barthelmess Ranch

Eight-Month Cattle Ranching Apprenticeship in Northeastern Montana

The Barthelmess ranch is a cattle grazing operation that has been at this location for 54 years. We produce commodity feeder cattle and cull livestock. All products sold off the ranch are intended to provide profit opportunities for the next market segment. We strive to produce quality commodities that can create value for the market.

Meet the mentors


barthelmess ranch

The Barthelmess ranch is a cattle grazing operation producing commodity feeder cattle and cull livestock. All products sold off the ranch are intended to provide profit opportunities for the next market segment. The ranch strives to produce quality commodities that can create value for the market.

The ranch family came to the Malta area in 1964 with a very traditional ranching model. Over the last 50 years the ranch management has changed substantially from the early years.

It is the goal of the ranch to try and graze out 10 to 12 months of the year. Despite our semiarid environment heavy snows or a lack of forage growth may require us to feed hay 2 to 3 months a year. Generally, the hay feeding season would start in January with some of the livestock and end for most of them in March. The first calf heifers start giving birth the second week of April. The mature cows begin the third week of April. The first calf heifers are kept in a corral to facilitate easy monitoring of birth problems. The mature cows calve on native range lands only being checked once a day during calving for birth issues and health. The mature cows are moved to a fresh pasture every 10 to 15 days


The ranch has a functional set of livestock facilities. Ranch personnel have attended over 10 different stockmanship schools. We have tried to design and use our facilities to incorporate our stockmanship training.

The ranch consists of 25,000 acres approximately one half is privately owned by the family the other half is lease land with the biggest portion of that under BLM jurisdiction. The ranch personnel strive to maintain good relationships with leaseholders and community members.

There are  60 miles of barbed wire fence and 10 miles of permanent electric fence around 37 different pastures. Pastures are occasionally subdivided with temporary electric fence. The pastures vary in size from 50 acres to 4000. Livestock and wildlife are watered by an extensive system of prairie potholes, man-made storage reservoirs, several intermittent streams, and a very small number of wells with tanks.

The grazing plan requires frequent pasture changes, quickly, during early spring and summer. As the soil dries out and the grass growth diminishes pasture moves are at much longer intervals sometimes going as long 30 days. Pasture moves on the ranch are generally done with all-terrain vehicles with only occasional horse use. Horses and ATVs are used in a complementary fashion, each providing value for the other.

Portions of the livestock marketed it each year are done as profit is identified or risk can be mitigated. Delivery of livestock to fulfill contract obligations is generally done in October for the sheep and November for the cattle. Additional livestock sales occur in December January June and September

If the weather permits hay production generally starts about June 15 ending July 15 with the first crop of alfalfa being harvested. Some second crop alfalfa is harvested about mid-August with some second crop and third crop alfalfa being saved for fall pasture for sheep and cattle. Generally, it takes about 100 hours to cut all the alfalfa for the year on the ranch. That 100 hours is spread over one to two months due largely to weather event delays.

The Mentors

The family management team/staff consists of Leo, 63; wife Darla; brother Chris, 62.

Ranch personnel have attended over 10 stockmanship schools, several grazing schools, successional seminars, multiple extension educational opportunities and most recently Ranching for Profit, a weeklong business management school centered around the economics, ecology and human resources that are part of ranch businesses.

Ranch engagement with the conservation community and the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance has led them to provide informational tours about ranching in general and the Barthelmess Ranch in particular. This has been a wonderful opportunity to show people the value of managed grazing for the benefit of rangeland ecology, soil health, and wildlife while still supporting food and fiber production for over 6000 people.


Start Date: March 2022

Work Schedules and Daily Routines:

Daily routines vary with the seasonal change of work, so the following are general guidelines with notable exceptions. A typical workday starts at 7 AM, lunch from 12 to 1, ending at 6 PM.


  • Calving, Heifer checks every two hours, 24/7 from April 1 to May 15
  • Haying, baling when the moisture is correct, and raking hay for several hours a day can be in the dark a.m. or p.m.
  • Some outdoor jobs may be started at daylight, 4 AM, to avoid heat with conclusion of the day after lunch.

