Broker Visit to Ranch at Rock Creek

By: Bill McDavid

Last week I was invited out to The Ranch at Rock Creek to be interviewed as part of an upcoming story that will be aired on French TV. While there, a great opportunity presented itself to film a rodeo from the air. Montana is looking pretty green as we approach summer. Just a few days ago there was a couple of inches of fresh snow on top of this grass. It’s a great time of year to be a Montanan.

The Ranch at Rock Creek Rodeo from Bill McDavid on Vimeo.

The Last Cowboy Song

By: Jim Taylor 

Having grown up amongst cowboys on a ranch in southern Montana, I was moved by a video I was introduced to on YouTube entitled “This Is The Last Cowboy Song” by Kirstie Lambert. Kirstie provided the photography and the song – Last Cowboy Song – is by Ed Bruce. Kirstie is a disciple and student of the late David Stoecklein whose photographs of ranches and the people who own and work them are legendary. She put this together for him in the last days of his life.

The thought that this way of life might be ending is sad. It is sad because this was a breed of men and women where the work was an end in itself – not a means to an end. The cowboy ethic included concepts such as a man’s word is his bond; one always does more than his share so as not to be beholden to others; and you always ride for the brand.  I never became a cowboy but I have always tried to live by the cowboy ethic and have tried to pass those concepts on to my children.

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I have sold ranches for 45 years this month and I have to believe that there is a good chance that the wealthy men and women who buy ranches these days will embrace these concepts and ensure that their children and grandchildren are well exposed to them. I am pretty convinced that you don’t need to be a cowboy to appreciate the many lessons that life on a ranch can teach. And let’s hope that the men and women who live this creed will continue to do so and provide an example for all of us to follow.

Modern Women in Western Ranching

By Dennis Higman:

The number of farms and ranches operated by women has more than doubled since 1978. Today, according to a recent United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) report, more than 300,000 women serve as principal operators on 62.7 million acres in the United States, producing some $12.9 billion in farm products.  What the USDA report doesn’t tell us, however, is who these women are, where they came from, and what motivates them to take an active, leading part in what has traditionally been a male dominated industry.

Women have always played an essential role on farms and ranches, of course, but as Larry McMurtry, author of Lonesome Dove, puts it in the introduction to Tough By Nature, Portraits of Cowgirls and Ranch Women of the American West, by Lynda Lanker, while the cowboy has always been romanticized, the role of women has largely been ignored “by the simple method of stereotyping.”

In fact, with the exception of The Big Valley, a popular ABC television series in the 60’s staring Barbara Stanwyck as the dominating owner of the Barkley Ranch, there are few current portrayals of women involved in ranching today, fictional or otherwise, that go beyond that stereotype.

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Jael Kampfe’s family, on her mother’s side, founded the Lazy EL Ranch.

Not surprisingly, many of the real life women behind the USDA numbers have ties to the land going back generations, an independent nature, and a strongly held set of ethics and values based on that background.  Beyond that, however, they are a diverse, unique group of individuals who have bridged the gender gap, one way or the other, each in her own way.

Jolly Tyler owns and operates the Hayrack Ranch on the Little Big Horn River near Wyola, Montana, running cows and sheep.  She’s been there for 42 years.  She and her late husband, Lyle, raised a boy and two girls on the Hayrack, located in what Tyler describes as one of the most fertile valleys in the world with “tall grass and very little sage,” but a place that can be harsh in the winter. Ninety or more inches of snow is not unusual.

Tyler’s great grandparents, the Spears, came west in 1874 and moved into the Little Bighorn area only a few years after Custer’s Last Stand.  Her husband’s father, Bud Tyler, had the second oldest herd of Herefords in the country, and the Tyler family started raising polo ponies during the Depression which turned out to be a profitable business.  Bud Tyler rode competitively into his 80’s.

Jolly Tyler is outspoken about the role of women in ranching.  “Let’s face it, a ranch like this is a family operation and women are a big factor, so are the kids.  We never hired help except on an interim basis; we did it all ourselves.  Women have a natural maternal instinct that extends to animals which is pretty darn important when your entire livelihood depends on the health and well-being of your stock.”

