Ehlke Herefords | TSLN.com

Ehlke Herefords

Ehlke heifers out to pasture.

Mark and Della Ehlke raise purebred Herefords near Townsend, MT. Mark has been involved with cattle all his life. “My folks had registered black cattle when I was a kid,” says Mark. “After Della and I were married we bought land in this valley in 1993, and then expanded our ranch. I had a few commercial cows at that point, but we started breeding registered Herefords in 1993.

“We had a bit of a jump-start in this program because we’d leased some cows from Byron Byers for four years and at the end of that time we bought those cows. We’ve been adding to that foundation ever since. Currently we have well over 100 registered cows, with a similar number of commercial cows.”

Ehlke’s commercial black cattle all trace back to North Fork Angus.

“Nelson Wert is a good friend of ours, and had property next to ours,” says Mark. “We ended up buying some commercial cattle with North Fork Angus breeding, and we now rent the grass on what was his old ranch. Our operation covers 5,000 acres, and much of that is leased.”

The Ehlkes do quite a bit of crossbreeding and maintain just enough purebred Angus genetics to produce their replacement heifers.

“The cows themselves are purebred, but most of them have crossbred calves. We AI the purebred cows one cycle for replacement heifers and then they are cleaned up with Hereford bulls,” Mark explains.

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Their seedstock program is strictly Hereford; they don’t market any Angus bulls. The Angus cows are just maintained for their own commercial calf production, but they also market black baldy replacement heifers. There is an excellent market for these heifers since they are a true F1 cross – the parents are purebred from each breed.

“Originally we didn’t have papers on some of those Angus cows, but since then we’ve been using better bulls and most of the Angus cows are registered,” says Mark. “We’ve bought a few registered Angus bulls but mainly we just use AI. The crossbred replacement heifers are sold through private treaty. We plan to offer a group of them this year, however, in a production female sale in October.”

From a range point of view, according to Ehlke, there is no way to top the black baldy cows. They’ve proven their worth over many decades.

“We have a handful of them ourselves, that for one reason or another didn’t fit in the group we were marketing, and we kept them,” says Mark. “Depending on what we’re doing, we may put an egg in them to have them raise a purebred calf, but whatever calf they have nursing on them will always be at the top end of the calves, no matter what.”

The Ehlkes do some embryo transfers and this year put in 35 eggs. “Normally we do that with a group of our own recipient cows, but we’ve run up against the fact that we don’t have enough cows within that age window, to use as recips,” says Mark. “We probably bred too many baldy calves and not enough black ones, for a period of time. So all of our eggs this year are out in cooperative herds. We use a couple different ET techs and the recip cows are owned by some of their customers.”

The Ehlke Hereford bulls are all sold by private treaty, usually starting about the first of March.

“We do not offer anything until we have our ultrasound results back on these cattle, and it’s pretty hard to have that all finished any earlier than the first of March,” explains Mark. “We’ve been asked a few times to sell an outstanding bull or heifer calf prior to that, but we try not to sell them early. We want to keep that data coming back into the herd. That way I know that all of them are being scanned.”

Having this data on every animal – bull or replacement female – is helpful, in the long run. They started ultrasounding in 1998 and feel it has really paid dividends, having that information on the cattle.

Most of the bulls sold are yearlings. “We’ve held a few individuals, maybe if they were on the young end of the group but we thought they were special,” says Mark. “We’ve held and sold them as two-year-olds, but basically we just sell yearlings.”

This year they’re having their first production sale Oct. 1 at the Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch at Billings, MT. It’s a joint sale with McMurrey Cattle, and is called the Montana Harvest Production Sale.

Their cows start calving about the 20th of January. “Most of the yearling bulls are 14 to 15 months old by the time we sell them,” says Mark. “We start calving the heifers about January 20 and are going full bore by the 25th of January because some of the AI bred cows will be calving by then.”

