4M Farms

8-month organic farming, cattle (sometimes sheep!) apprenticeship near Malta, Montana

The Farm & Ranch

We purchased the property in October 2012 from Mark Bruckner as an established organic grain farm.  In 2020 we purchased livestock and have been running cow/calf pairs and yearlings. We are in a transition operationally and are working at expanding our operation for the next generation as well as becoming less dependent on the farming.  Our vision and goals are a work in progress. We farm approximately 4700 acres organically and are planting approximately 1800 acres back to grass in 2023.  We own 2720 acres and lease approximately 2000 acres at a location 50 miles from us.  

 

Regenerative Practices

We are currently in transition from farming to grass on most of our main property.  Recently, we put in 12 miles of permanent electric fence with the intention of grazing a short, high intensity grazing system once the grass is established.  Currently, we do not have any livestock grazing on our crop fields as we are leasing grazing at the Nature Conservancy in South Phillips county but anticipate grazing the crop aftermath this Fall/Winter with a lease. We wanted to allow the grass to recover and establish in fields that were planted back to grass. We are certified organic and incorporate cover crops, green manure and when we have livestock on our place practice rotational grazing.  

We anticipate running livestock on leased grazing next year allowing our land for recovery/establishment as necessary.  We keep a close eye on our fields/range and do range monitoring on our property specifically.  

We ultimately are working towards decreasing our farming operation and increasing our livestock operation.  We are planting crop fields to permanent grass, utilizing electric fence and eventually water lines/tanks towards the goal of having an efficient and aggressive rotational grazing system that increases our productivity of the grass, livestock and wildlife.  

 

Map of Brussett, Montana
photo of a Band of Sheep on the Coulter Ranch in Montana

The Mentors

Cliff & Anna Merriman

Cliff and Anna grew up on ranching and/or farming operations.  Cliff has a bachelor’s degree in Range Management/Agronomy and Anna has a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration.  Cliff worked for the BLM and was also a District Soil Conservationist, having extensive knowledge of the NRCS & BLM programs/guidelines/regulations.  It’s important to us that the apprentice understand we started from the very bottom and have worked very hard to get where we are.  We hope to share our experience and perspective as a beginning farmer/rancher with a potential apprentice.  

We have a diverse set of skills and experience.  Our biggest strength is we started as a beginning rancher/farmer, even though we both came from ag backgrounds, and can share that experience.  

 In addition to Cliff & Anna, the apprentice will work with:

Leo and Darla Barthelmess:

Leo and Darla are Anna’s parents and have mentored in the NAP program for four years on their own operation nearby. They are the co-owners/operators of Barthelmess Ranch. The apprentice will work on the Barthelmess Ranch during certain times and will be the lead on mentoring the apprentice when he/she there.  

Chris and Deb Barthelmess:

Chris and Deb Barthelmess are Anna’s uncle and aunt and co-owners/operators of Barthelmess Ranch with Leo and Darla. They will also be mentoring the apprentice.

Eric Barthelmess:

Eric Barthelmess is Anna’s brother. He will be around both operations and have limited mentoring with the apprentice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Apprentice

What will an apprentice do?

 

Farm Maintenance/Organization:

  • Fixing wire and electric fence
  • Mowing/Weed eating around buildings (fire and pest management)
  • Maintain and organize surroundings (such as shop, barn, etc.), these especially are tasks that can be done during downtime or when the weather isn’t condusive to working outside
  • Cleaning grain bins out prior to harvest (pest management)
  • Welding projects around the farm and/or on equipment

Equipment Maintenance/Operation:

  • Assist/take lead on equipment maintenance including, but not limited to:  greasing, airing tires, vacuuming cabs out, fueling up, washing windows by hand, washing equipment with power washer, checking and filling oil, changing shovels on chisel, assisting with general mechanics
    • ATV/UTV operation (safety training)
  • Operating Bobcat skid steer (picking rocks with rock bucket, miscellaneous tasks around the farm)
  • Operating CAT 85C tractors including, but not limited to:  simply moving tractor as needed, pulling an implement (chisel, seed cart, disc), operating the GPS unit within the tractor
  • Operating the following equipment potentially:  swather, baler, 4 wd tractor, combine, rake, semi (CDL not required, but nice to have), scraper (for moving soil)
  • Drive grain trucks, haul grain and empty during harvest specifically
  • Load and haul livestock as necessary
  • Load and haul equipment, such as skid steer, ATV/UTV, etc. as necessary
  • Assist in moving equipment, flagging and/or pulling equipment
  • Operate a 10 speed service truck and semi

