Beaverhead Ranch Sale Ushers in a New Era of Agricultural Stewardship
Experts Journal — News

Beaverhead Ranch Sale Ushers in a New Era of Agricultural Stewardship

December 12, 2021 | Hall and Hall

Today

The headline from the Wall Street Journal reads… “Media mogul Rupert Murdoch and his wife, Jerry Murdoch, have purchased a Montana cattle ranch spanning about 340,000 acres from Matador Cattle Co., a subsidiary of Koch Industries.”.

Heralded as the largest ranch deal in Montana in both size and price, the Beaverhead Ranch represents far more than a transaction.  In assuming ownership, Mr. Murdoch finds himself as the steward of not only an iconic property, he becomes a voice in the future of agriculture in the U.S.  “This is a profound responsibility,” Mr. Murdoch said through a spokesman. “We feel privileged to assume ownership of this beautiful land and look forward to continually enhancing both the commercial cattle business and the conservation assets across the ranch.”

Beyond the transaction is an understanding of the true impact of the deal on ranch sales, conservation, and the future of agriculture.  Focus on just the numbers and you miss the true “value”… the true “worth” of the Beaverhead Ranch.  Let’s dig deeper into the story by looking at the history of the Beaverhead Ranch.

beaverhead ranch cattle

Photography provided by Kenton Rowe

The Historic Beginning

Telling the story of the Beaverhead Ranch will take a book, or a few.  Luckily we have one such book available, Rich Grass and Sweet Water, written by John Lincoln who went from bookkeeper to president of the Matador Cattle Company.  An entertaining and humorous account of modern-day ranch life on several of the largest ranches owned by the Matador Cattle Company.

beaverhead ranch barn

Photography provided by Kenton Rowe

The almost fabled-seeming story of the Beaverhead Ranch begins with Phillip Poindexter and William Orr.  In 1865, Orr drove a portion of the herd into Montana but unable to winter near Bannack, he trailed their cattle into the lower Beaverhead on Blacktail Creek.  Amazed at how the cattle flourished on the highly nutritious and varied native grasses, Orr and Poindexter, over the next two years, trailed their remaining herd from Shasta Valley in California to the Beaverhead Valley until they had their entire stock business located along Blacktail Creek. The P&O Ranch was established covering 30,000 acres raising beef, sheep and draft horses.

Among the 50 or so active brands in the state when the central brand housing was established in 1873, the Masonic square and compass brand was the first registered in the Montana branding book.

beaverhead ranch brand

Koch Beef Company’s Matador Cattle Company purchased the ranch in 1951, and over the next 70 years built the ranch through innovation and excellent business practices to the astounding place it is today.   Spanning 50 miles from north to south the ranch is an expansive 340,000 acres, 113,000 of which are deeded acres and includes grazing rights on approximately 226,000 leased acres.  Winning numerous environmental and ecological awards, Koch Industries continually strived to work with personnel to create an extensive and profitable cattle ranch while benefitting and enhancing the native ecosystem.

Rotational grazing was introduced benefitting both the ranch and the local ecosystem.  During this period the number of elk swelled from 56 to 400 (the ranch is currently home to around 4,000 elk, 800 antelope and 1,500 mule deer) while the weight and number of cattle increased.  Efforts were also driven in selective timber harvests, fish habitat improvements, riparian restoration projects, and protecting water quality through a feedlot runoff containment system.  The ranch now boasts a 28-mile-long creek home to the wild trout.  Improving their herd to fit the environment was part of a long-term value.  Those efforts include introducing the Akaushi breed to their herd, in turn providing beef to the Snake River Farms Wagyu.

Photography provided by Kenton Rowe

With great rewards comes great responsibility.  Surrounding and bordering the ranch is the Blacktail Wildlife Management Area, the Red Rocks National Wildlife Refuges, Robb Ledford Wildlife Management Refuge, the Centennial Valley which expands the Greater Yellowstone wildlife corridor linking Yellowstone to the Salmon-Selway Wilderness and Crown of the Continent, along with thousands of acres of public lands.  The ranch also utilizes grazing allotments in Wilderness Study Areas.

Looking Forward

The Beaverhead Ranch is a regional and statewide icon; Rupert and Jerry Murdoch are looking to continue with the progressive working cattle ranch trend in Montana while utilizing the local knowledge gained from the insight of current employees. All livestock transferred with the sale and the Beaverhead Ranch will continue to represent the ideal combination of recreation and production agriculture.

Photography provided by Kenton Rowe

Working to understand a buyer’s thought processes is a big part of working through a transaction.  Broker, Tim Murphy, has this to say about the change in ownership, “It was an honor to work with the Murdoch family during the discovery process and ultimately through the completion of the sale.  The (Matador) truly represents one of the great ranches in America.  It offers greater scale, a robust agricultural operation, and takes in multiple mountain ranges and expansive valleys which all makes it one of the more scenic ranches of its kind.  The Murdochs understand the importance of this landscape, and the depth of history in its operations. They have respect for the culture that continues to steward the lands through generations of ranching families who have also called the ranch their home.  It takes an incredible family to own an incredible ranch.  The Murdoch’s could not be more ideal to that regard; it will be fun to observe the next chapters in the history of the ranch during their tenure.”

beaverhead ranch vista

Photography provided by Kenton Rowe

The Murdoch family have received global accolades for their operations which include a Ranch and vineyard in California as well as a 25,000-acre merino sheep farm and stud “Cavan Station” in New South Wales Australia.