instead of going from the frying pan to the fire....
We went from the fire to the wolves.

Tuesday, June 1, 2004

Reconnect With Your Inner Cowboy in Montana

Reconnect with your inner cowboy in Montana!

Sunset Magazine Article, June 2004
Mountain States & Southwest Editions
By Jeff Phillips, Senior Travel Editor

The sun, barely up, cast long shadows over the 3,000-plus acres of the Crazy Mountain Cattle Company, just west of Big Timber, Montana. Rancher Rick Jarrett and I had headed out early to irrigate a hay field in much the same way his grandfather did when he settled here in 1908.

As we plunged our shovels deep into the banks of an irrigation ditch, clear, cold water spilled into the field of alfalfa that brushed our rubber-booted legs. Jarrett paused to reflect on the realities of modern ranching: "this is what cattle ranching in this part of Montana is all about.....I'm as much of a hay farmer as a cattle rancher. Hay is money in the bank. It keeps our cattle and us going through the winter."

That is, it helps. These days beef alone does not pay the bills. Which is why Jarrett, his wife, Karen Searle, and nine neighboring longtime ranchers started Montana Bunkhouses Working Ranch Vacations last year.

"Our co-op is not a dude ranch, and it's not for everyone," Searle says over a breakfast of eggs, elk sausage, and apple strudel French toast. "It's for families that want to experience first-hand what we feel is a romantic way of life that's rapidly vanishing from the West. Our hope is that guests will want to experience what real ranching is all about."

Visits aren't limited to just a single ranch. One morning my wife, Jill, went birding at a neighboring ranch while I fly-fished a private stretch of river. We met for a late-afternoon horseback ride, devoured a hearty dinner with Searle and Jarrett, then tumbled, deliciously tired, into bed.

After all, I needed to be up early. I would be saddling up at dawn with Jarrett to do the chores that keep a working ranch working.

"Working the range near Yellowstone."
The 10 ranches of Montana Bunkhouses Working Ranch Vacations are all in Sweet Grass County, just off I-90 near Big Timber, Montana. A vacation here can easily be combined with a visit to Yellowstone National Park (about 90 miles south) and an exploration of Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail. The nearest airports are in Bozeman (61 miles west) and Billigns (81 miles east.)

Activities: Visits are custom-tailored to match guest's interests with activities at any of the member ranches. For example, you can help with the lambing in the spring, try summer haying, or join a fall cattle roundup--or you can just go horseback riding every day.

Accommodations: Bunkhouse ranchers limit guests to one family or small group at a time on each ranch. Lodgings range from comfortable private cottages and upgraded bunkhouses to ranch-house guest bedrooms, tepees, or even a sheepherder's wagon. There are also vacation-home rentals.

Cost: From $200 per adult per night (ask about family rates), including lodging, meals and activities; three-night minimum stay (reservations required).

Contact: or

Sunday, February 29, 2004

Woman’s Best Friend

Woman’s Best Friend
Dedicated to Maggie, the Horse with a Huge Heart
By: Saundra Searle, age 15