 

Livestock Operation:

  • Feed all livestock (this includes horses, cattle and sheep)
  • Assist at calving/lambing – take night checks as necessary, check cows/sheep during day hours, feed bum calves/lambs, tag calves as necessary
  • Check water sources and fences, during which taking a visual inventory and overall well-being of the grazing resources
  • Move and sort cattle, prefer horseback (if apprentice brings own horse, UTV/ATV can be provided if not)
  • Administer medication to livestock as needed
  • Assist at branding (could be any or all of the tasks, to get experience, specifically vaccinating, cutting calves (with knife), branding, tagging, gather/put cattle in branding corral (horses only), help put up branding corral, help get ready for branding (put up branding corral, set up chairs and tables in shop, get supplies ready night before).  Also expected to attend brandings at neighbors if asked.  

Business Operations:

  • Participate/listen at business meetings 
  • QuickBooks – will show you how to do basics on QuickBooks online
  • Projections and cash flows – how to fill out a cash flow/projection for bank

Other Operations:  

  • Assist with range monitoring
  • Attend workshops and range tours as the opportunities arise
  • Utilize map program(s) to create updated maps with the new fences that can be used to put together a grazing plan/crop rotation for the future
  • Potentially, increase our Facebook and Instagram presence, possibly even create/maintain a website

 

What skills and traits are required in an apprentice?

    • Lift at least 50 lbs,
    • Be willing and able to work in various work conditions, i.e. hot, cold, pollen, dust, unpleasant smells. 
    • Must have a valid driver’s license and be willing to drive a manual transmission. 

What skills and traits are desired in an apprentice?

We want an apprentice that asks questions, can take ownership and complete a task, who is honest and thinks outside the box.

If an apprentice has a CDL and has operated big machinery, that is a definite plus! 

Nuts & Bolts

 

Start Date: March 2023

Length of Apprenticeship: We are open to March through November, but flexible if it needs to be longer or shorter.

Stipend:

Stipend is $1000/month, paid on the 1st of the month (for prior month)

Food assistance is negotiable, but some food will be provided or an additional stipend included

No health insurance, but Workman’s Compensation is carried by farm.  If however, the apprentice is injured on his/her day off, gets sick, or has or develops chronic conditions like allergies, these types of issues should be covered by personal health insurance.  

Food and board for one horse

Access to a vehicle for on farm/ranch use, but must have a valid driver’s license

General work hours: Work hours will be discussed during interview. Since we are a farm and a ranch, there are seasonal differences in hours. However, longer days during harvest and planting will be compensated with more time off during the less busy times. 

Housing: Single wide (3 bedroom/2 bath) trailer house with access to everything except the master bedroom/bathroom.  It is furnished with a couch, twin bed, TV (antenna), kitchen table/chairs, washer/dryer.  It has HVAC air conditioning/heat and apprentice will be expected to keep it clean.  Recently installed RO system on the well, so water is very good and drinkable. You should bring your own pillow and towels. Items provided:  Cooking utensils, pots, pans, twin bed and bedding, also includes kitchen table/chairs, desk (for now), TV (with antenna service), couch.  

Laundry: In apprentice housing

Internet availability: We do not have internet access at the trailer house, but are free to use it in our home as needed.  Open to providing extra $$ for unlimited data on cell phone if necessary.

Cell Phone Provider: Verizon.

Time off: Sundays will typically be the day off.

Visitors policy: We are okay with visitors, provided they are not destructive, steal, or stay with the apprentice for an extended period. Prefer they not bring pets!

