Barthelmess Ranch

8 month regenerative cattle & sheep ranching apprenticeship near Malta, MT

The Ranch

The Barthelmess ranch is a cattle and sheep grazing operation producing market animals for multiple venues. 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 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 semi-arid environment, heavy snows or a lack of forage growth may require us to feed hay 2 to 3 months a year. 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 consists of 25,000 acres the family privately owns one half 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. The ranch has a functional set of livestock facilities. Ranch personnel have attended over ten different stockmanship schools. We have tried to design and use our facilities to incorporate our stockmanship training. There are sixty miles of barbed wire fence and ten miles of permanent electric fence around thirty-seven different pastures. Pastures are occasionally subdivided with temporary electric fence. Virtual fence manufactured by Vence has been utilized in recent years to improve our grazing management by continuing to subdivide grazing allotments. The permanent pastures vary in size from fifty acres to four thousand. Livestock and wildlife are watered by an extensive system of prairie potholes, fabricated storage reservoirs, several intermittent streams, and a small number of wells with tanks.

The grazing plan requires frequent pasture changes, moving quickly, during early spring and summer. As the soil dries out and the grass growth diminishes pasture moves are at longer intervals sometimes going as long as 30 days. Pasture moves on the ranch are 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 each year are done as profit opportunities arise and the delivery of livestock to fulfill contract obligations is 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 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. It takes about one hundred hours to cut all the alfalfa for the year on the ranch. That one hundred hours is spread over one to two months due largely to weather event delays.


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

Regenerative Practices

The ranch is at the forefront of new grazing management practices such as virtual fencing. Ranch engagement with the conservation community and the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance has led us to provide informational tours about ranching. 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.


The Mentors

Leo & Darla Barthelmess

The family management team/staff consists of Leo, his wife Darla, and his brother Chris and his wife Deb. This year there will be additions to the management as succession plans for the ranch move forward. The family has mentored three Quivira apprentices in the last four years. 

Ranch personnel have attended over ten stockmanship schools, grazing schools, successional seminars, multiple extension educational opportunities and 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 six thousand people.

The Apprentice

What will an apprentice do?

  • Calving and Heifer checks every two hours, 24/7 from April 1 to May 15.
  • Sheep have been added to the ranch recently. Lambing and sheep husbandry will be additional tasks added to learning opportunities. The sheep will need to be managed which may include herding for three days a week.
  • 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 the conclusion of the day after lunch.
  • Additional tasks are Tractor operation, skid steer, scraper for moving soil, ATV, UTV safety training.
  • Facility and equipment maintenance are ongoing.

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 late returns.

We are considering working with a neighboring farming/livestock operation this year. So, apprentices may be alternating times and experiences with each program. We hope this will give a more well-rounded experience for participants.

Seasonal Work

January – March: Livestock feeding, equipment maintenance, livestock monitoring, WOTB meetings, Ranching for Profit program implementation, prep for calving and lambing. Market research and gross margin analysis are part early season preparation.

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.


What skills and traits are required in an apprentice?

    • Valid Driver’s License
    • Lift 50 Pounds.
    • Work in demanding situations that include too hot, too 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

What skills and traits are desired in an apprentice?

  • A sense of humor – not every day is fun, and humor is an essential tool to get through tough days
  • Enthusiasm!
  • Honesty and openness
  • Good observational skills
  • Attention to detail is very important in all areas: equipment, vehicles, tools, livestock
  • Being a good communicator
  • Good at asking questions!
Photo of Casey coulter with cows

Nuts & Bolts


Start Date: March 

Length of Apprenticeship: 8 months

Stipend: $1500 per month

General work hours: Daily routines vary with the seasonal change of work, so the following are general guidelines with notable exceptions. A typical workday starts at 7am, lunch from 12 to 1, and ends at 6pm.

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. The apprentice is expected to keep their living quarters and vehicles clean and in attractive shape.

Laundry: In apprentice housing

Internet availability: There is a hot spot in the apprentice housing.  Other internet access is available at the ranch headquarters, an office space with outside access is available 24/7 for use by all ranch personnel.

Cell Phone Provider: Verizon is the only provider that works at the ranch. 

Time off: The ranch provides the apprentice one day a week off. Day preference will be discussed during the interview. The one caveat is 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 policy: 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.

Horses: The apprentice may have the opportunity to ride horses but most work will be with UTVs/ATVs.

Tobacco, alcohol & cannabis use: 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 workday and should not affect work performance. No partying. Having a beer/glass of wine or two after work is fine.

Guns: Allowed but the apprentice must be skilled in firearm safety and use and guns must be secured when not in use. 

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

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

Living at Barthelmess Ranch: The ranch is in northeastern Montana, two hundred miles west of North Dakota and eighty miles south of Canada. The nearest town with services is Malta, Montana which is thirty miles north of the ranch. The access road to the ranch is gravel with a short stretch of pavement. The nearest commercial airports of size are Billings or Great Falls, both of which are four hours from the ranch.

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.