She also sees involvement in the day-to-day activities of ranching as a great learning experience for people of all ages.  Over the years, in addition to raising their own children on the Hayrack Ranch, the Tyler’s hosted other family members, friends, and students from as far away as Switzerland for periods ranging from a couple of weeks to several months (their oldest daughter once coached basketball in Switzerland).

Today Tyler continues this tradition because she enjoys it and believes it teaches people from different backgrounds invaluable lessons about life.  “On a ranch, you have to know exactly where you are and what you’re doing at all times.  Getting lost or careless is dangerous.  You have to be alert to sudden changes in the weather, to be prepared for the unexpected, and figure out how to deal with it on the spot.  Knowing how to tie basic knots in a crisis is not a trivial matter on a ranch, it’s a skill that can literally save your life.”

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Women have always played an essential role on farms and ranches.

Margie Taylor was raised on a neighboring cattle ranch; she and Jolly Tyler are still good friends. Unlike Jolly, however, Taylor left the Big Horn country after the 7th grade for boarding school and graduated from Stanford with a BA in Anthropology and eventually went to the Kennedy School at Harvard, specializing in energy and environmental policy.   “I always wanted to learn more about ranching and animal husbandry and stay in the West,” she recalls, “but I found it difficult for a woman.  There was no clear path and very few mentors.”

After college Taylor went to work for a vet back in Montana to learn as much as she could about animals and even managed a feed lot on the family ranch for a time, but eventually went east to work as a lobbyist for the Burlington Northern in Washington D.C.   She spent 11 years there as the Vice President of Legislative Affairs, handling all non-railroad issues including natural gas, pipelines, and forestry.

Still looking for ways to get back to ranching in the West, when Burlington reorganized, Taylor jumped at the opportunity to go to work as second-in-command of Ted Turner’s domestic ranches, headquartered in Bozeman, MT.  During her almost ten-year tenure there, Turner’s holdings grew from six to fifteen ranches comprising some 2 million acres (supporting more than 45,000 bison), making him the largest private landowner in the United States.

“It was a great chance to make good use of my education and background in agriculture and energy policy,” Taylor says.   “Every property and landscape was different and it was a delight to be involved with an operation owned by a man like Ted who looks a hundred years down the road and not only cares about the economics, but also for the responsible development of land and its natural resources.”

After working for Turner, Taylor helped the Bozeman Animal Shelter reorganize and become a leader in its field, a labor of her love for animals that brought her full circle from her days on the family ranch and at the veterinary clinic. She’s retired now and devotes her time to public service, volunteering for the local land trust and serving on the Board of the Wyoming Nature Conservancy.

Pat Millington, a Stanford graduate, grew up a long way from the outback of Wyoming and Montana, but her father owned large ranches in California and Arizona.  The family was involved in horse breeding and her brother, Edwin Gregson, trained the 1982 Kentucky Derby winner Gato del Sol.  Millington’s mother died when she was two, and she was raised by her uncle, Bill Janss, the Olympic skier and developer who owned the Snowmass Resort in Colorado before moving on to buy the Sun Valley Resort in Idaho.

That was how Pat Millington ended up buying the 550-acre Susie Q Ranch in Picabo, Idaho, located on historic Silver Creek, one of the premier trout fisheries in the West made famous by Ernest Hemingway.  “I always wanted to raise my kids on a ranch so I just bought it,” Millington says matter-of-factly. “My father said it looked like ‘starvation acres’ to him.  Bill Janss said it was a mess. I said I could fix it!”

As it turned out, Millington was—and is— very good at fixing rural properties, putting in the hard work required to improve them and then running them successfully.  When she was finished, the Susie Q Ranch was fenced and cross-fenced with 37 individual horse paddocks, a 12,000 square foot indoor riding arena, and an owner’s lodge.  In addition to horses, she also raised cows and farmed potatoes, hay and barley.

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Pat Millington owned the 550-acre Susie Q Ranch in Picabo, Idaho.

Once Millington had the Susie Q in hand, she went on to buy another property in need of care, the Selway Lodge in the middle of Idaho’s 1.3 million acre Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness.  Among other improvements, she installed solar power, planted 2,500 fruit trees and completely redid the lodge and guest cabins.

“When Pat got done, it looked like something out of a Ralph Lauren ad,” says Hall and Hall’s Stoney Burke.  “But it wasn’t just beautiful, she turned it into the premier wilderness property in the United States.”

