The Role of a Ranch Management Company

By: Justin Bryan

Historically, the most reliable predictor of a successful farm, ranch, or recreational operation is a competent, honest, and qualified management team. This team should have the owner’s interests at heart and possess the attributes necessary to effectively manage the property. In the end, their oversight of the property and relationship with the owner will have profound long-term implications toward the success of the property and ultimately influence those who may desire to purchase it in the future.

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The real pleasure a landowner receives from ownership is obtained when he/she is confident that the property is being properly supervised.  When this occurs, the owner, family, and friends will be able to enjoy it as intended both from the operational and the recreational point of view. The enjoyment of ownership is what we term the “psychic return” and is a significant part of the “return on investment” derived by the landowner. Each landowner has his or her own unique needs – large and small – and matching those with the correct management system is the key to successful property management.

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For the on-site landowner who is consistently present and knowledgeable regarding rural property management, the ability to guide the daily tasks and develop valuable relationships with the staff creates a healthy environment to thrive upon.

In contrast, many rural properties are owned by on-site individuals who lack a real understanding of the unique aspects of rural property management. This can often result in poor overall performance of staff at which point ownership ceases to be enjoyable. A common example of this would be a situation in which the principal managing family member passes away and an inexperienced family member is required to fulfill the duties. Then there are the true absentee landowners. This inherently creates the most challenging situation for staff and owners to communicate clearly. Often the managing director of an absentee-owned property is an estate executor or a successful business person who, although accomplished in their chosen field, lacks knowledge in real-world rural property management. Procuring the right people in place who “ride for the brand” and perform their job as expected can come in a variety of forms to meet the requirements of each type of landowner.

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In terms of management, each type of landowner is afforded a few options regarding administration and on-the-ground labor. Their requirements might involve simply livestock and/or agriculture, or they might involve a mix of livestock, wildlife/fisheries and the maintenance/restoration of buildings. These choices include traditional staffing, farm and ranch team consultants, or a hybrid mix of traditional on-site staff with consultant oversite. Each of these staff options have pros and cons and must be evaluated by landowners whose needs are unique unto themselves. The selection of the system that best fits the owner provides the opportunity for the “return on investment” – either psychic or financial – that is desired.

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Traditional Staffing

It is a unique individual who chooses to be a beneficial source of labor and knowledge on a rural property. Ranch employment is not your average everyday eight-to-five job and, therefore, necessitates a high-level of personal commitment.  Be it a livestock guy or gal, wildlife biologist, or all-around ranch hand, reliable and competent employees are a must. To alleviate poor hiring choices, those individuals who are well-vetted by someone who truly understands what is required on the property and knows the owner’s expectations often have the best opportunity to succeed. These individuals provide a stable platform upon which a property can thrive. The relationships that can be built between an owner and long-term staff are rewarding as both entities work in conjunction to develop the property and see it flourish over time. Staff turnover, when it occurs, can, unfortunately, be the most expensive, stressful, and time-consuming issue in farm and/or ranch ownership causing the enjoyment of ownership to begin to wane.  If and when employees leave, they take with them the comprehension of what is actually required to permit a property to operate efficiently and effectively – from water systems to haying, livestock to bill paying, to hunting operations. Their knowledge of the property derived from a long tenure can be challenging to replace.

Farm and Ranch Team Consultants

Acquiring the services of a rural property management firm is an option available to landowners, especially absentee landowners or estate executors who desire to immediately have in place a proven team focused exclusively on their needs. This independent focus allows the firm to work with and typically mentor the on-site staff, and it allows them to always be part of the solution for the landowner and never part of the problem. A firm such as this can effectively manage the increasingly complex federal and state environmental regulations, changing national and world markets for livestock, crops and timber, critical water and mineral rights issues, and tax considerations on any given property. The firm’s experience with multiple successful operations gives them a high level of current knowledge and practical expertise for these details to be dealt with correctly and in a timely and professional manner. In this situation, the owner/executor is assured that the property is being taken care of properly. In addition, a history of professional management is, without a doubt, a major advantage if and when the decision is made to sell a property.

