Moving Day

Moving Day

A horse, a rider, a herd of mooing cows and the weather are four components of Montana ranching. Twice a year, on nearly every ranch in the state, wranglers move their herds from summer range to winter range. Then, in the spring, they move them back in the other direction.

This series chronicles the cowboys and researchers of the Northern Agricultural Research Center in Havre, Montana as the moved a herd of 400 cows from summer range in the Bears Paw Mountains thirteen miles to NARC winter pastures in January of 2016. There, they wintered, calved and were studied for a variety of things, including the effects of nutrition on on calves and the quality of beef. Results from the research at the center are used to improve the quality of commercially raised beef throughout Montana. 

 
Before morning breaks, a tractor drops round bales of hay at a rendezvous point on the Thackeray Ranch, the summer range for a herd of 400 cows that will be moved 13 miles to the Northern Agricultural Research Center where they will graze, calve and be studied. The lead cow follows the slow-moving tractor, and the rest of the cows fall in line.

Before morning breaks, a tractor drops round bales of hay at a rendezvous point on the Thackeray Ranch, the summer range for a herd of 400 cows that will be moved 13 miles to the Northern Agricultural Research Center where they will graze, calve and be studied. The lead cow follows the slow-moving tractor, and the rest of the cows fall in line.

January might seem like an odd time for a cattle drive, but Darrin Boss, superintendent of the NARC and Montana State University research professor of beef cattle nutrition says that frequent Chinook winds on the property clear the 3,960 acres of grazing land of snow and ice on the ranch and provide ample forage into January.

January might seem like an odd time for a cattle drive, but Darrin Boss, superintendent of the NARC and Montana State University research professor of beef cattle nutrition says that frequent Chinook winds on the property clear the 3,960 acres of grazing land of snow and ice on the ranch and provide ample forage into January.

The NARC cattle drive is held each January, so wind can make a real difference. A head wind can quickly turn an eight-hour day into an 18-hour day. Fortunately for wranglers such as Delyn Jenson, caretaker at MSU's Thackeray Ranch in the Bears Paw Mountains that serves as summer range for the MSU herd, the wind came from the side the day they crew moved 400 head of cattle from summer range at 5,000 feet elevation to their winter home at the NARC. The favorable wind was welcome for the time savings, but it also felt, somehow, warmer than 6 degrees.

The NARC cattle drive is held each January, so wind can make a real difference. A head wind can quickly turn an eight-hour day into an 18-hour day. Fortunately for wranglers such as Delyn Jenson, caretaker at MSU's Thackeray Ranch in the Bears Paw Mountains that serves as summer range for the MSU herd, the wind came from the side the day they crew moved 400 head of cattle from summer range at 5,000 feet elevation to their winter home at the NARC. The favorable wind was welcome for the time savings, but it also felt, somehow, warmer than 6 degrees.