It has been said that dogs are man’s best friend, but what about the friend of a woman? It has always been understood that there is a special connection between horses and woman. Stories are told about the unconditional love and trust shared between a woman and her horse. Numerous quotes in the Bible and elsewhere mention the companionship and compatibility between a horse and its female friends.
I feel privileged to say that I have this same connection. I am lucky enough to be loved and trusted by many of these majestic animals. Unlike myself, who has always had a connection with horses, my sister Lisa spent the first 17 years of her life pushing them away. She never had an interest or bond with them…not until Maggie came along.
When we first met Maggie she was a waif, skin and bones, and frightened of life. Not only had she been starved and pushed around by the other horses, she was pretty badly abused too. Normally all of this would have killed the spirit in such an animal… not Maggie. She still had a fire burning inside her and a spark in her eye. It was this flame that drew us to her, this courage that gave us hope. We brought her home and gave her promise of new life.
As time passed, we watched her grow both mentally and physically. Her skeleton filled out with muscle; her eyes became round and expressive. And she developed a personality that few could resist. We all loved her.
Although Lisa had gone off to college, Maggie was her claim on the ranch. She drew Lisa back during the summer, holidays and long weekends.
The once scraggily three year old filly matured into a beautiful mare under our care. When she arched her neck, lifted her tail, and galloped across the pasture, it was hard to not get a lump in your throat. She looked so beautiful and she was in high spirits. Maggie loved life on the ranch.
Saturday, February 28, Maggie was rushed to the vet’s. Mom had found her down in a draw, her left front leg swollen up three times the size of her right. Wondering how she would ever get Maggie up the ridge let alone into the trailer, Mom slowly picked out a trail for Maggie to follow and headed her toward home. That little horse showed true bravery and trust, limping up the hill, left leg extended in from on her, too inflamed and too sore to touch the ground. Putting all her energy into each step, Maggie made it slowly in to the trailer.
On inspection the horse doctor found a puncture wound driving two and one-half inches just above the hoof line. Worried about complications, he started IV antibiotics and kept her overnight for observation. We all said our prayers and waited to hear from him. No one had a good feeling about how things would work out but her courage gave us hope.
Sunday night, February 29th, there was a phone call from Kirk. We had won the battle, her foot looked much better. But we had lost the war. Maggie had died from blood poisoning; the infection had spread to her brain and killed her.

Maggie was never actually my horse, but I had fallen in love with her, as did everyone who rode her. Jumping logs in the underbrush, moving cows in the mountains, or galloping home from a run around the barrels at the rodeo; Maggie put her heart into everything she did.
Maggie was Lisa’s horse and the woman’s best friend. No one who knew her will ever forget that little sorrel mare, with her big sparkling eyes and her life-sized forgiving heart. It is hard to say goodbye to a friend but fortunately her memory lives on.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Rascal-dog’s Adventure

Rascal-dog’s Adventure

Rascal had an adventure today.
Rick thought he might have to save his life.
But he was a coward.

Rascal has spent the fall and early winter chasing four or five Swainson Hawks. They play team tag and mock him…flying just close enough that each time he gives a little jump into the sky thinking he will catch one as it swoops by. Then that one soars away as the next one dives in from another direction.

Long about 3:30 this January afternoon when Rick was heading down to the sheep shed to carpenter…he saw something out in the plowed field. Looked like a good sized dog or something big moving around. He drove right out there to inspect, drove within 30 yards…close, real close and just stayed there and watched. It was an eagle--A Golden Eagle--just sitting there on the ground.

Well…Rascal looks over and sees this eagle on the ground and he thinks…wow…this is my lucky day! He tears in after the eagle that by this time has begun to flap his wings and hop.

Rick begins to ponder…wondering what is going to happen. Will the dog be killed…or will he kill? What is going to happen? The eagle continued to flap and hop. As Rick put it…the eagle had eaten too much…he was overloaded…listing…needed to dump one tank!

When an eagle flies, they go downhill…so this eagle was trying to get some altitude and hopped toward the edge of the field with Rascal chasing him…right on his tail. Then the eagle stopped, turned around and tried to fly. He was airborne for maybe 40 or 50 yards. So low that it looked like he was going to bonk right into the wheel line but in the end, went under the pipe. That flight wore him out and he stopped.

Rascal ran right up to the eagle. No more than two or three feet apart. Just looking at each other, nose to nose. Pretty soon, Rascal turned and walked back over to the pickup. He went about his own business, leaving the eagle alone.

I wondered if the eagle was sick and Rick said no. Just full. Real full. Ranchers have seen that before where the eagle will try to get on a hump … maybe walk clear across the field to get up to the upper end…and then fly away just like nothing ever happened.

Rascal had an adventure today.
Rick thought he might have to save his life.
But Rascal was a (smart) coward.