Regarding winter calving, he feels that January is probably the best month. “During most winters in January we’ll have daytime highs in the 30s and above zero at night, which is about perfect,” he says. It’s cold enough to keep the mud frozen, and it’s not wet and sloppy. “By late February and first of March we have more snowstorms and wider temperature swings, which is harder on the young calves. We’ve thought about possibly starting a bunch of fall calving cows, but I just can’t quite get myself convinced to do that.”

In breeding philosophies, the Ehlkes don’t push any of the fads or extremes in traits.

“We stay more in the middle, with much of our emphasis on maternal qualities. The cow has to raise a calf and breed back in our harsh environment, in order to work for us or for our customers,” says Mark. “There is an argument to be made that if you push for big ribeye cattle, a lot of the traits that are more economically important in the cow herd get lost. By the same token, we don’t select against a big ribeye.”

Their goal is to try for complementary traits, having the best they can of both, without sacrificing either.

“Initially we had a fairly strong horned Hereford genetic base, but now we are breeding the horns off,” says Mark. “We purchase mostly polled bulls. That’s not to say that we won’t use an extremely good horned bull occasionally, and selectively breed him. Most of the people that come into our bull pen are looking for polled cattle.”

Most stockmen don’t want to deal with horns, and polled Herefords have made great strides in improving their breed, during the past several decades.

“There are some excellent polled Herefords available now, and I like to think that we are involved in two or three of the best polled bulls out there, in this day and age,” he says.

He and Della own a couple of companies, in addition to their cattle business. “One of these is Montana Hydraulics, in Helena, and the other is FELCO Industries, in Missoula,” says Mark. “The latter is mainly a fabrication shop that produces a line of compaction equipment used in the construction industry. Montana Hydraulics is a full service machine shop. We build a line of equipment for the roundwood industry. Our customer base is construction and industrial. These sideline businesses allow me to ranch.

“It is kind of sad that there are very few family ranches – at least in our area – that can make it financially without some kind of off farm income,” says Mark. “The younger generation coming up will have an even tougher challenge.”

He and Della have two daughters. Lacey is 21 and a senior at Montana State University. The younger daughter Jane’a is 18 and starting as a freshman at Rocky Mountain College in Billings. Both of them were very active in 4-H and showing cattle in the Montana CHB shows while growing up. Jane’a has been involved in showing cattle for eight years, and during those years at the Broadwater County Fair she had six Grand Champions. Both girls went to Canada in August to show in the Canadian Junior National Bonanza. They own 50 percent of a heifer in Canada.

Jane’a plans to go into nursing, and Lacey is thinking about going on to law school.

“They own about 20 cows between them,” says Mark. “This is the incentive to get them to come back and help dad when needed. They are the best help we could have. With both of them going to be gone this fall, we will really miss their help.”

The ranch has one full time employee, but the girls have been very involved with the cattle all their lives, and excellent help.

Regarding his philosophies about breeding cattle, Ehlke says the goal is to breed useful, functional cattle that will work in any environment. “They must be good, honest cattle that will carcass,” he says.

Their customer base is expanding because people can depend on these cattle. “Many of the bulls we’ve sold are being used for five, six or even seven years,” says Mark. “On the one hand that’s great, and on the other hand these ranchers don’t need to come back as often for new bulls!” But the satisfied customers will be back.

“We rarely have any complaints or issues with anything that leaves our ranch,” adds Mark. “Our policy is to not sell anything that we wouldn’t be happy to use ourselves.” Quality standards are very high. Some of the genetic influences in the Ehlke herd include McMurreys Ranger bull. “We also brought in some Harvey Ranch bulls from Canada and we are thrilled with the quality of their offspring.

“Our climate here gives us about 12 inches of annual precipitation, and it usually comes in two or three storms over the course of the year, so we are pretty dry most of the time. Our pastures are basically all dry land. Our elevation is between 4,000 and 5,000 feet and we have a couple of pastures that are about 6,000 feet.”

The cattle must be hardy, thrifty, efficient and functional. The quality and longevity of these Herefords, and the crossbred replacement females produced by the Ehlkes, can help ensure profitability for their commercial customers.