Millington no longer owns either property and currently lives with her daughter, Poppy, and her family on The Nighthawk, an organic farm south of Bellevue, Idaho.   But she’s still looking at other properties where she can engage her talent and experience.

Betsey Baxter, a 4th generation Montana rancher, never really seriously considered being anything but a rancher like her parents, grandparents and great-grandparents who founded a ranch in Two Dot, about 90 miles west of Billings, Montana, at the turn of the century.  In her words, the “ranch bug” bit her early on and never let go.

“I always wanted to be my own boss, I never liked to take orders, I like to make my own choices, to do things on my terms and live with the consequences.  Ranchers have to confront what comes along, make a decision and deal with it.  Despite friends and neighbors who might help now and then, basically you’re on your own.”

With that in mind and armed with an MBA from Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, Baxter bought a 15,000 acre ranch near Miles City, Montana with her mother and sister and went into the cattle business. They recently sold the ranch after 19 years.  It was a rewarding experience in many ways, she notes, but it wasn’t an easy way to make a living.

The most rewarding part was the life style.  “I always enjoyed the people I worked with,” Baxter says, “there was a genuine sense of community. That’s a very hard thing to find anywhere else these days.  And I’m so very glad my son John was raised on the ranch in his formative years.  It gave him the experience of working with all kinds of people, taught him to respect his elders and enabled him to master a lot of practical things you just don’t learn in school.”

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The number of farms and ranches operated by women has more than doubled since 1978.

When you run a big ranch, she notes, you have to integrate and manage a wide diversity of elements, any one of which can potentially get you in big trouble. “There’s the biological part, the range science that involves integration of land and animals and then there’s the all- important economic part – how you convert your assets into making a living.  You have to know what’s going on, be on your toes each and every day, know what the market is doing, what it’s likely to do and then there’s nature -unpredictable fires and floods and bad weather.”

Ranching can be a very trying, lonely life at times, Baxter says. “Sometimes when you’re out there in the winter on a tractor and you can’t even see the loader in front of you, you realize there’s nothing between you and the Arctic Circle but 4 strands of barbed wire.”

Owning and operating a big western ranch in this day and age – particularly a legacy ranch that goes back generations where ownership involves multiple family members – can present additional challenges. Jael Kampfe’s family, on her mother’s side, founded the Lazy EL Ranch in Roscoe in 1901. It is one of Montana’s great ranches. Although she was raised only 20 miles away in Red Lodge, MT, she spent considerable time at the Lazy EL and her paternal grandparent’s ranch, both of which were close by.  When an opportunity to become the next Lazy EL General Manager emerged, Kampfe threw her hat into the ring.

In addition to her familiarity with the ranch and its operation, she was also a Yale graduate and had years of business experience running a highly successful rural development foundation. But she had to earn her way into the job. Kampfe spent six months as “Operations Manager” and several years as “Interim General Manager” before becoming the first female General Manager of the Lazy EL Ranch.

Kampfe rolled up her sleeves and went to work, using her business experience to clean up systems and organization and clarifying decision making as best she could.  As a result, profits improved. After five years, she was able to negotiate a short term lease on the ranch enabling her to exercise greater control over its operation while strengthening the family’s focus on asset management.

Cowboy Photography from Lazy El Ranch in Roscoe, MT.

When an opportunity to become the next Lazy EL General Manager emerged, Kampfe threw her hat into the ring.

Kampfe’s business model included a successful custom grazing operation involving 2,300 yearlings and growing a “working cattle ranch” recreational business that introduced guests from all over the world to Western history, tradition, horsemanship, and the ethics of land management and conservation. “We even made sure the food reflected the place,” she notes. “What we didn’t grow ourselves, we bought locally and we brought in great chefs to cook it.”

The influential people she met in the recreational end of the business and their receptivity to her ideas about the importance of preserving this Western experience on a large scale for future generations has pushed Kampfe to move on to the next challenge, partnering with investors to innovate a more holistic approach to conservation impact investing. Based on her observation that there are a limited number of buyers for large multimillion-dollar legacy ranches, Kampfe came up with a business model to allow multiple, like-minded investors to share the resources and values of large intact ranch properties on the scale of the Lazy EL.