Food: Meat from our inventory and vegetable staples that are routinely stocked, additional food stipend can be discussed during hiring process.  Most days will share meals with Merriman family or Barthelmess Ranch (when working there), but there will be days expected to pack their own lunch (basic lunch materials will be provided such as bread, lunch meat, cheese, chips, etc.).  Apprentice will be expected to clear their own plates, rinse and put in the dishwasher.  If apprentice wishes to and feels comfortable doing so, may cook meal(s) for everyone.  There may be opportunities for basic cooking training if necessary as well.  

Pets: Prefer no pets, as we have two Bernese Mountain dogs (intact male and female) and a working female border collie.  One horse would be allowed. 

Horses: If apprentice has a horse and riding experience, we would prefer they bring one, as we prefer to work cattle with horses.  We will not be providing a horse or willing to teach apprentice to ride due to lack of extra horses to ride and liability.  If apprentice doesn’t bring a horse, they will still be able to gather/work cattle with an ATV/UTV, but sorting cattle on horseback will be limited. 

Tobacco, alcohol & cannabis use: Smokeless tobacco is permitted, provided any spitter cups and/or pouches are disposed of properly. Cigarettes/Vaping is permitted, but absolutely NOT in any buildings, vehicles, or near other people.  Cigarettes must be disposed of properly, DO NOT throw on the ground!!!  Smoking may be further limited if the risk of fire becomes imminent. Cannabis use is permitted provided they will not use during work hours, not be driving any of our vehicles and they do not miss work due to overindulging. Alcohol use is permitted if you are of legal drinking age, do not drink during work hours, will not be driving any of our vehicles, and do not miss work due to overindulging. 

Guns: Yes, if they are properly stored and handled.  We have young children and expect the guns to be locked up and unloaded at all times!

Health insurance: The ranching lifestyle has inherent dangers. While personal health insurance is not required to participate in the apprenticeship program, it is strongly encouraged. The ranch carries Workman’s Compensation to cover injuries incurred on the job. But if the apprentice is injured on his or her day off, gets sick, or has or develops chronic conditions like allergies, these types of issues should be covered by personal health insurance.

Vehicles: Apprentice will drive ranch vehicles during work hours. While apprentices will not be asked to use a personal vehicle for work purposes, the apprentice will need the flexibility of his or her own vehicle on their days off in order to run personal errands such as purchasing groceries and for travel.

Additional items apprentice should bring: Gear for all weather, sun protection and snow/rain protection. Bedding and pillows. 

Living at 4M Farms:

The nearest town is Malta, MT approximately 16 miles North of our place.  I suggest checking out the chamber of commerce page for specific details about the area:  https://www.maltachamber.com/.  

There is a grocery store, several coffee shops and restaurants, post office, pharamacist/drug store, vehicle repair shops, brewery, clothing store, hardware store, liquor store, hospital, two medical clinics, chiropractor (every other week), dentist (varies, nearest other one is 70 miles), golf course, hot springs (33 miles), fishing, kayaking, boating recreation at the Missouri River (30 miles South of us) or Nelson Reservoir (33 miles), Fort Peck Theater (100 miles); movie theater, bowling alley (86 miles)

There are many young people in the area!  

Activities might include:  Trivia night @ the brewery, various fundraisers/banquets events with music and entertainment, concerts at the local/regional fairs, golf, pool and dart leagues, etc.

Nearest airport is Glasgow, MT and Havre, MT, they both fly into Billings, MT.  Billings or Great Falls are the nearest large airport, both approximately 210 miles from Malta.  

Quivira Coalition Activities: This apprenticeship is offered through Quivira Coalition’s New Agrarian Program. The full cohort of apprentices on regenerative ranches and farms across the west will attend a late March or early April orientation, participate in supplemental education provided by Quivira Coalition, attend in-person land health workshops and attend the annual Quivira Conference, hosted with Holistic Management International and the American Grassfed Association, in November. Apprentices are also required to write several reports during their apprenticeship; these reports will go through the NAP Coordinator at Quivira, and be posted on the Quivira website.

Click here to apply 

Applications will be accepted from November 1, 2022 through December 15, 2022

 

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