Mark and Della Ehlke raise purebred Herefords near Townsend, MT. Mark has been involved with cattle all his life. “My folks had registered black cattle when I was a kid,” says Mark. “After Della and I were married we bought land in this valley in 1993, and then expanded our ranch. I had a few commercial cows at that point, but we started breeding registered Herefords in 1993.

“We had a bit of a jump-start in this program because we’d leased some cows from Byron Byers for four years and at the end of that time we bought those cows. We’ve been adding to that foundation ever since. Currently we have well over 100 registered cows, with a similar number of commercial cows.”

Ehlke’s commercial black cattle all trace back to North Fork Angus.

“Nelson Wert is a good friend of ours, and had property next to ours,” says Mark. “We ended up buying some commercial cattle with North Fork Angus breeding, and we now rent the grass on what was his old ranch. Our operation covers 5,000 acres, and much of that is leased.”

The Ehlkes do quite a bit of crossbreeding and maintain just enough purebred Angus genetics to produce their replacement heifers.

“The cows themselves are purebred, but most of them have crossbred calves. We AI the purebred cows one cycle for replacement heifers and then they are cleaned up with Hereford bulls,” Mark explains.

Their seedstock program is strictly Hereford; they don’t market any Angus bulls. The Angus cows are just maintained for their own commercial calf production, but they also market black baldy replacement heifers. There is an excellent market for these heifers since they are a true F1 cross – the parents are purebred from each breed.

“Originally we didn’t have papers on some of those Angus cows, but since then we’ve been using better bulls and most of the Angus cows are registered,” says Mark. “We’ve bought a few registered Angus bulls but mainly we just use AI. The crossbred replacement heifers are sold through private treaty. We plan to offer a group of them this year, however, in a production female sale in October.”

From a range point of view, according to Ehlke, there is no way to top the black baldy cows. They’ve proven their worth over many decades.

“We have a handful of them ourselves, that for one reason or another didn’t fit in the group we were marketing, and we kept them,” says Mark. “Depending on what we’re doing, we may put an egg in them to have them raise a purebred calf, but whatever calf they have nursing on them will always be at the top end of the calves, no matter what.”

The Ehlkes do some embryo transfers and this year put in 35 eggs. “Normally we do that with a group of our own recipient cows, but we’ve run up against the fact that we don’t have enough cows within that age window, to use as recips,” says Mark. “We probably bred too many baldy calves and not enough black ones, for a period of time. So all of our eggs this year are out in cooperative herds. We use a couple different ET techs and the recip cows are owned by some of their customers.”

The Ehlke Hereford bulls are all sold by private treaty, usually starting about the first of March.

“We do not offer anything until we have our ultrasound results back on these cattle, and it’s pretty hard to have that all finished any earlier than the first of March,” explains Mark. “We’ve been asked a few times to sell an outstanding bull or heifer calf prior to that, but we try not to sell them early. We want to keep that data coming back into the herd. That way I know that all of them are being scanned.”

Having this data on every animal – bull or replacement female – is helpful, in the long run. They started ultrasounding in 1998 and feel it has really paid dividends, having that information on the cattle.

Most of the bulls sold are yearlings. “We’ve held a few individuals, maybe if they were on the young end of the group but we thought they were special,” says Mark. “We’ve held and sold them as two-year-olds, but basically we just sell yearlings.”

This year they’re having their first production sale Oct. 1 at the Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch at Billings, MT. It’s a joint sale with McMurrey Cattle, and is called the Montana Harvest Production Sale.

Their cows start calving about the 20th of January. “Most of the yearling bulls are 14 to 15 months old by the time we sell them,” says Mark. “We start calving the heifers about January 20 and are going full bore by the 25th of January because some of the AI bred cows will be calving by then.”

