Located at the confluence of the Birch Creek and Little Birch Creek drainages a few miles south of the scenic Bears Paw Mountains, Birch Creek Ranch is comprised of 16,415± acres (12,174± deeded, 3,597 BLM lease, and 644± state lease). The ranch is currently operated at 450-500 AU, with approximately 435 mother cows plus bulls and replacements, in addition to farming 1,843± acres in dryland grain. Approximately 500 acres of dryland hay meets the ranch’s winter feed requirements. There are an additional 518± tillable acres that came out of CRP in 2017 that are now being grazed. Conversion of dryland grain to grass and/or hay production would expand the carrying capacity. Ranch improvements include two residences, each with a nearby machine shed and calving barn, plus a shop and corrals, and approximately six miles of pipeline. The ranch lies 30 miles southeast of Big Sandy, MT in an area known for strong grasses and good crop yields, approximately an hour from Havre, MT and one hour and forty-five minutes from Great Falls, MT. The rolling, diverse terrain supports trophy elk, mule deer, and antelope, as well as pheasant, sharptail grouse, and Hungarian partridge.
Just the Facts
- 16,415± total acres; comprised of 12,174± deeded acres, 3,597± BLM lease, and 644± acres state lease
- Birch Creek and Little Birch Creek flow through the ranch for a total of 8.5± miles
- 1,843± acres in dryland grain production
- 500± acres in dryland hay production provides winter feed
- 30± acres irrigated/sub-irrigated hay meadows
- Currently operating at 450-500 AU (approximately 435 mother cows) with the ability to expand by converting additional dryland crop to grass and/or hay
- 6± miles of pipeline serving nine stock tanks
- Two ranch homes, each with machine sheds and calving barns, plus a shop and working corrals
- Approximately five miles south of the Bears Paw Mountains and 15 miles from the Missouri River at Judith Landing
- Big game hunting for trophy elk, mule deer, and antelope; upland bird hunting for pheasant, sharptail grouse, and Hungarian partridge
- Located 30± miles southeast of Big Sandy, approximately an hour’s drive from Havre, and one hour and forty-five minutes from Great Falls, Montana
- Newly paved public airstrip located in Big Sandy
Birch Creek Ranch has been in the same family’s hands for over five decades. The ranch has been operated as a cow/calf operation with a significant grain farming component. The landscape is comprised of a mix of semi-rugged breaks interspersed with timber, fertile benches, and productive farmland. The ranch has significant live water with approximately seven miles of Birch Creek and approximately one and a half miles of intermittent Little Birch Creek. There are also several ponds and six miles of pipeline serving nine stock tanks.
The location at the confluence of Little Birch and Birch Creeks is quite scenic. The ranch headquarters are comprised of two residences, barns, shops, corrals and other working facilities. From the bench tops one can view seven different mountain ranges, including the nearby Bears Paw Range, the Little Rockies, and to the south the Judiths, Moccasins, Snowies, Highwoods and Belts.
Birch Creek Ranch is a scenic and productive ranch located in reputation ranch country. The ranch has been in the same ownership for over 50 years, which speaks to the quality of the resources and sustainability of the operation. What sets the ranch apart from other area ranches is Birch Creek, which is a significant drainage in the region. The topography varies from productive farmlands to scenic breaks, with scattered timber, scenic vistas, and the lush riparian corridor along Birch Creek. It’s an excellent production ranch with abundant water, wildlife, and an ever-changing and beautiful landscape.
The ranch is located approximately 30 miles southeast of the town of Big Sandy, Montana, and six miles east of Highway 236, known as the Judith Landing Road. Big Sandy is an attractive small town with a 2013 population of 605 and over 40 active businesses listed, as well as the Critical Access Hospital and both grade and high schools. Great Falls lies 80 miles to the southwest and Havre is 35 miles to the northeast on U.S. Highway 87. The nearest commercial air service is Great Falls, which is serviced by Delta, Alaska, and United Airlines with multiple daily flights. Big Sandy offers a paved and lighted 3,570 x 60-foot airstrip at an elevation of 2,689 feet. Havre has two cross-wind runways, with one measuring 5,205 x 100 foot paved, at 2,580 feet elevation, with instrument approaches, AV gas and jet fuel, hangar rentals, and rental cars.
Birch Creek Ranch lies in one of Montana’s reputation ranch areas in the north-central portion of the state. Though the area is closely tied to traditional farming and ranching, it also offers dramatically beautiful scenery that rivals areas in the southwestern part of the state. The two most outstanding topographic features are the Bears Paw Mountains, which are approximately five miles north of the ranch, and the Missouri River, which lies approximately 15 miles south of the ranch.
The Bears Paw Mountains are an island mountain range that extend in a 45-mile arc from the Missouri River northward, to just south of Havre. The highest peak, Baldy Mountain, reaches 6,916 feet above sea level. A Native American legend about a hunter’s encounter with a great bear is the source of the range’s name. Looking at Box Elder Butte, one can see the paw, and Centennial Mountain to the south resembles a reclining bear. West of these buttes lies the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation of the Chippewa Cree Tribe. East of that lies the Bear Paw Battlefield - Nez Perce National Historical Park, where the defeated Nez Perce Chief Joseph gave his immortal speech, “From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”
The “Bearpaws” as they are frequently called, receive added precipitation due to their higher elevation, which creates a beautiful, lush environment rich with game and dramatic vistas.
