Centennial Livestock: Ever-evolving practices keep historic Montana ranch family thriving
Centennial Livestock lies 30 miles south of Dillon in the Horse Prairie Valley near Grant, Montana, an area with high elevation and outstanding grass. The ranch is currently owned by Bill and Judy Staudenmeyer, Will and Patti Jo Staudenmeyer and Tom and Debbie Tamcke.
“Our grandfather, Les Staudenmeyer, came to the Dillon area in 1918, so our family has been ranching for more than 100 years in the area,” said Debbie Tamcke. “Our grandfather named the ranch Centennial Livestock and incorporated it in 1958. We found documentation in a 1965 Montana Farmer-Stockman article that grandpa had been paying attention to genetics since 1929, wanting to build better cattle that can produce in our environment.”
Like most ranchers in Montana in the first half of the 20th century, Centennial Livestock had a strong Hereford base, but slowly introduced Herefords crossed with Angus, then transitioned entirely to breeding commercial Black Angus in the mid-1980s.
Centennial Livestock is proud of having a closed herd for 30 years. They have purchased their bulls from Angus breeders in Montana and Wyoming, including Vermillion, Sitz and from purebred breeders in Wyoming.
“We believe a bull has to look like a bull and be phenotypically perfect and have good feet. Of course, once they added EPDs, we were looking at weaning weights and as the EPDs have evolved, it’s changed our selection process a lot,” said Tamcke. “We don’t solely select for birthweight or milk or growth. We want a balanced EPD system.”
Maternal traits and longevity within the herd are the main drivers. “We keep our cows, but we have a hard and fast rule. If a cow comes in and is pregnant and has a weaned calf, she has earned a place on the ranch; if she doesn’t breed back in 60 days or her lost her calf at birth, she’s eliminated from the herd,” said Tamcke.
Replacement heifers are selected for the phenotypical look, then for the size. Heifers that are too large or too small are culled. They select heifers born within the first breeding cycle, as they will be more sexually mature by the time they reach the breeding season.
In 1979, Deb and Will’s father, Bill Staudenmeyer, purchased the Roe Ranch on the Red Rock River. In 1996, the Roe Ranch was traded for the Cross Ranch in Horse Prairie Valley. From this trade, they were able to increase numbers but decreased the number of days needed to feed.
“Because the Cross Ranch is so historical, we kept the name, and it’s operated under Centennial Livestock,” said Debbie Tamcke.
To implement that, the family has a system where the cattle will graze on irrigated and sub-irrigated pasture. That pasture is grazed, irrigated, then grazed again. They don’t manage with a rest rotation like other ranches, but there are pastures that are grazed less, and those become the winter feed.
Tom Tamcke says the cattle need to graze on the forage provided for them. The ranch always provides additional protein in the winter and a mineral package year-round.
Cows with heifer calves and cows with bull calves are segregated. The cows with bull calves and young heifers stay at the lower pastures on the ranch and graze the irrigated/sub-irrigated grass while the cows with heifer calves are taken to graze above 8,000 feet.
“We sell our calves off our cows; our average birth date is April 10. In the middle of October, we wean and sell steer calves only, depending on what Mother Nature dishes out to us. By doing that, we’re able to retain all of our heifers for either replacements or grass yearlings,” said Tamckel
What’s come to light in the last 8-10 years are concerns about high altitude disease. Since some of the Centennial Livestock cattle graze at 8,000 feet, they select only bulls that have been Pulmonary Arterial Pressure (PAP) tested.
“The experts have told us that 5,000 feet or higher is the optimal altitude to start testing for high-altitude disease. If cattle are tested above that, you’ll get a more accurate description of the disease. There has been research that they’re finding cattle with a good PAP score cattle perform better in the feedlot,” said Tamcke.
Although the family says they have been through the gamut of artificial insemination protocol since 1991, as of five years ago, the herd has been in the Global Animal Partnership (GAP) program, and they have had to eliminate any drugs to synchronize their heifers; they now use natural heat detection.
“We ultrasound the cows for pregnancy and then we age and sex the fetus,” said Tamcke. “The cows with heifers have pink buttons and the cows with bulls have blue buttons. They are sorted according to their button color.”
They currently have 75 percent of their cows calving within a 21-day period, which means being busy over a short amount of time. However, it helps them select early maturing heifers and good maternal traits.
Steer calves and yearlings are sold through Northern Livestock Video Auction, which the family has been using for more than 10 years. “We decided we needed to be on the video system for a few years to show the consumer we were going to be there and show the consistency of the livestock to the buyers looking for them,” Debbie Tamcke said. “You get so much more exposure with the video sale. My father, Bill Staudenmeyer and Centennial Livestock were presented with the 2022 Pioneer Producer of the Year by Northern Livestock Video Auction.”
The ranch uses horses exclusively for moving cattle. Debbie and Tom raise the horses for the ranch, breeding most of their own working horses as well as selling performance horses. They leased the stallion Roan Texas from Randy and Sue Albin Magers for three years. They also owned PG Dun Gun for eight years. Those stallions have been the backbone of their breeding program. Many progenies of Roan Texas and PG Dun Gun are still on the ranch.
“We want good bone and good minds, and the old foundation bloodlines give that to you consistently,” said Tamcke.
In addition to having cattle and raising horses, the family offers recreational opportunities including hunting and fishing. They have worked with Montana Mountain West Outfitters for 11 years.
“The hunting brings in extra income, but it also provides a way to manage the number of elk we winter,” said Tamcke. “We meet weekly with the hunters; it’s good for the relationship between sportsmen and ranchers.”