Regarding winter calving, he feels that January is probably the best month. “During most winters in January we’ll have daytime highs in the 30s and above zero at night, which is about perfect,” he says. It’s cold enough to keep the mud frozen, and it’s not wet and sloppy. “By late February and first of March we have more snowstorms and wider temperature swings, which is harder on the young calves. We’ve thought about possibly starting a bunch of fall calving cows, but I just can’t quite get myself convinced to do that.”

In breeding philosophies, the Ehlkes don’t push any of the fads or extremes in traits.

“We stay more in the middle, with much of our emphasis on maternal qualities. The cow has to raise a calf and breed back in our harsh environment, in order to work for us or for our customers,” says Mark. “There is an argument to be made that if you push for big ribeye cattle, a lot of the traits that are more economically important in the cow herd get lost. By the same token, we don’t select against a big ribeye.”

Their goal is to try for complementary traits, having the best they can of both, without sacrificing either.

“Initially we had a fairly strong horned Hereford genetic base, but now we are breeding the horns off,” says Mark. “We purchase mostly polled bulls. That’s not to say that we won’t use an extremely good horned bull occasionally, and selectively breed him. Most of the people that come into our bull pen are looking for polled cattle.”

Most stockmen don’t want to deal with horns, and polled Herefords have made great strides in improving their breed, during the past several decades.

“There are some excellent polled Herefords available now, and I like to think that we are involved in two or three of the best polled bulls out there, in this day and age,” he says.

He and Della own a couple of companies, in addition to their cattle business. “One of these is Montana Hydraulics, in Helena, and the other is FELCO Industries, in Missoula,” says Mark. “The latter is mainly a fabrication shop that produces a line of compaction equipment used in the construction industry. Montana Hydraulics is a full service machine shop. We build a line of equipment for the roundwood industry. Our customer base is construction and industrial. These sideline businesses allow me to ranch.

“It is kind of sad that there are very few family ranches – at least in our area – that can make it financially without some kind of off farm income,” says Mark. “The younger generation coming up will have an even tougher challenge.”

He and Della have two daughters. Lacey is 21 and a senior at Montana State University. The younger daughter Jane’a is 18 and starting as a freshman at Rocky Mountain College in Billings. Both of them were very active in 4-H and showing cattle in the Montana CHB shows while growing up. Jane’a has been involved in showing cattle for eight years, and during those years at the Broadwater County Fair she had six Grand Champions. Both girls went to Canada in August to show in the Canadian Junior National Bonanza. They own 50 percent of a heifer in Canada.

Jane’a plans to go into nursing, and Lacey is thinking about going on to law school.

“They own about 20 cows between them,” says Mark. “This is the incentive to get them to come back and help dad when needed. They are the best help we could have. With both of them going to be gone this fall, we will really miss their help.”

The ranch has one full time employee, but the girls have been very involved with the cattle all their lives, and excellent help.

Regarding his philosophies about breeding cattle, Ehlke says the goal is to breed useful, functional cattle that will work in any environment. “They must be good, honest cattle that will carcass,” he says.

Their customer base is expanding because people can depend on these cattle. “Many of the bulls we’ve sold are being used for five, six or even seven years,” says Mark. “On the one hand that’s great, and on the other hand these ranchers don’t need to come back as often for new bulls!” But the satisfied customers will be back.

“We rarely have any complaints or issues with anything that leaves our ranch,” adds Mark. “Our policy is to not sell anything that we wouldn’t be happy to use ourselves.” Quality standards are very high. Some of the genetic influences in the Ehlke herd include McMurreys Ranger bull. “We also brought in some Harvey Ranch bulls from Canada and we are thrilled with the quality of their offspring.

“Our climate here gives us about 12 inches of annual precipitation, and it usually comes in two or three storms over the course of the year, so we are pretty dry most of the time. Our pastures are basically all dry land. Our elevation is between 4,000 and 5,000 feet and we have a couple of pastures that are about 6,000 feet.”

The cattle must be hardy, thrifty, efficient and functional. The quality and longevity of these Herefords, and the crossbred replacement females produced by the Ehlkes, can help ensure profitability for their commercial customers.

