One NILE heifer launches purebred business for McFadgen family from Stevensville |

One NILE heifer launches purebred business for McFadgen family from Stevensville

Rebecca Colnar
for Tri-State Livestock News

It all started at the Northern International Livestock Expo (NILE) Rodeo and Stock Show in 2007 in Billings, Montana.

Melissa McFadgen, age 18 at the time, wanted to purchase a show heifer. Her family had commercial cattle, but she was looking for a quality purebred heifer. She had been helping Tom Ayres with his show animals at the NILE and wanted to pick out a really good heifer. The industrious young woman had a lawn mowing business, money from selling her 4-H steers, and father, Mark, had paid her to run the swather while haying in the summer.

“She had a budget for the heifer, and before the sale, I told her to not let the competition beat her at the sale barn,” remembers Mark. “The Black Angus heifer she wanted came up and the bidding began. It went beyond her budget, so I told her I’d give her $1,000. When the bidding exceeded that, she said she would borrow money from her brother. Finally, she got that heifer for $5,975.”

The good news was the heifer proved to be exceptional. Melissa won several shows with her and she turned out to be a very good cow. “That was the start,” Mark noted. “Melissa really has a knack for picking out really good cows. She bought more Angus heifers at a different sale. Then my wife, Kathy, caught the bug and she and Melissa went to several sales buying registered heifers. I remember one sale in the area – I was finishing up haying and I told Kathy and Melissa I’d meet them at the sale. When I left for the field, I told them I’d come down to the sale for lunch. I told them not to buy anything. When I came through the back door, I heard the auctioneer yell ‘sold for $6,000’ and saw Kathy and Melissa holding up their bid number!”

The Stevensville, Montana rancher explained the reason McFadgen Angus was successful growing a business that started with one quality heifer was that they went on to buy good females. “We didn’t try to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. We started our business with outstanding heifers and picked out good bulls.”

They ordered sexed semen and kept all of those heifer calves while they transitioned from commercial to purebred cattle. Today, they have 125 registered cows. “By using artificial insemination, you can choose some excellent bulls and come out with outstanding cattle,” Mark said.

He noted that although EPDs on bulls continue to improve and is responsible for the quality seen in the bulls today, it’s essential bulls and heifers meet a visual criterion. “Although EPDs are very important to us, we feel it’s very important to have good visual appeal and the phenotype structure of a heifer or bull.”

The McFadgens have had many successes at the NILE. The Hickeys from Moore, Montana, purchased one of their heifers and won the Angus Futurity the following year. (Juniors who purchase heifers at the NILE have the option of coming back and showing in the Angus Futurity.) That same year, the McFadgens sold a heifer for $12,000 in the NILE Heifer Sale.

In 2012, Green Mountain Angus donated a raffle heifer for the Junior Angus Association and raised $26,500. Kathy bought one raffle ticket and amazingly, her number was drawn as winner of that heifer, which has contributed to a lot of nice females at McFadgen Angus.

Mark admits that although being in the purebred business is a lot of work, he loves the quality of the cattle. “When you drive through our cattle and you see one beautiful cow and calf after another, that’s our reward.”

He feels they are on the edge of making their mark in the purebred business. They are starting to sell bulls at the Treasure Bull Test in Great Falls and the North Dakota Bull Test in Dickinson, as well as selling privately in March and April.

Mark believes his appreciation for superior cattle resulted from working for venerable purebred breeder Kevin Mytty. He and Kathy praise other Angus breeders who were very willing to help them along the way. He thanks the NILE for providing the family with the opportunity to start their successful purebred business.

Not only does the couple appreciate the NILE for the quality of cattle available, it’s a great show with friendly faces. “It’s like a big family when we see other breeders. I think we know more people at the NILE than we do at our local grocery store,” Mark said “I would recommend to any parents with a teenage son or daughter to get them involved. It teaches kids so much. I just wish Melissa had gotten involved at 14 years old rather than 18. If your kids want to show, the NILE is an excellent venue to pick up a quality heifer so when your kids do start showing, they will be competitive.”

Speaking of daughters, Melissa met her husband, Travis, during while showing cattle at the National Western Stock Show in 2012. He was from Illinois, so once she was married and moved there, the McFadgens loaded her cattle on a semi bound for Homer, Illinois. Not only do Travis and Melissa have 3,000 acres of corn and soybeans, but Melissa has started a thriving show cattle business.

Kathy and Mark have no plans to retire anytime soon. “Ranching is an important part of our life and our health is good, so we plan to continue to raise our purebred cattle for the foreseeable future,” Mark said. “As long as we enjoy it, we will keep doing what we’re doing.”

Thanks to one heifer, a cow-savvy daughter and the NILE.

For more information on McFadgen Angus, call 406-360-8701.

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