GEYSER, Mont.- From breeding to calving, seeding to cultivating, even inspecting repairs, we've seen it all out on Montana's family farm over the last year. We took a look at some major industry issues that impact everyday life to get a better understanding of what Montana farmers and ranchers have to go through in order to make sure all of us have food on the table year round.
No matter the season, there's always plenty of work to be done on the farm. Walter Schweitzer and his family invited us to their farm in Geyser each month to show us just some of what they do everyday to keep it running, in turn making sure you're well fed.
Farmers and ranchers are the backbone of Montana. They cover 60 million acres to put food, and in some cases drink, on your table. While it's a way of life for close to 27,000 Montanas, it's often the most misunderstood.
"Consumers are concerned about where their food comes from, the quality of their food," said Walter Schweitzer, President of the Montana Farmers Union.
Walter, his wife Cindy, their daughters, nephew Oscar, and sweet dog Tipper feed cattle, sell bulls, and move hay. April brings new life to the farm and calving season proved to be a positive distraction from the developing pandemic. Just a few weeks after they're born comes the next important step, branding, a process to prove ownership of cattle started in the early 1800's. Every ranch or family has their own brand so if an animal goes missing they can easily be returned.
When it's time to start seeding Walt and Cindi have to place a bet with Mother Nature to figure out the best time plant. This is just another part of their farm that's crucial to it's success.
Walt explains, "In the Spring you're optimists. I'm hoping to get maybe 80 bushels to the acre. I'm gonna need rain in June for that to happen. And ya know, if I have a dry year I might just eat it. Or my cows will eat it -hahaha."
Once the seeds are growing it's back to taking care of the cattle because shortly after calves are delivered it's time to start thinking about breeding again, and it's done with a little bit of science.
"Their pedigrees through DNA testing and their EPDs which are the expected proline difference of the breed, each animal, it tells you how they're going to perform in those categories," said Walt. Each pregnancy must be carefully tracked and meet extensive Angus guidelines before they can hit the market.
The constant battle between dealing with animals and tending to harvest never stops. Montana is one of the largest hay producers in the United States, but in order to make it worth it's weight, Walt has to make sure his crops are pristine.
"I probably spend on my crops and on my range weeds somewhere between $10-15,000 a year. They cost Montana farmers and ranchers, counties, and states millions of dollars trying to keep them in control," said Schweitzer.
It's a never ending battle to get ahead next season. Soon after haying season we check back in with cows who were trying to get pregnant 5 months prior to see if the pregnancy took, and Walt calls in the experts for some help. The Veterinarian suits up with an arm-length glove and apron, then heads south to use an ultrasound machine.
"That cow poop does get deep. We always use the big glove so our arm doesn't get messy and usually a shield otherwise," explains Cale Bjornstad, a Veterinarian with Indian Hammer Vet. Service.
Walt's expecting a good report, "I hope that at least 90% of them are going to be pregnant. The worst-case scenario is a whole bunch of them open. Then you got to start worrying if you've got some other disease," said Schweitzer.
As the new Mothers settle in for winter, projects on the range change from animals and seeding to repairs and preparation to do it all over again in the spring.
"We always have projects," said Schweitzer.
It's not a lifestyle for everyone, but it's a life that provides for everyone. One of the most interesting things we learned out on Montana's family farms this year is how far these men and women are willing to go to battle for you. We tackled hot-button issues like county of origin labeling, right to repair, and current legislation that's being considered.
A special thanks to Walter and Cindi Schweitzer and the Montana Farmers Union for allowing us to follow them around for a year to help bring you their stories.
Montana Family Farms is sponsored by the Montana Farmers Union. Each story focuses on Walter Schweitzer’s life on the farm and a bigger impact on the industry across the Treasure State and beyond.