Mark and Della Ehlke raise purebred Herefords near Townsend, MT. Mark has been involved with cattle all his life. “My folks had registered black cattle when I was a kid,” says Mark. “After Della and I were married we bought land in this valley in 1993, and then expanded our ranch. I had a few commercial cows at that point, but we started breeding registered Herefords in 1993.

“We had a bit of a jump-start in this program because we’d leased some cows from Byron Byers for four years and at the end of that time we bought those cows. We’ve been adding to that foundation ever since. Currently we have well over 100 registered cows, with a similar number of commercial cows.”

Ehlke’s commercial black cattle all trace back to North Fork Angus.

“Nelson Wert is a good friend of ours, and had property next to ours,” says Mark. “We ended up buying some commercial cattle with North Fork Angus breeding, and we now rent the grass on what was his old ranch. Our operation covers 5,000 acres, and much of that is leased.”

The Ehlkes do quite a bit of crossbreeding and maintain just enough purebred Angus genetics to produce their replacement heifers.

“The cows themselves are purebred, but most of them have crossbred calves. We AI the purebred cows one cycle for replacement heifers and then they are cleaned up with Hereford bulls,” Mark explains.

Their seedstock program is strictly Hereford; they don’t market any Angus bulls. The Angus cows are just maintained for their own commercial calf production, but they also market black baldy replacement heifers. There is an excellent market for these heifers since they are a true F1 cross – the parents are purebred from each breed.

“Originally we didn’t have papers on some of those Angus cows, but since then we’ve been using better bulls and most of the Angus cows are registered,” says Mark. “We’ve bought a few registered Angus bulls but mainly we just use AI. The crossbred replacement heifers are sold through private treaty. We plan to offer a group of them this year, however, in a production female sale in October.”

From a range point of view, according to Ehlke, there is no way to top the black baldy cows. They’ve proven their worth over many decades.

“We have a handful of them ourselves, that for one reason or another didn’t fit in the group we were marketing, and we kept them,” says Mark. “Depending on what we’re doing, we may put an egg in them to have them raise a purebred calf, but whatever calf they have nursing on them will always be at the top end of the calves, no matter what.”

The Ehlkes do some embryo transfers and this year put in 35 eggs. “Normally we do that with a group of our own recipient cows, but we’ve run up against the fact that we don’t have enough cows within that age window, to use as recips,” says Mark. “We probably bred too many baldy calves and not enough black ones, for a period of time. So all of our eggs this year are out in cooperative herds. We use a couple different ET techs and the recip cows are owned by some of their customers.”

The Ehlke Hereford bulls are all sold by private treaty, usually starting about the first of March.

“We do not offer anything until we have our ultrasound results back on these cattle, and it’s pretty hard to have that all finished any earlier than the first of March,” explains Mark. “We’ve been asked a few times to sell an outstanding bull or heifer calf prior to that, but we try not to sell them early. We want to keep that data coming back into the herd. That way I know that all of them are being scanned.”

Having this data on every animal – bull or replacement female – is helpful, in the long run. They started ultrasounding in 1998 and feel it has really paid dividends, having that information on the cattle.

Most of the bulls sold are yearlings. “We’ve held a few individuals, maybe if they were on the young end of the group but we thought they were special,” says Mark. “We’ve held and sold them as two-year-olds, but basically we just sell yearlings.”

This year they’re having their first production sale Oct. 1 at the Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch at Billings, MT. It’s a joint sale with McMurrey Cattle, and is called the Montana Harvest Production Sale.

Their cows start calving about the 20th of January. “Most of the yearling bulls are 14 to 15 months old by the time we sell them,” says Mark. “We start calving the heifers about January 20 and are going full bore by the 25th of January because some of the AI bred cows will be calving by then.”