Hybrid Management

A hybrid management scenario occurs when a landowner desires to have competent staff on-site in combination with supervision expertise from a management firm. This allows for the management company, which has extensive exposure to a diverse array of operations, to provide operational oversight on a broad spectrum of ranching enterprises while the boots on the ground fulfill the daily tasks. A hybrid system is commonly utilized by all three types of landowners who desire to maximize profits and minimize potential headaches.

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Desirable Management Services

  • Budgeting, accounting and bill paying
  • Creation and execution of natural resource development and business plans
  • Asset evaluation including land, equipment, structures, herds, crops, fish, wildlife, and other tangibles such as the human resources available
  • Product sales and marketing services
  • Recruitment and hiring of management level personnel
  • Direct management and/or consultant services to staff
  • Periodic oversight of operations
  • Direct management of deeded properties, leases, and grazing allotments

Such services are most often chosen a la carte per the landowner’s needs. These can be as complex as the cost-benefit analysis of financing farm equipment, restoration of wetlands and/or native grasslands, or habitat mitigation credits. Or as simple as periodic oversight, bill paying and monthly reports or consultation with or mentoring of staff.

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Managing quality rural real estate properties, be it commercial farms or ranches or prime recreational retreats, can be a daunting challenge. This is particularly true for absentee owners, but even full-time resident owners can often benefit from the outside perspective of an experienced farm/ranch management firm. Ultimately such services should ensure that details of the property are being properly taken care of to allow the landowner to fully enjoy his/her property with family, friends, and business associates.

Hall and Hall is one of the few companies that provide management services and the recruitment of management level employees on behalf of landowners across a broad geography and property type. Please feel free to contact one of our offices if we can be of help. It is the stated purpose of our management group to make the ownership of rural land a positive and worry-free experience for our clients.

 

Elk Hunting on Montana Ranches

By: Keith Lenard

September is the cruelest month. The crisp autumn air hearkens nostalgically and golden aspens beckon us to the mountains during still-long days. For the first time this year, the light lengthens and falls softly across the broad Montana river valleys, setting off a riot of glinting sparkles across our pristine trout rivers. Snow dusts the tips of close peaks like whip cream on a sundae. Elk bugle in the high country and majestic herd bulls round up large harems of cows. And the wind just shifted and sent the whole lot running down the mountain.

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It’s not over, you tell yourself. There are plenty more elk in them there hills and you shoulder your pack and go searching for the next magic moment. Over the years, I’ve had the privilege to hunt many of our listings during bow season. The Dempsey Creek Ranch and the Hoover Creek timber property are just a few that can be mentioned. In fact, I got my first archery elk on Dempsey Creek, courtesy of the gracious new owners that had just acquired the property to continue their family’s legacy of cattle raising.

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Montana ranches for sale in our current inventory offer a multitude of exceptional properties with abundant, private elk and deer hunting opportunities. In western Montana, the Sula Peak, Warren Peak, Miller Lake and Lone Cypress Ranches each offer exceptional solitude and scenery, not to mention large elk. In central Montana, properties such as the Bull Mountain Ranch, Lippert Gulch and Elk Basin fill the bill. The IX Ranch, a legacy offering that is also rich in cattle-raising history, provides some of the best elk hunting in the world, with a hunt area that offers some of the most coveted permits in Montana. Colorado and Wyoming ranches for sale offer an equally rich and diverse opportunity to purchase your own wildlife nirvana.

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Regardless of whether you’re a hunter or just a wildlife enthusiast that marvels at the seasonal ritual of jousting monster bulls, Rocky Mountain ranches for sale provide a smorgasbord of rural land investment opportunities that will provide you and your family endless memories of sapphire skies, snowy mornings and bugling elk.

I haven’t managed to get my elk so far this bow season. Although I’ve been within 50 yards of elk every single day that I’ve been out, I haven’t managed to close the gap into bowshot range. I guess the cruelty and wonder will continue.

