Gates Limousin: Back to the country for the Gates family
January 10, 2018
When Gary Gates graduated from high school, he swore he didn't want to ranch for a living, having grown up on his parent's ranch in the 1970s and 1980s. An engineering degree led to a career that took him to Washington state, Idaho and Colorado. In that time, Gary got married and started a family. During trips to take the kids to see the grandparents, something interesting happened. The Gates kids decided that life on the ranch had more appeal than life in the Denver suburbs.
"Our children (now 23 and 12) wanted to stay in Montana more than back home, and my parents could use a little more help, so in 2007 we moved back to Montana," said Gates, who now runs Gates Limousin Ranch with his mother.
Gates' wife, Brandi, explains that since neither she nor Gary were city kids, moving back to Montana didn't take much convincing. "It was something we wanted to do. What's in your blood is tough to get away from and our kids loved it. As the next generation you want to carry on that tradition. In the city everything seems convenient and you think it's easier. But when we moved back to Montana, we realized how stressful life had been in Denver."
Ranching is certainly in Gary's blood as his parents started ranching around 1960. He and his five siblings all helped on the ranch, which originally ran Hereford cattle. In the early 1970s one of their neighbors had some Limousin cattle, which were first introduced in the United States in 1969.
"He bragged about the Limousin breed so the parents decided to try a bull and liked the results," Gary said. "At that time my parents were still strictly a commercial cow-calf operation and every 3-5 years they had to rotate bulls. We had also used Simmental, Angus and Herefords, working to get a good crossbred cow. I think they tried about every combination there was. About 20 years ago they started using almost exclusively Limousin bulls on their commercial herd and were pleased with the results."
The Roscoe-area rancher says that although their ranch still primarily raises commercial cattle, they also are seedstock breeders with a registered Limousin herd. They find their Limousin sired calves outperform other crosses, and believe the breed complements Angus and other British breeds. The Limousin breed is known for its natural muscling and leanness.
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In the 1980s, this Continental breed was also known for its less-than-easy disposition, as were many breeds at that time, but that has changed dramatically. The breed now promotes docility along with growth, which has become a major desired trait in cattle, especially as farmers and ranchers are aging.
"You can't afford to have mean cattle. In the past, bad dispositions in cattle were tolerated more than they should have been," said Gary. "Even the best looking, best performing bull needs a good disposition. If you say your breeding program focuses on docility, you need to live up to that promise."
Brandi said their 12-year-old daughter often says, "You won't let me jump on the trampoline but you will let me go in with a pen of bulls."
The 140 commercial cows and 60 registered cows calve in February and March. Ten to 20 yearling bulls are sold private treaty in the spring. Most Limousin breeders and cattlemen hail from Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas. The Gates are one of a small handful of Limousin seedstock breeders in Montana. Instead of being discouraged by this, Gates sees this an opportunity to promote and grow the breed.
"I can't imagine not being in the cattle business. I really enjoy seedstock production and being involved in the beef industry," said Gary. "I like the relationship building with other cattle operations to provide them bulls with the intent of bettering their bottom line. Since I can't get away from my nerdy engineer roots, I love the data involved with the EPDs and genomics that are at the forefront of the seedstock industry today."
Gary has served on the board of directors for the North American Limousin Foundation and is still chair of Breed Improvement Committee which works to decipher some of the national challenges of the breed. "We talk about how to grow the breed. The nation's cow herd is experiencing little to no growth, so as a breed to compliment Angus how do we break in? If you want to sell one more bull than last year, how do you build up that program to put you above other breeds? Even locally, when we sell bulls, commercial guys have numerous choices. You need to get them invested in the breed you have and then build relationships and trust."
Having quality bulls that stand out is essential to attracting buyers, as is educating livestock producers on the Limousin breed. "I explain why Limousin cattle are a good cross on British-based cowherds. The fullblood French Limousin was red and horned. But today, Limousin are polled and can be red or black. So today's Limousin can work on the black cattle or red cattle without giving up their desired color base."
Recently the Gates family purchased a new ranch headquarters. The Gates had always leased their place, but leasing has become extremely competitive. When the leased land is sold, often the new owners want to go in a new direction. Trying to find new leases is one of the biggest challenges the ranch faces today. The family, including Gary's mother, who is still running the business, is thankful to have their own place to raise cattle and a family.
"Being an engineer, you think you do important work," Gary mused. "However, sometimes you can't see what you've accomplished. With ranching, you get to see the product you create. In addition, every year provides a new set of challenges and new bars to raise. We're never done trying to improve our product."