Regarding winter calving, he feels that January is probably the best month. “During most winters in January we’ll have daytime highs in the 30s and above zero at night, which is about perfect,” he says. It’s cold enough to keep the mud frozen, and it’s not wet and sloppy. “By late February and first of March we have more snowstorms and wider temperature swings, which is harder on the young calves. We’ve thought about possibly starting a bunch of fall calving cows, but I just can’t quite get myself convinced to do that.”

In breeding philosophies, the Ehlkes don’t push any of the fads or extremes in traits.

“We stay more in the middle, with much of our emphasis on maternal qualities. The cow has to raise a calf and breed back in our harsh environment, in order to work for us or for our customers,” says Mark. “There is an argument to be made that if you push for big ribeye cattle, a lot of the traits that are more economically important in the cow herd get lost. By the same token, we don’t select against a big ribeye.”

Their goal is to try for complementary traits, having the best they can of both, without sacrificing either.

“Initially we had a fairly strong horned Hereford genetic base, but now we are breeding the horns off,” says Mark. “We purchase mostly polled bulls. That’s not to say that we won’t use an extremely good horned bull occasionally, and selectively breed him. Most of the people that come into our bull pen are looking for polled cattle.”

Most stockmen don’t want to deal with horns, and polled Herefords have made great strides in improving their breed, during the past several decades.

“There are some excellent polled Herefords available now, and I like to think that we are involved in two or three of the best polled bulls out there, in this day and age,” he says.

He and Della own a couple of companies, in addition to their cattle business. “One of these is Montana Hydraulics, in Helena, and the other is FELCO Industries, in Missoula,” says Mark. “The latter is mainly a fabrication shop that produces a line of compaction equipment used in the construction industry. Montana Hydraulics is a full service machine shop. We build a line of equipment for the roundwood industry. Our customer base is construction and industrial. These sideline businesses allow me to ranch.

“It is kind of sad that there are very few family ranches – at least in our area – that can make it financially without some kind of off farm income,” says Mark. “The younger generation coming up will have an even tougher challenge.”

He and Della have two daughters. Lacey is 21 and a senior at Montana State University. The younger daughter Jane’a is 18 and starting as a freshman at Rocky Mountain College in Billings. Both of them were very active in 4-H and showing cattle in the Montana CHB shows while growing up. Jane’a has been involved in showing cattle for eight years, and during those years at the Broadwater County Fair she had six Grand Champions. Both girls went to Canada in August to show in the Canadian Junior National Bonanza. They own 50 percent of a heifer in Canada.

Jane’a plans to go into nursing, and Lacey is thinking about going on to law school.

“They own about 20 cows between them,” says Mark. “This is the incentive to get them to come back and help dad when needed. They are the best help we could have. With both of them going to be gone this fall, we will really miss their help.”

The ranch has one full time employee, but the girls have been very involved with the cattle all their lives, and excellent help.

Regarding his philosophies about breeding cattle, Ehlke says the goal is to breed useful, functional cattle that will work in any environment. “They must be good, honest cattle that will carcass,” he says.

Their customer base is expanding because people can depend on these cattle. “Many of the bulls we’ve sold are being used for five, six or even seven years,” says Mark. “On the one hand that’s great, and on the other hand these ranchers don’t need to come back as often for new bulls!” But the satisfied customers will be back.

“We rarely have any complaints or issues with anything that leaves our ranch,” adds Mark. “Our policy is to not sell anything that we wouldn’t be happy to use ourselves.” Quality standards are very high. Some of the genetic influences in the Ehlke herd include McMurreys Ranger bull. “We also brought in some Harvey Ranch bulls from Canada and we are thrilled with the quality of their offspring.

“Our climate here gives us about 12 inches of annual precipitation, and it usually comes in two or three storms over the course of the year, so we are pretty dry most of the time. Our pastures are basically all dry land. Our elevation is between 4,000 and 5,000 feet and we have a couple of pastures that are about 6,000 feet.”

The cattle must be hardy, thrifty, efficient and functional. The quality and longevity of these Herefords, and the crossbred replacement females produced by the Ehlkes, can help ensure profitability for their commercial customers.