South of the ranch the Missouri River flows through the region known as the Missouri River Breaks. The “Breaks” have been sculpted by eons of wind and water crumbling sedimentary soils, creating stunningly beautiful cliffs and rock formations with intermittently steep and rugged topography. The Missouri River Breaks offer some of the most ruggedly beautiful scenery to be found in the state and are now protected as the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument (UMRBNM).
The Missouri River and the site of Judith Landing are historically significant because of Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery, which traveled upriver from St. Louis beginning in 1802. Judith Landing is located near the confluence of the Judith River with the Missouri at the mouth of Dog Creek. Lewis and Clark camped there, noting the clear waters of the Judith and the unique White Cliffs area just upstream. The site later became a fort and the Judith Landing Mercantile trading post was established where settlers came to trade furs and gold. This White Cliffs area, south of the ranch, is now a 46-mile stretch of the designated Upper Missouri National Wild and Scenic River portion of the UMRBNM.
The region within and around the Missouri River Breaks is well noted for its great paleontological discoveries. In recent decades, intact T-Rex remains have been discovered along with a multitude of land and inland sea creatures. Areas of Birch Creek Ranch are rich in fossils embedded in the sandstone bluffs.
The ranch headquarters along Birch Creek lie at an altitude of approximately 3,200 feet above sea level. Average annual precipitation is estimated at 13-14 inches, and the average length of the frost-free growing season is from 120-125 days. Weather can vary dramatically with some winters being open, allowing cattle to graze out, and others requiring more hay. In general, wind, chinooks, and light winter precipitation contribute to keeping livestock wintering costs in check, by Montana standards. The Western Regional Climate Center published the following statistics for Big Sandy from 1921-2005:
- Average maximum temps- July 88 degrees; August 86 degrees
- Average maximum temps- December through February, 28 to 34 degrees
- Average annual snowfall of 18.79 inches with average snowfall depths under 2 inches in every month of the winter
Acreage (Deeded & Leased)
- Deeded – 12,174± acres
- BLM Lease – 3,597± acres
- State Lease – 644± acres
- Dryland grain production – 1,843± acres
- Dryland hay production - 500± acres
- Flood-irrigated – 30± acres
The ranch has two residences with a complete set of outbuildings associated with each. The first dwelling was constructed in 1971 and is occupied by the ranch owners. It has been remodeled and has four bedrooms and two bathrooms on two levels. Associated with this primary residence is a 32’X70’ machine shed, a 32’X48’ shop with a concrete floor, and a newer calving barn that is 36’X120’ in size with a 10’X40’ maternity room.
A second residence, constructed in 1980, is located nearby. It also has been remodeled and is ranch style with four bedrooms and two bathrooms. In addition, there is a 32’X60’ machine shed with a partial concrete floor constructed in 2005 and a 30’X70’ calving barn built in 1997.
There are also four usable grain bins in two different locations on the ranch. Two are located approximately three-quarters of a mile from the headquarters and two are on the westerly side of the ranch. Storage capacity of those bins is 4,000 bushels, 7,500 bushels, and two at 6,000 bushels.
Livestock water on the ranch is provided by Birch Creek and Little Birch Creek, a number of reservoirs, wells and pipelines. There are four wells located near the ranch buildings. One of these wells provides water to over six miles of pipeline and nine water tanks. The pipeline provides good livestock distribution on the west and central portions of the ranch. Birch Creek runs through the east and central portion of the ranch for approximately seven miles.
Birch Creek Ranch has excellent wildlife resources, primarily due to the combined 8.5± miles of Birch Creek and Little Birch Creek that flow through the ranch. Birch Creek runs year-round and is a significant drainage for the area, providing excellent habitat diversity for wildlife. Mule deer are the primary big game animal with potential for trophy-quality animals. The breaks along Birch Creek are ideal mule deer habitat.
Elk also frequent the ranch, though they are more nomadic than resident. There are whitetail deer around the headquarters and huntable populations of pronghorn antelope. Bighorn sheep also reside in the rougher breaks in the southerly portion of the ranch.
Upland birds are plentiful with good numbers of Hungarian partridge and sharptail grouse. Pheasants populate the creek bottom and always seem to be present around the ranch buildings.
In recent years the ranch has been leased to an outfitter, primarily for mule deer hunting. This lease provides an additional source of revenue to the owner.
The owners operate the ranch primarily as a cow-calf operation with a complimentary small grain farming operation. The ranch is currently stocked with approximately 435 mother cows, plus replacement heifers and bulls, which yields a carrying capacity of 450-500 animal units in addition to the grain farming operation. Conversion of additional dryland grain to hay and grazing would increase the ranch’s carrying capacity.
Winter feed is provided by 500± acres of dryland hay and the ranch’s 29.8± acres of irrigated hay fields located along Birch Creek near the headquarters. This acreage is watered by a dyke system that spreads spring runoff onto the hay fields. There may be potential to add sprinkler irrigation on acreage that has been irrigated in the past. The balance of the cultivated acreage is used for small grain production, both winter wheat and spring wheat. Of the 1,843± dry crop acres, approximately 50 percent is seeded each year and the rest summer fallowed. Estimated yields for winter wheat are approximately 45 bushels per acre with yields for spring wheat of approximately 40 bushels per acre.
The current cow herd is managed for higher weaning weights. Cows calve in February and early March, with weaning in mid-October. Weaning weights average approximately 700 pounds for steers and 675 pounds for heifer calves. Cows typically graze out through December, depending on weather conditions. Winter hay requirements under the current management plan are approximately two tons per cow.
Leases and Permits
- BLM Lease - 3,597± acres | 328 AUMs | $2.11/AUM | $692/year
- State Lease - 644± acres | 92AUMs | $9.94/AUM | $1,761/year
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