Winter Cattle Journal 2020: Feddes Herefords, Cattle built to handle the elements
Feddes Herefords of Manhattan, Montana is a family-owned operation that upholds tradition while seeking the innovation of the future. The backdrop of the Bridger Mountains has provided a unique setting for raising hardy cattle for nearly 80 years. Dan Feddes carries on his family’s Hereford roots alongside his brother, Tim, and son, Taylor. “My dad [Marvin] and his brother [Neal] started in 1945. In 1983, that was after my uncle passed away, we split the place and we continued on with the Herefords and my cousin, Chuck, he raises Red Angus now,” Feddes said.
Feddes Herefords sells bulls and females year-round by private treaty. “I get asked when we start selling, but we sell whenever somebody wants to buy them,” Feddes said. “We’ve been getting most of them [bulls] sold by the time they’re 18 months. They go out and breed the first year. It’s worked well. The females, we sell most of them in the fall as bred cows or heifers.”
Maternal traits are a focal point in the Feddes program. “Our emphasis has always been on the female. If you have good females, then the bulls will come.” With the climate comes challenges that the cows make up for: “Good udders and plenty of milk. We need a lot of milk in this country. I say anybody that thinks you get too much milk has never calved cows when it’s thirty below,” he said.
Feddes seeks the females’ influence in the bull crop. “Now, we’re concentrating on proven bulls with lighter birthweight and high growth of the yearling EPDs. We use EPDs a lot and we use visual a lot. I’m a believer in EPDs, if they’re proven, and we use them quite a lot in our breeding selections. But we still look at them and know what they look like. We still want enough frame but we’re still trying to get more thickness and we’ve always had good length in them. Our main emphasis is still the female,” he said.
Feddes raises high-end Herefords because he believes in the versatility of the breed. “We’ve always believed in them because we think they’re more adapted to this country. The cold–I think they stand it better than any breed out there. They’ve kind of proven their worth throughout the years. They’re a breed that is fit to take the harsh winters and falls and everything else that we get for weather and still can stand the heat,” he said.
Along with the preservation of his family’s Hereford heritage comes the adjustment to modern markets. The current trend seems to be the Black Angus/Hereford cross, which makes up a large percentage of his bull sales. “Most of them just go to good commercial men with black cows. It’s the hybrid figure in the baldies. They’re probably the most popular steers and probably as popular as any for heifers. They’ve proven that the baldie female lasts longer and breeds better and stays in the herd longer, and that’s where the money is: keeping them in the herd,” he said. Feddes also sells to other registered Hereford breeders. “Most of our females that we don’t keep for ourselves go for the registered breeders. We try not to sell anything that we won’t keep ourselves.”
Feddes also encourages hardiness and natural selection through their feeding program. “We wean our heifer calves and turn them back out on pasture. They never get any grain. When it snows or we run out of pasture, we get them in and we feed them long hay, grass/alfalfa mix. Supplement salt and mineral and that’s all they get. We breed them on that and if they don’t breed, we don’t keep them. We don’t keep anything that doesn’t breed within about 45 days. This year we had one open female, so that’s been our goal is to get them to cycle with no extra feeds. The bulls, we wean them and we turn them back out on grass about the first of September. They’ll eat grass or grass/alfalfa hay until about the middle of December and then we take them to a feedlot and we get them ready to sell in the spring. We try to get by on minimal feed,” Feddes said.
Though Dan’s father, Marvin, passed away two years ago, his legacy lives on in his sons. “We worked together every day so you learn as you work. Mainly, you learn by watching and doing it. We went on a lot of trips looking at bulls and stuff. That is where we learned everything, is from my dad,” he said. In turn, Dan Feddes passes on advice to young ranchers: “I think a lot of it is sticking with what you believe in, whether it’s with cattle or not to be afraid to change with the times. It’s like I always tell my kids. They say we don’t make enough money and I say, ‘Well, it’s not if you don’t make enough, it’s if you spend too much.’ You always have to be careful. Your expenses can’t exceed your income or you’re not going to last long. On the other hand, you have to spend money to make money. It’s a fine balance.”
The mountain scenery near the Feddes Ranch brings beauty and burdens equally, as the climate can be a hurdle. He said, “That’s the main challenge is the weather up here. It is what it is. People ask me if this is normal and I say, ‘There is no normal in Montana. There’s just an average.’ We calve in January because we sell our bulls at a year old, they go out and breed at 16 months. We need them to be January/February calves. We calve a lot of cows in 20-30-below weather. We calve them, they dry off, and they go out. That’s the thing about Herefords, they can go out in that weather and get along.” Feddes also said that they may receive snow during every month of the year and growing crops is nearly impossible due to the short growing season. “We can’t raise corn for grain. It just doesn’t have enough time to mature. There’s a lot of guys that will raise it for silage, but you can’t depend on it. We raise wheat and then we raise a lot of alfalfa/grass mix hay and sell it for horse hay. There’s a lot of horses around here. That’s been good to us,” he said.
For Feddes, the battle with Mother Nature actually brings a sense of peace in his work. “Honestly, we don’t worry too much about the future, because we know who controls the future and we don’t. It’s not us. We truly believe in that, that God is in control and we’re here as stewards of the land. You always think about the future but it is certainly not something we can control,” he said. “We enjoy it. It’s fun. There’s obviously a lot of times where it’s not so much fun, but nothing quite like checking cows and finding baby calves. I always enjoy going out and looking at them.”
“We love our farm but our family and our Lord come first. That’s just the way it is here. We work here every day is a gift from God. Boy, it doesn’t take very long to see that. Life changes in five seconds. I have no sage advice, we just live day to day,” Feddes said.