Mark and Della Ehlke raise purebred Herefords near Townsend, MT. Mark has been involved with cattle all his life. “My folks had registered black cattle when I was a kid,” says Mark. “After Della and I were married we bought land in this valley in 1993, and then expanded our ranch. I had a few commercial cows at that point, but we started breeding registered Herefords in 1993.

“We had a bit of a jump-start in this program because we’d leased some cows from Byron Byers for four years and at the end of that time we bought those cows. We’ve been adding to that foundation ever since. Currently we have well over 100 registered cows, with a similar number of commercial cows.”

Ehlke’s commercial black cattle all trace back to North Fork Angus.

“Nelson Wert is a good friend of ours, and had property next to ours,” says Mark. “We ended up buying some commercial cattle with North Fork Angus breeding, and we now rent the grass on what was his old ranch. Our operation covers 5,000 acres, and much of that is leased.”

The Ehlkes do quite a bit of crossbreeding and maintain just enough purebred Angus genetics to produce their replacement heifers.

“The cows themselves are purebred, but most of them have crossbred calves. We AI the purebred cows one cycle for replacement heifers and then they are cleaned up with Hereford bulls,” Mark explains.

Their seedstock program is strictly Hereford; they don’t market any Angus bulls. The Angus cows are just maintained for their own commercial calf production, but they also market black baldy replacement heifers. There is an excellent market for these heifers since they are a true F1 cross – the parents are purebred from each breed.

“Originally we didn’t have papers on some of those Angus cows, but since then we’ve been using better bulls and most of the Angus cows are registered,” says Mark. “We’ve bought a few registered Angus bulls but mainly we just use AI. The crossbred replacement heifers are sold through private treaty. We plan to offer a group of them this year, however, in a production female sale in October.”

From a range point of view, according to Ehlke, there is no way to top the black baldy cows. They’ve proven their worth over many decades.

“We have a handful of them ourselves, that for one reason or another didn’t fit in the group we were marketing, and we kept them,” says Mark. “Depending on what we’re doing, we may put an egg in them to have them raise a purebred calf, but whatever calf they have nursing on them will always be at the top end of the calves, no matter what.”

The Ehlkes do some embryo transfers and this year put in 35 eggs. “Normally we do that with a group of our own recipient cows, but we’ve run up against the fact that we don’t have enough cows within that age window, to use as recips,” says Mark. “We probably bred too many baldy calves and not enough black ones, for a period of time. So all of our eggs this year are out in cooperative herds. We use a couple different ET techs and the recip cows are owned by some of their customers.”

The Ehlke Hereford bulls are all sold by private treaty, usually starting about the first of March.

“We do not offer anything until we have our ultrasound results back on these cattle, and it’s pretty hard to have that all finished any earlier than the first of March,” explains Mark. “We’ve been asked a few times to sell an outstanding bull or heifer calf prior to that, but we try not to sell them early. We want to keep that data coming back into the herd. That way I know that all of them are being scanned.”

Having this data on every animal – bull or replacement female – is helpful, in the long run. They started ultrasounding in 1998 and feel it has really paid dividends, having that information on the cattle.

Most of the bulls sold are yearlings. “We’ve held a few individuals, maybe if they were on the young end of the group but we thought they were special,” says Mark. “We’ve held and sold them as two-year-olds, but basically we just sell yearlings.”

This year they’re having their first production sale Oct. 1 at the Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch at Billings, MT. It’s a joint sale with McMurrey Cattle, and is called the Montana Harvest Production Sale.

Their cows start calving about the 20th of January. “Most of the yearling bulls are 14 to 15 months old by the time we sell them,” says Mark. “We start calving the heifers about January 20 and are going full bore by the 25th of January because some of the AI bred cows will be calving by then.”