Despite the miles of fence, it is not a full-time job. Typically, the process is, someone will check one or more pastures ahead of livestock moves to repair holes that will provide immediate escape, open gates, snow load damage, wildlife issues, or just lack of maintenance. During these fence checks long-term fence plans should be developed and issues noted that will be addressed later in the year by a two-person crew and extensive amounts of equipment. Additional responsibilities when doing fence checks is the visual inventory of grazing resources, species of forage that are the most palatable and abundant at that time. An additional responsibility is to check all the water sources in the pasture to get an estimation of quantity and quality of water.

Some off-site livestock moves, and husbandry programs require early starts and potentially lead to very late returns. Some ranch personnel have been in the saddle for hours moving replacement heifers at the Matador grass bank, a multi-ranch grazing program managed by The Nature Conservancy of Montana. Early morning livestock moves require even earlier departure times as it is an hour and 10 min. drive from the ranch.

Seasonal Work

January – March: Livestock feeding, equipment maintenance, livestock monitoring, WOTB meetings, Ranching for Profit program implementation, prep for calving.

April -May:  Fence maintenance, pasture moves, moving cattle to off-site grazing, and community brandings.

June – July: Fence maintenance, equipment maintenance, pasture moves,alfalfa harvest, branding and ranching for profit seminar, range monitoring.

August – September: Finish haying, pasture moves, fence maintenance, livestock delivery pre-work, and range, water quality monitoring.

October – November: Fence maintenance, pasture moves, water infrastructure repair, preconditioning livestock vaccinations, and shipping market animals.

December: Meetings, Holidays, and all the above.


The apprentice position itself will provide many learning opportunities about the day-to-day ranch requirements to build and maintain a ranch.

Management personnel recently attended Ranching for Profit, a weeklong business training course centered on ranch management and are working to build successful steps of this curriculum into the ranch. The apprentice will be expected to participate in this learning experience as we build a more resilient business. The forms and curriculum materials will be available to an apprentice for individual study as well as group exercises to be held during the Work on The Business ‘WOTB’ meetings.There is a two-day ranching for profit seminar in June,  and arrangements will be made for all ranch personnel to attend.

To fully adopt all the curriculum into the ranch core will probably take us 2 to 5 years. We wish to include apprentices engaged in ranch activities in the process of developing a sustainable ranch plan. We are committed to holding at least two meetings a week to work on the business “WOTB.” There is an expectation that apprentices will attend most of these meetings. The adaptation of these principles could facilitate big changes at the ranch, but the bottom line is people, community, ecology, and livestock will always be priorities.

The Ranchers Stewardship Alliance hosts monthly meetings, and the apprentice will be expected to attend several of these meetings. It will be an opportunity for the apprentice to meet community members of various ages and perhaps learn a new way to deal with diverse community issues.

An apprentice should be able to:

  • Lift 50 Pounds.
  • Work in difficult situations that include to hot, to cold, pollen, dust, and unpleasant smells.
  • If an apprentice is unfamiliar with ATVs, horses, or working dog management they will be taught to manage all these tools safely.
  • Safety is a primary concern on the ranch — always think before you act with people, animals, and equipment.
  • The ability to operate farm equipment is appreciated but the willingness to learn how to operate it safely is far more important. Safety, safety, safety.

Listed above is an incomplete list of ranch tasks representative of time commitments and variety. As an apprentice applicant if you are interested in working with the Barthelmess ranch please invest the time in developing a list of questions about ranch operations and concerns you may have

Stipend: The ranch can offer the apprentice a stipend of $1000 a month. The stipend may or may not cover monthly expenses for the apprentice based on his or her needs and lifestyle. The position does not allow time for a second job, so the apprentice should consider his or her budgetary needs before applying to this position.

Housing:  Housing will be provided; the location is on the ranch 1.5 miles from the headquarters. The housing unit is equipped with two bunk beds, kitchenette, bathroom with small shower, propane heater, no air-conditioning at this time, window ventilation only, and storage. Only Verizon cell service is accessible at the housing unit. Internet access is available at the ranch headquarters, an office space with outside access is available 24/7 for use by all ranch personnel.  The apprentice is expected to keep their living quarters and vehicles clean and in good shape.

