Green Mountain Red Angus builds strong herd on good mother cows
Generations of outstanding bulls and females produced at Green Mountain Red Angus in Three Forks, Montana have made the operation one of the nation’s premier sources for top quality cattle. Nestled in the heart of the Bridger Mountain Range, Bob and Julie Morton understand that success does not happen overnight and attribute the ranch’s reputation to a vision that was first conceived when Bob’s father Jim had ahold of the reins. “Dad always had a pull through approach and I have the same mentality regarding long term goals,” said Morton. To reach those goals, the Morton’s put in place a strategic plan that helps them recognize where they are and keeps them headed in the right direction.
The ranch originally ran commercial cows and Bob learned early on from his dad Jim the necessary emphasis a successful cattleman should place on performance records. “Even though they were commercial cattle, we were still very in to performance data, taking detailed records and even created our own weaning index,” said Morton. Those ideals still play a strong role today in the selection criteria for each female and bull used on the ranch. “EPD’s might not be perfect, but they are certainly the best tool we have at our disposal and I believe in them 100 percent,” said Morton.
From the very beginning, the Morton’s have used their “perfect mother cow” philosophy to build a strong cow herd. Green Mountain Red Angus has never deviated from their approach in making cows that are good uddered and sound on their feet and legs with plenty of growth. “My ideal cow would weigh about 1300 pounds and measure about a 5.6 frame, I have never been one to sacrifice growth, with a level udder, ample milk and good feet and legs,” said Morton. And it just so happened that Dave Cawlfield had a small group of registered Red Angus cows in the early 1980’s that fit the Morton’s mold for a good mother cow. “Dave had put together a nice group of cows that were running with us already on the Green Mountain Range and so when the opportunity to buy some fell in our lap, we purchased them,” said Morton.
With such a strong prevalence of Angus cattle in the region, the Morton’s saw the Red Angus market as unsaturated and thought they would have a chance to competitively market these cattle. As time would pass, purchases from Leachman Cattle, Rapid Canyon Ranch, Bootjack and the NILE grew the Red Angus numbers at Green Mountain. In 1990, the ranch sold the entirety of the commercial cow base and became exclusively Red Angus. “Since then we have seen rapid growth in Red Angus registration and membership with high demand for females and bulls,” said Morton. Even with the production change at the ranch, the Morton’s recognized not to stray from their goal of producing tremendous females who can raise sought after bulls and keep that as the focus of their program. “Our philosophy is to make a strong mother cow and as a result we pull DNA on every female and utilize genomics heavily,” said Morton.
Relationships are often what makes or breaks the success of a ranch and Green Mountain works very closely with their customer base to insure their buyers get the cattle they need and then turn around and help market the calves from those same customers. “Cattle have to be profitable for all stages of the market, we are all in this together,” said Morton. With that mindset, Morton has maintained a focus on cattle with good growth, carcass, and maternal characteristics. “I would like for my cattle to be in the top 50% of the breed for all epd’s across the board and so I will look closely at comparatively mating a certain bull to a cow but, typically I only tweak things here and there, never anything too drastic,” said Morton.
With such a detailed long-term goal, the Morton’s have been fortunate enough to breed some truly outstanding cattle that have created them a very strong customer base among seedstock and commercial cattleman. “Our outlook has always stayed steady though and a bunch of our better cows still trace back to the original Lakota cow family purchased from Dave in the 80’s. The Cawlfield lineage is still prominent within our herd,” said Morton.
Each spring Green Mountain Red Angus offers a set of elite bulls in their annual sale that have gone through a rigorous selection process. These bulls are a collection of the very best and must come from a cow the Morton’s feel like they can stand behind. “These bulls must come from a mother with a good udder and be structurally sound so that they can be athletes, I don’t want any couch potatoes,” said Morton. The bulls at Green Mountain are developed on a high roughage diet without being pushed too hard so that they can offer plenty of longevity well in to the breeding season. In fact, Green Mountain has been feeding a similar ration to their bulls since their program began in the early 90’s. “Because we have kept our feeding program so steady over the years, I know exactly what the bulls will look like in a month, on sale day, and next year too,” said Morton.
The future looks about the same for Green Mountain Red Angus as it did 20 years ago too. Emphasis on making the cows good, and staying true in their breeding principals, will continue to guide the Morton’s in Three Forks. Morton said, “We must create demand for the end user. No doubt the cattle business is a competition, but we are in this together to feed the world.”
All photos by Jim Morton