Kampfe’s model involves the incorporation of four key elements she considers essential to achieving this goal: conservation of the environment and landscape; a recreational and working agricultural component; and a traditional connection to and support of local communities. Thanks to the contacts she made through the “working cattle ranch” guest business, Kampfe is growing her investor pool to begin purchasing suitable ranch properties.

Making this vision a reality won’t be easy, but then nothing any of these modern women in the Western ranching community have done, or are doing, falls into that category. But these are not shy, retiring people and chances are they will succeed at what they set their minds to because, as Lynda Lanker’s portraits of ranch women in the American West demonstrates, they are, above all, “Tough By Nature.”

Billionaire Businessmen Buying Up Rocky Mountain Ranches

By: Jim Taylor

The underlying theme to last Friday’s Wall Street Journal story entitled “The Cowboy Moguls” is that ranchland is recognized as an investment class asset by many wealthy individuals and the fact that it is fun to own has not gone unnoticed. A part of the untold story is that Hall and Hall represented one or both sides of three of the four “biggest ranch deals” mentioned in the article and they have been quietly involved to one extent or another in the majority of major ranch sales over the last 25 years. Of course it goes almost without saying that the other untold part of the story is that, for us, this is not news.

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We have recommended ranchland and farmland as an investment class asset since the 1970s. We began working with now deceased billionaire Earl Holding of Sinclair Oil and Sun Valley in 1983 to put together his ranching empire, which is still carried on by his family. He was followed by Lee Hirsch, founder of U.S. Surgical Supply which held the patent for the surgical staple, and who we represented in building and subsequently disbanding a cattle empire that quickly grew to be one of the 20 largest cattle operations in the U.S. Ted Turner followed in the 1990s and we helped him accumulate what was once the largest private land holding in the U.S. – now second largest. New entries to the market like the Wilks brothers bought their first 175,000 acres in Montana through Hall and Hall and continue to employ us to assist them in the management of their growing ranching empire.

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This is a trend that continues with the recent Wall Street Journal recognition of some of the new players in what has been going on quietly for a long time. We are honored and proud to be a part of the story. If one looks at the fabled castles and estates in Europe and the United Kingdom that have been passed down within families for centuries, it is easy to understand what is going on here. We are not sure what the thoroughly overused term “legacy ranch” means but these individuals are undeniably building legacies for their families. [see full WSJ story]

April Snow Helps Montana Ranches

by: Randy Shelton

At the beginning of each year, many weather records automatically reset, such as the annual rainfall and snowfall numbers. But, one thing that doesn’t reset is an ongoing drought. Montana suffered from a devastating drought in 2012 with many farmers and ranchers feeling the effects. Many  Montana ranches are in dramatic need of moisture.  NOAA reports that 47% of Montana is experiencing abnormally dry conditions while 34% is still in a drought so bring on more snow and rain.

Above average precipitation fell across central and north central Montana during the last months of 2012, which helped ease the drought situation on ranches in that area. However, for southern parts of the state the drought continues.  I am happy to report that a wide swath of moisture moved through a large part of Montana Sunday night and additional moisture is expected through Tuesday April 9, 2013. Several Montana ranches, including the Circle T Ranch in Absarokee and the Shane Ridge Ranch in Joliet were fortunately in the path of the front and received nearly half an inch of moisture.

April snow on a Montana ranch.

Hall and Hall Partner Opines About Montana Conservation Easements

Bitterroot ValleyThis week, Montana’s newspapers sported headlines touting the use of federal dollars for the purchase of conservation easements in the Bitterroot Valley. The Bitterroot is one of our favorite Montana valleys, offering a fantastic mix of outdoor adventures, all in a location with easy access to a broad array of cultural opportunities including theater, fine dining and the University of Montana.

kootenaispringsThe Kootenai Springs Ranch, for example, offers two miles of Bitterroot River frontage, abundant wildlife including a resident elk herd and teaming populations of waterfowl all within a five minute drive of a latte and fine baked goods. Because of its broad appeal, however, the valley has been subject to more severe development pressures than most of its Montana brethren. The arrival of conservation easement funding serves testimony to this fact. While I certainly don’t know all the details of the specific transactions highlighted in the papers this week, my 15 years in non-profit conservation and my direct involvement in over 40 such transactions provides some insight. [Read more...]