Working the Hi-Line

Wife Tammy and I spent the first part of last week in the Northern, and very productive part of Montana( they call it the Hi-Line).  We headed out to Chester, Montana a little after noon by driving on some narrow two lane highways with so bright of a green grass or crop because of all the “white” stuff we had all winter.  It was a beautiful drive.

We stopped in Fort Benton, Montana and looked around.  My Grandmother on my Moms side lived there ( she died before I was born) but I heard quite a bit about it.  One story my Mother always told us was about Shep, the loyal sheepherders dog, and I think my grandmother worked in a restaurant and used to take scraps to Shep.

We stopped and walked up to his gravesite and I sat our dog “Taco” down by the sign to take a picture.  I really enjoyed taking the time to pay tribute to the loyalty of a dog to his human.  That sheep herder must have been a pretty good stockman, or I don’t think the dog would have been so hooked on to him.  There is a movie about it and if you look up Shep-Fort Benton you will be touched by the story.

When you work stock well, you don’t have to put so much pressure on your dog and it creates the kind of bond you read about on the sign.

We stayed in a real nice old hotel in Chester for the duration and traveled back and forth.  We presented in Shelby the first day, Chester on day two, and Havre, Montana the third day.

Rick Caquelin, NRCS Range Management Specialist presented all three days on the effects of grazing.  I learned so much, and am real glad I got to hear his presentation each day as there was a lot of very good knowledge that really helped me to understand grass management, and I got more in my head each time I heard it presented.

The first day we were at Flesh Angus bull facility.  They had purchased the property when the auction market shut down years ago.  Buster Brown, an old mentor from the rodeo world and a darn good horseman and a real character, and his son Jeff that had rodeoed with our daughter Mesa, brought a horse for me to ride.  The 15 or so two year old bulls I worked with had never been handled horseback so that took a little work.  We gathered, sorted and put them all through the tub system with lots of different situations to discuss.  I really enjoy working with bulls.  They were good bulls that had been handled right so they were no problem.  

After we finished we had a little horsemanship clinic for the 4H kids.  It is very interesting to see how kids, parents and horses give and take pressure.  Very good group.  

On Tuesday we stayed in Chester and the Fritz Ranch hosted. They run a diversified operation of cattle/farming/auction business and a portion of the income is from the hog operation.(their son Jake had 10 feeder pigs he was fattening to sell)

The Harman family brought horses, and the cattle were about 15 head of replacement heifers and a bull.  They were out in a small pasture and I went out and got them handling and brought them into the corral.  They were a little hard to get working and past the crowd to go in the gate but it was a good demo of what I thought was good to work cattle outside.  They hadn’t been handled horseback before either.  We then went in and listened to Ricks grazing talk and had lunch, then we came back out and the Harmon boys and I went out and brought the heifers and bull back into corral.  They were good hands and we were all riding real handy horses, so it went well.  

I commented on how we didn’t have to talk or make a plan, and they never asked one time what we were going to do.  They just followed my lead and got to where they needed to be to put the right pressure on.  That is how to be real effective, and it comes from having the confidence to fill in where needed.

We put them in the working area horseback then I got off and worked a foot.  The cattle worked good, sorted real nice, and we put them through the working system and had lots of thing to discuss.  Real good group with lots of thoughts and questions.  

An added highlight to the day was my Mother coming and watching.  She and my sister Darcy got to spend a little time together then she came and watched the demo.  I think she enjoyed being around her kind of people, ranchers and farmers.

We finished up about 4 in the afternoon, so Tammy and I took a drive north from Chester and went clear to the Canadian border on gravel road, took a left and drove through the “Sweet Grass” Hills, came down through the little town of Witlash, then back to Chester.  Great day with some real good people in some real good country.  I could sure live there.

Last day was in Havre and the Northern AG Research Center.  They went all out to host the event, brought some yearling cattle in as well as having some pairs to work with.

Another good horse brought by Justin Simonson, and everyone on the staff were very nice and helpful.  They have a very nice facility and good equipment to do all the research that they get to do.

We brought the pairs in from the lot and sorted them in an alley and then worked the calves through the system they have set up for calf table, and discussed different ideas on working calves and cows.

Then a good lunch and Ricks talk and back to working with yearling steers that had been hauled in.  They were worked horseback but I got on foot to work them.  I had a tough time getting them past the crowd and up the alley and wondered why in the world I didn’t stay horseback.  It took quite a bit but I finally got them in the alley.  Then we put them through the very fancy tub system, caught a few in the chute and discussed more processing ideas. 


Our old friend Jack Nystrom came and we had a great visit.  I have several friends that were real good bronc riders and I notice their attitudes are a lot alike.  They talk (most of them talk quite a bit)about being around winners make you a winner.  Jack said he wished he had gotten more pictures with his friends, as that is the important memories he has.  The bronc riding pictures are great but friends and memories is what he says matters.  He was always friendly and had a big smile when he was riding broncs and that hasn’t changed.


It was a great three days of good work with good animals and good people.  We met so many nice folks, and I only had one kinda negative situation that wasn’t a big deal, and I just stepped away from it so it didn’t get to be a big deal.

The folks at the NRCS were great and worked hard on the programs.  We spent a lot of time with Dawn Weinert and her Daughter Libby, and we really think they are special people.

I’ll make some observations from the time.

We used three different facility’s.  I like the ranch setting with no alleys and they had kind of a return box set up to get the cattle in the tub. (Ron Gill has the same kind of a set up on one of his leases in Texas). I felt the cattle worked better and had less stress than the other two facilities.  Alleys were needed in the auction setting as well as for the test centers work.  They are needed but they can create the most stress on cattle.  We need to really be careful to use the right kind of pressure.

I don’t really like to sort pairs in an alley, but if you do it’s very important the alley is wide enough for the cows to go by you comfortably, and that you don’t jump in front of them to get them to stop.  You should  back up until the animal stops, then turn them around.  This way they learn and get better to sort and handle each time, and don’t get so crowded in the back of the alley and get panicked.

I felt real good about my horsemanship and pretty good about my cattlehandling.  I could have set a few situations up differently to make a better learning situation for the folks that came, so I will work on that for the future.

I like these kinds of demos.  You can use lots of different scenarios to show what works and what doesn’t work.  We took small numbers, to many numbers of cattle, and showed what happened when to little pressure was used.  It’s a great way for attendees to be able to watch something and be able to be focused on the cattlehandling, and not on the job they would be doing if they we’re actually working cattle.  They can observe and make there own decisions on how they want to work.

We finished up around 4 in the afternoon and headed home through some country we never were through.  Lotsa grass and lotsa green.  We drove east of Havre to Harlem, headed south through Hays, Montana, ate supper in Grass Range and got home at about 10 pm wore out, but real content.  

I am now writing this on a plane headed for Sacramento and the Western States Horse Expo.  No rest for the wicked!

I haven’t mentioned it in a while, but I am even more sure I have the best job in the world!

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