Quivira Coalition Activities: The apprentice is required to attend the annual Quivira Coalition conference, held each November in Albuquerque, NM; conference and hotel fees are covered by the Quivira Coalition. In addition to the conference, the apprentice will participate in an Holistic Management International webinar series geared Whole Farm/Ranch Planning Series. 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.

Time off: The ranch provides the apprentice one day a week off. Day preference will be discussed during interview. The one caveat is some high-value workdays cannot be scheduled around and adjustments will have to be made. Extended leave for special purposes will be discussed during an interview.

Visitors: Apprentices may entertain guests for short periods with prior approval from ranch management. It is important that guests are not a distraction and are kept out of harm’s way. Safety safety safety.

Food: Meat from our own inventory and vegetables that are routinely stocked at the ranch. On many days ranch personnel share meals at a secondary family dwelling. Personnel are expected to clear their plates rinse them and place them in the dishwasher. It is expected that the apprentice will cook a meal for ranch personnel once a month. If apprentice applicants are uncomfortable with their cooking skills Darla is willing to provide basic training.

Pets: Personal horses or pets will be considered on a case-by-case basis. If the ranch approves of such animals, we will not be responsible for care or maintenance or liability of any type.

All the fun stuff: Tobacco is used by some family members; that said, smoking is not permitted in ranch vehicles or buildings, and further restrictions may be imposed if a fire threat becomes imminent. Alcohol is permitted on the ranch. But not until the conclusion of the work day and should not affect work performance.

NO Partying: No partying. Having a beer/glass of wine or two after work is just fine.

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. 

Ranch Vehicles: Many of the ranch vehicles are standard transmission. The apprentice will be expected to competently operate these vehicles. Apprentices must have a valid driver’s license.  The ranch has several vehicles of various ages that are used daily for the completion of tasks, one of these will be available for an apprentice to use for travel from their housing unit to the ranch headquarters or a jobsite. 

Personal Vehicle:  There are no instances (or very few) when the apprentice would be required to use his/her own vehicle around the ranch. In order to run personal errands and travel on days off, however, the apprentice will need the flexibility of his or her own vehicle. 

Living in Northeastern Montana: The ranch is in northeastern Montana, 200 miles west of North Dakota and 80 miles south of Canada. The nearest town with services is Malta, Montana which is 30 miles north of the ranch. The access road to the ranch is gravel with a very short stretch of pavement. The nearest commercial airports of size are Billings, Montana or Great Falls, Montana both of which are four hours from the ranch.


2019 Apprentice


Graham Phillips

Having not grown up in the city and not around agriculture, throwing myself into the industry after college has been an incredible and formative journey. I feel that I have been exposed to the greatest challenges in my life along this journey, and that I am a better version of myself for it. I feel more connected with animals, the environment, and communities that rely on them.

Since beginning my career in agriculture I have had a variety of experiences that have been personally formative, and enriching. The bulk of this has been in working with livestock in pasture which I began in Northern California where I worked as a grazier/farm hand for a large, multi species operation. The roles I’ve had at the farms I have worked at were focused on regenerative grazing practices. The activities of the job are often simple enough to allow engagement in more than just what is at hand. I observe the animals and their environment, assessing health/condition, behavior, how they interact with the fencing, their foraging tendencies, etc. I feel this time spent in observation is critical to informing my understanding of interdependent systems, and my role as a steward to support them.

I have worked in a variety of environmental conditions ranging from the bitter freezing of the mountains in California to the sweltering humidity of South Georgia, and have worked with almost every species of domestic poultry, small and large ruminants, and pigs in a pasture based operation. My previous role as a livestock manager kept me busy with long days and infrequent time away from the farm. I was responsible for a small crew of field workers, and effecting a soil/pasture monitoring program throughout the farm. I have been fortunate to have these opportunities since I began farm work, and could not have predicted the scope of the situations I would encounter at the operations I have worked at. The further I go down this road, my vision for personal and professional fulfillment becomes more clear, and my resolve for responsible food production becomes more solidified.  I am glad to come to Barthelmess Ranch, because it offers unique and unfamiliar challenges that lend to the personal and professional development I feel I need to be a stockman, and land steward.

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