Selecting for improvement: Montana Meidingers look for opportunities to grow
The Meidinger family has been raising cattle for six generations on their ranch located in Fallon, Montana. The Meidinger family takes pride in their Simmental Red Angus-cross cattle herd. But their herd and practices have looked quite different over the years.
Delynn Meidinger became an equal partner with his father in 1976. In 2003 his son Cody Meidinger took over his grandfather’s place as his father’s partner and visionary for the operation. Their ranch has seen an increase in herd and land size by 450 percent from when Delynn started to where they are today.
Originally most of their ranch was part of a community partnership called the Prairie County Agreement. In this arrangement, ranchers in the area all ran their cattle together for roughly six months out of the year. This allowed them to universally use a few bulls across their herds. When it started, they had to run Hereford bulls and eventually that switched to Black Angus bulls. Managing this way it was harder to make any changes in anyone’s herd genetics. “It didn’t really matter what you did in your herd unless everyone else followed suit,” said Delynn Meidinger.
In 1980 the ranchers that were part of this agreement decided to fence out their separate sections of the land, which allowed for them to make personal changes in grazing management and herd genetics. Meidingers started using AI to see the quickest improvement. They intensively focused on the EPDs of the bulls they chose to increase calving ease and fleshing in their cattle. These genetic changes changed the size of their weanlings from 450 lbs to 650 lbs upon arrival at the feeders. Today, they’ve gone back to primarily running bulls for natural service, but they carefully select to keep increasing hybrid vigor and quality in their herd. Primarily they use bulls from Milk Creek Reds and Bulls of the Big Sky. Using these two seedstock sources has built a consistent foundation of high-quality red SimAngus cattle and added that sought-after hybrid vigor and fertility.
“We like the mothers this cross produces,” said Delynn. They’ve seen increased milking ability in their cows, and their heifers calve out with very little assistance. They’ve achieved this by consistently selecting for milking ability, specific birthweights, and calving ease. They’ve also seen that this cross has increased the fleshing and growth rate on their calves, so they hit their target weight by fall easily to move on to the feeder.
Another practice they’ve found successful is keeping their cows on a ten-year cycle. Meidinger reasoned that after they hit 10 years old, they start to lose their ability to naturally maintain at a high level, although many of their cows have gone on to other operations and continued to perform for a few more years after.
All of the operational changes they have made have allowed them to focus on other areas of their operation such as haying, farming and hauling their own calves and grain in addition to managing their cow-calf herd.
Conservation practices in land and water have been just as integral to the operation as the genetic changes they’ve made. “We want to be able to turn it over to future generations better than what we started with,” said Meidinger.
This idea has led to many changes in rotational grazing for better land and water management. With drought being a persistent issue, Meidinger said it makes resource management strategies even more important. They’ve found that switching up their grazing patterns has been key to maintaining the health of their pastures and water sources through dry spells.
One of the most successful intervals they’ve used has been to intensely graze a section for a few months and then allow it to “rest” for a year in between grazings. “The change has been amazing because you don’t hit the same pasture each year as it’s trying to grow,” said Meidinger.
As for water health, the ranch has a pipeline in place connected to multiple solar wells, which takes the stress off the O’Fallon stream that runs through their property. “We want to give them a reason not to go to the stream all the time,” said Meidinger. Providing alternative sources safeguards them from exhausting one source too much, creating a natural balance.
Today, Cody’s sons Ethan, Owen, and Austyn help alongside their father and grandfather, making them the sixth generation to work on the ranch. The boys’ involvement and drive in all areas of the ranch give the Meidinger family hope for what the future holds for them.
It’s not just improvement of herd genetics, resource management, adapting practices and looking forward that have kept this operation thriving for six generations, it’s an inherited love for the land and cattle they work with that continues to make this family’s ranch a legacy.