18-year-old Limousin breeder, Alexa Montagne, consigns bulls at BHSS to pay for college
Walking into the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center, Julie and Alexa Montagne quietly lead two Limousin bulls down the aisle in preparation for the Black Hills Stock Show (BHSS), an event they travel to each year as a way to market the purebred and LimFlex bulls they raise on their Elk Point, South Dakota, ranch, JLX Limousin.
For Julie and her two children, Justin and Alexa, showing and consigning Limousin genetics to events across the country is a Montagne family tradition. JLX Limousin started selling bulls at BHSS in 2005, and this year, the bulls are consigned under Alexa’s name, perhaps a nod to the maturing millennial leadership she brings to the operation.
“I call myself the head ranch hand,” said Julie Montagne. “I do the day-to-day chores, AI, pick up feed, veterinary work, etc. Alexa makes a lot of the breeding decisions and is in charge of the show barn in the summer. Justin recently moved to Colorado, but he helped us for a couple of days in Denver for the NWSS. When he was home, he mixed the feed rations and lined up hay and bedding for the winter.”
Julie’s passion for the Limousin breed stems back to her childhood. Her parents started raising Limousin cattle in western Kingsbury County in 1971 with the purchase of 60 Hereford heifers bred to Limousin bulls.
“I was three years old when they calved out that first group of heifers, and those are some of the first memories of my life,” said Montagne. “I spent a lot of time with my parents in the barn seeing the birth of those first Limousin-sired calves. We then started artificially inseminating all of our Hereford cows to Limousin bulls, building up to a purebred herd by 1977. We liked their carcass traits and feed conversion and sold bulls for many years. When it was time for Justin to start showing, it was not even a question the breed would be Limousin.”
In 2001, after a brief hiatus away from the cattle business to focus on raising her small children and launching her marketing career, Julie bought two Limousin heifers and began to pave her own way back into the breed. In 2004, Justin purchased Heavens Newsmaker from Carl Weathers, and together they named the operation JLX — a combination of letters of the family’s first names.
With the next generation now involved in the cattle business, showing through the years has helped Julie pass on her passion for the cattle business to her now children — Alexa, age 18, and Justin, 23.
“Raising and showing cattle has shaped Justin and Alexa in more ways than I ever imagined,” said Julie. “They learned the value of hard work and how to win and lose with grace. It has also taught them patience. Creating a successful operation is a marathon, not a sprint. Most importantly, it has made us stronger as a family. There’s no better way to create teamwork than raising cattle together and traveling across the country to shows.”
Showing cattle means plenty of mornings and evenings in the barn washing, leading and working on cattle; however, the investment in good females has resulted in a strong foundation herd that produces serious herd sire contenders for the commercial cattleman.
“Even though showing is a big part of our operation, selling bulls is our ultimate goal because that is where the profits come from,” said Montagne. “We select sires with strong weaning and yearling EPDS, as well as strong maternal numbers, carcass traits and acceptable docility numbers. Many things have changed in the Limousin breed over the years, but the improvement in docility is one of the biggest changes I have seen.”
This year, JLX Limousin has two bulls consigned to BHSS — JLX Charisma (Xukalani X Adalida) and JLX Chisholm (Direct Hit X Xerox). Alexa is confident the commercial cattleman will appreciate what she will lead into the sale ring.
“JLX Charisma is the first calf from my 2014 show heifer – LLJB Adalida,” said Alexa Montagne. “Charisma showed alongside his mother at three shows — SD Summer Spotlight, SD State Fair and American Royal — in 2015 where Adalida won champion and reserve champion female titles. JLX Charisma was the Reserve Champion bull at the Heartland Regional show in Springfield, Missouri last summer. The second bull is JLX Chisholm. Justin showed his mother, DJ Xerox, in 2011. This is the third bull in a row from DJ Xerox we have marketed at the BHSS. JLX Chisholm was the Reserve Champion purebred bull at the 2016 Limousin Junior Nationals in Lexington, Kentucky.”
Over the years, JLX Limousin has become a recognizable brand at BHSS, and Julie said the annual trip has been instrumental in shaping future breeding decisions for their operation.
“Interacting with the bull buyers has been a huge education for Justin and Alexa,” said Julie. “Hearing from ranchers about how many miles their bulls have to cover in the rough terrain of Wyoming, Nebraska and western South Dakota makes us pay special attention to structure, hardiness and fleshing ability. When selecting genetics we also emphasize calving ease and typically offer calving ease bulls.”
She added, “Of all the shows we have gone to across the country, this one is the real deal. Hundreds of ranchers from the region come to purchase genetics that will affect their profits for years to come. Providing genetics for them is a responsibility we don’t take lightly. The profits from the bulls over the years have been invested into new females, Justin’s college and this year, the profits are ear-marked for Alexa’s college fund.”
The Montagnes don’t just participate at BHSS; their bulls garner plenty of interest from judges and buyers alike. In 2012, JLX Red Bull — a son of Heavens Newsmaker — was a crowd favorite and the BHSS high-selling Limousin bull. Semen is available on JLX Red Bull through LIMIGene, and a Red Bull son sold for $18,000 at Vaughn Limousin’s 2015 production sale.
Alexa may just be one of the youngest consigners at this year’s BHSS, but she’s working hard to find her place as a leader in the cattle business. For the last decade, in between classes and homework, the Elk Point senior has dedicated her time to running cattle and judging livestock.
For three years running, she’s placed in the top three in both 4-H and FFA state livestock judging contests. In 2016, she was a member of South Dakota’s 4-H livestock judging team that competed at the Western Roundup held at the National Western Stock Show. Her team went on to place fourth, while Alexa snagged an eighth place finish in cattle, twelfth in reasons and eighteenth overall.
She has plans to judge on a collegiate level, having recently committed to compete on the Northeastern Oklahoma A&M team in Miami, Oklahoma, next fall. She has goals of studying agricultural business and starting up her own cattle marketing company one day.
“I plan to use my ability to evaluate cattle to assist others in making sound seedstock purchases,” said Alexa. “I definitely plan to continue raising and showing cattle throughout my life.”
For an up-and-coming millennial producer like Alexa, embracing technology is the best way to advance the genetics of her own seedstock operation.
“This business will change in many ways in the coming years,” she said. “EPDs will become even more sophisticated, as well as other genetic predictors. Social media and online auctions are already the norm, and I am sure they will evolve as well. I frequently get videos of cattle from my friends who are selecting show heifers or steers, and they want my opinion. As much as I am sure technology with grow and offer new tools, nothing will ever beat seeing an animal in person. I am big on the total package of animal. Yes, they have to have good EPDs, they have to have good bone and muscle, but they also have to be structurally correct and a have a good disposition. If a bull or a cow can’t walk or be safely handled, everything else is useless. My mom tells me about all the fads that she has seen in the cattle industry in her lifetime. I am so glad I understand the basics of good cattle and don’t get caught up in all that. I think it will serve me well in the future.”
Check out the JLX Limousin bull offerings — lots 20 and 26 — at the 2017 BHSS Limousin Show and Sale on Friday, Feb. 3. The show starts at 8 am, followed by the sale at 1 pm.
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A pasture or lot with plenty of grass or bedding and windbreak is important when calving in the cold.