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Buying a Ranch vs. Resort Life

By: Jim Taylor

This is the classic dilemma for a family looking to make an investment that will double as a place for the family to convene. How often does one hear from members of families that have had family retreats of one kind or another “we loved it” “we went every year” “everyone in the family came”. These are places where memories are made and they often represent the “glue” that holds a family together.

So, do you buy a place in a private residential community/resort or do you buy a family ranch? If you opt for a classy resort like the Yellowstone Club, Aspen or Jackson, the cost is likely to be about the same even though the ranch might have hundreds or thousands of acres for every acre one buys in the resort.

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Put very simply, a resort is a place where one goes to be entertained. A ranch is a venue where one can entertain oneself.  The resort is the easy answer because there is something there for everyone, from a latte to all forms of cultural and social entertainment. In this day and age of people having the ability to be instantly gratified, it is difficult to sell anyone on the concept that there is value in waiting and working for one’s gratification – much less selling the entire family on the concept.

Every successful development has been forced to become family friendly – to serve all the generations. Family offices set up to service the needs of extended families are proliferating and are reported to have over $4 Trillion in investable assets. Family offices are the obvious home for these types of investments and they tend to impose an important discipline on the process of making the resort versus ranch decision.

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The bottom line we would contend is that the resort “investment” choice is hardly an investment. The bulk of any resort property is generally tied up in a structure which tends to either depreciate or require a high level of maintenance. All expenses related to ownership are not business expenses – rather they come out of after tax income. The real difficulty is that during periods when the families’ use of the property is limited, the maintenance goes on.

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A family ranch, on the other hand, is a true investment in itself. The family is buying a piece of land at its lowest use that, quite apart from being loaded with wildlife, is being operated as a cattle ranch. Land of this type is in increasingly short supply and there is growing demand for the high-quality protein it produces. These factors cause it to have a high probability of increasing in value. The fact that it is beautiful and might have a trout stream passing through it is simply an added bonus that allows its owners to derive a lot of pleasure from being on it.

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The benefits for the coming generations of children to appreciate nature and experience the ranching life style is impossible to calculate. And, if there is a period when the family does not use it, a ranch has a productive life of its own. In fact, there is really no comparison between ranch life and resort life. While compelling and stimulating, resort life is not real.

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Motherwell Ranch Profiled by Fly Fisherman Magazine

A couple years back Motherwell Ranch, a newly listed Colorado ranch for sale, was profiled by Fly Fisherman magazine in a story titled “Colorado Fishing Motherwell Ranch.” The ranch raises the bar as Colorado’s foremost multidimensional mountain ranch. Spanning an enormous block of contiguous deeded land, this 10,350+/- acre sporting paradise is distinguished by its unmatched combination of exceptional privacy, diverse landscape, abundant water, plentiful wildlife and ideal location.  Here are some excerpts from the story:

Atop the mountainous terrain that forms the horizon sits one of the country’s most luxurious fishing lodges. Right out its front door—at an altitude of 8,400 feet—is one of two superb trout lakes, the crown jewels of the 6,500-acre Motherwell Ranch. The ranch also has other smaller lakes and beaver ponds, and a 31/2-mile section of the Williams Fork of the Yampa River.

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Dream Lake (near the lodge front door) is a 20-acre lake stocked with brown, rainbow, cutthroat, and brook trout ranging from 18 to 24 inches. These thick trout eat adult damselflies in July, traveling sedges in August, and Callibaetis and midges on most ice-free afternoons. In late summer they cruise the grassy north and east shorelines looking for errant grasshoppers.

With so much food at or near the surface, these fish are extremely surface-oriented. Even when nothing appears to be going on, a Parachute Adams, Dave’s Hopper, or small Stimulator will pick up fish regularly. When the hatches are heavy, the normally calm surface of the lake boils with fish, and a more exact hatch-matching pattern can bring a strike on almost every cast.