Regarding winter calving, he feels that January is probably the best month. “During most winters in January we’ll have daytime highs in the 30s and above zero at night, which is about perfect,” he says. It’s cold enough to keep the mud frozen, and it’s not wet and sloppy. “By late February and first of March we have more snowstorms and wider temperature swings, which is harder on the young calves. We’ve thought about possibly starting a bunch of fall calving cows, but I just can’t quite get myself convinced to do that.”

In breeding philosophies, the Ehlkes don’t push any of the fads or extremes in traits.

“We stay more in the middle, with much of our emphasis on maternal qualities. The cow has to raise a calf and breed back in our harsh environment, in order to work for us or for our customers,” says Mark. “There is an argument to be made that if you push for big ribeye cattle, a lot of the traits that are more economically important in the cow herd get lost. By the same token, we don’t select against a big ribeye.”

Their goal is to try for complementary traits, having the best they can of both, without sacrificing either.

“Initially we had a fairly strong horned Hereford genetic base, but now we are breeding the horns off,” says Mark. “We purchase mostly polled bulls. That’s not to say that we won’t use an extremely good horned bull occasionally, and selectively breed him. Most of the people that come into our bull pen are looking for polled cattle.”

Most stockmen don’t want to deal with horns, and polled Herefords have made great strides in improving their breed, during the past several decades.

“There are some excellent polled Herefords available now, and I like to think that we are involved in two or three of the best polled bulls out there, in this day and age,” he says.

He and Della own a couple of companies, in addition to their cattle business. “One of these is Montana Hydraulics, in Helena, and the other is FELCO Industries, in Missoula,” says Mark. “The latter is mainly a fabrication shop that produces a line of compaction equipment used in the construction industry. Montana Hydraulics is a full service machine shop. We build a line of equipment for the roundwood industry. Our customer base is construction and industrial. These sideline businesses allow me to ranch.

“It is kind of sad that there are very few family ranches – at least in our area – that can make it financially without some kind of off farm income,” says Mark. “The younger generation coming up will have an even tougher challenge.”

He and Della have two daughters. Lacey is 21 and a senior at Montana State University. The younger daughter Jane’a is 18 and starting as a freshman at Rocky Mountain College in Billings. Both of them were very active in 4-H and showing cattle in the Montana CHB shows while growing up. Jane’a has been involved in showing cattle for eight years, and during those years at the Broadwater County Fair she had six Grand Champions. Both girls went to Canada in August to show in the Canadian Junior National Bonanza. They own 50 percent of a heifer in Canada.

Jane’a plans to go into nursing, and Lacey is thinking about going on to law school.

“They own about 20 cows between them,” says Mark. “This is the incentive to get them to come back and help dad when needed. They are the best help we could have. With both of them going to be gone this fall, we will really miss their help.”

The ranch has one full time employee, but the girls have been very involved with the cattle all their lives, and excellent help.

Regarding his philosophies about breeding cattle, Ehlke says the goal is to breed useful, functional cattle that will work in any environment. “They must be good, honest cattle that will carcass,” he says.

Their customer base is expanding because people can depend on these cattle. “Many of the bulls we’ve sold are being used for five, six or even seven years,” says Mark. “On the one hand that’s great, and on the other hand these ranchers don’t need to come back as often for new bulls!” But the satisfied customers will be back.

“We rarely have any complaints or issues with anything that leaves our ranch,” adds Mark. “Our policy is to not sell anything that we wouldn’t be happy to use ourselves.” Quality standards are very high. Some of the genetic influences in the Ehlke herd include McMurreys Ranger bull. “We also brought in some Harvey Ranch bulls from Canada and we are thrilled with the quality of their offspring.

“Our climate here gives us about 12 inches of annual precipitation, and it usually comes in two or three storms over the course of the year, so we are pretty dry most of the time. Our pastures are basically all dry land. Our elevation is between 4,000 and 5,000 feet and we have a couple of pastures that are about 6,000 feet.”

The cattle must be hardy, thrifty, efficient and functional. The quality and longevity of these Herefords, and the crossbred replacement females produced by the Ehlkes, can help ensure profitability for their commercial customers.