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The real brutes of Motherwell Ranch are less than a mile away in the 30-acre East Lake. While drys will take fish at East Lake, most of the big fish are taken with subsurface patterns. This lake is filled with minnows and olive scuds, and obese rainbow trout weighing over five pounds are a common daily catch. Eight-pound trout will hardly raise an eyebrow. Woolly Buggers, Clouser Minnows, and olive scuds are the preferred patterns, and every boat is stocked with them.

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While you can wade the shorelines at Motherwell Ranch and cast to rising fish, most of the fishing is done from 12-foot prams with electric trolling motors. Guides give on-the-water casting lessons to those who need them, as well as operate the boats, tie on flies, and direct your casts.

The fishing is not difficult on the lakes, and even novice anglers can succeed with short casts and attractor drys, or by trolling a Woolly Bugger. It’s a good place to learn fly fishing, and the lodge has quality tackle to outfit guests.

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The Williams Fork of the Yampa River is a small stream (about 30 feet across) that flows through the ranch and has rainbows and Colorado River cutthroats from 14 to 22 inches long that ambush an Elk-hair Caddis or Turk’s Tarantula in river corners and riffles. The stream fishing is more difficult, but the fish are just as willing. The best time to fish the stream is after July 4, when snowmelt runoff subsides.While the Motherwell Ranch has excellent trout fishing, what sets it apart from other destinations is the service and accommodations. The ranch is one of many owned by Las Vegas construction tycoon Wes Adams—one of the biggest landowners in the West—and he spared no expense in building the ranch’s log cabins.

motherwell-092 The log-and-stone lodge has a great room, three deluxe suites, complete wet bar, dining area, game room, and TV area. While outside is a wild, sportsman’s paradise, the inside is almost too posh to be called a lodge. The daily cuisine is prepared by an experienced chef. The Grand Suite has a 50-square-foot shower built with imported Italian marble, a cast-iron bath, and two private balconies. The cabins have views of 100 miles to the north and east, and no lights can be seen after dark.

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For nonfishing guests, there is horseback riding, hiking, mountain biking, and sporting clays. More than 1,000 elk gather in the meadows below the lodge. In the fall, the ranch offers trophy elk hunts.

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The IX Ranch—No “Fixer Upper”

The IX Ranch is not a ranch requiring more capital expenditures after its purchase. It’s not like the situation often found among ranches for sale, a place that’s been let go because the owner is “over it” and has fallen off in his ranch maintenance, repair and reinvestment.

For example, it’s haying season in North Central Montana. Equipment needs to be in top condition to get through weeks of cutting, raking, bailing, hauling hay on fields over the ranch’s many miles. So, the IX just spent close to $300,000 on new haying equipment. It recently arrived on the ranch and includes a number of items from a $25,000 rake to a $120,000 tractor.

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Four Bear Ranch Profiled by LA Times

Four Bear Ranch, a 1,246-acre Cody, Wyoming mountain retreat and hunting property once home to “Gunsmoke” writer Ron Bishop, was recently profiled by The Los Angeles Times. While the article incorrectly states that Bishop owned the ranch, he did live in the Olive Fell house courtesy of the Weiss family – the owners of the Four Bear Ranch at that time.

An excerpt from the article reads:

“Set within a basin adjoining the Shoshone National Forest, the ranch has art and literary ties that precede Bishop’s ownership. Printmaker, painter and sculptor Olive Fell once owned the property, which has a guesthouse named for the noted artist. Adding to its pedigree, author Ernest Hemingway purportedly visited the ranch on a number of occasions.”

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Four Bear Ranch is an exceptionally convenient, easily accessible but totally private wilderness retreat near one of Wyoming’s sought-after communities. The ranch has a complete and totally appropriate set of improvements sited in one of the most dramatically beautiful locations imaginable. Wyoming’s status as a tax haven with no state income and inheritance tax cannot be ignored as well. It should also be noted that there are no conservation easements on the ranch, nor are there any other easements through the ranch.