Cooper Creek Ranch8 month grass-fed and finished cattle and heritage pork ranching apprenticeship in Helmville, Montana
Cooper Creek Ranch consists of 450 acres of deeded ground and 290 leased acres and is located just outside of the small town of Helmville, Montana. The ranch is nestled along Nevada Creek, a tributary to the Blackfoot river. My husband John’s family moved here in the late 1970’s and raised cattle and sheep. They were often known for having the best alfalfa around. We strive to be good stewards to the land just as John’s family has been before us. The ranch is also home to abundant wildlife populations including deer, elk, black bears, grizzly bears, mountain lions, wild turkeys, and a variety of birds and other small creatures. Nevada Creek is primarily a trout stream.
The ranch has 45 head of mother cows (Black and Red Angus as well as Irish Black) and we keep most of the calves each year to supply the direct to consumer meat program, which is grass-finished beef and heritage pork. The ranch started with pigs about three years ago and now have three sows that farrow year around. We keep and finish all the piglets for the direct marketing meat program. Our son is getting into sheep and we recently added two livestock guardian dogs. We have horses and love to ride but I find myself doing most of my work on ATV’s since I am usually by myself.
The ranch puts up approximately 85 acres of hay and alfalfa. We have a pivot as well as wheel line, handline and flood irrigation. Pastures are all mountain and creek bottom.
I love to participate in any opportunities to learn from other like-minded folks and go to as many field tours, conferences, and educational opportunities as possible. I love to share what I know and I try to glean as much knowledge off of everyone around me as I can. I am always looking ahead and trying new things. I use no-till practices when I can and minimal till when I need to. I practice rotational grazing but would like to do it more intensively if I had extra help. We have recently incorporated sheep into our place in an effort to do multi- species grazing and trying to diversify as much as possible. In 2019 we partnered with Trout Unlimited and many others to complete 1.9 miles of stream restoration through our property. We also partner with the Blackfoot Challenge and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to reduce predator/livestock conflicts.
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I have been raising cows most of my life. I grew up on a traditional cow calf operation where the calves were born in the spring and when it was time to wean in the fall the calves were all loaded on semis and sold to feedlots. Then I went to college and worked in the medical field for a few years. I enjoyed working with people but really longed to be back ranching again. In 2008, my husband, John and I moved to his family’s ranch in the Helmville Valley. John’s parents graciously let me start building up my own herd.
Over the years I decided that traditional ranching wasn’t going to be profitable for me because of the small size of the ranch so rather than sending the yearlings off to be finished in a feedlot, I started keeping all my yearlings and finishing them on grass before selling them locally by the half or quarter. That has evolved into a retail meat program. In 2017 we had the opportunity to buy the ranch from John’s parents. John runs his own business off the ranch and that leaves me to do most of the ranch and cattle work during the week. Then on the weekends John works on the ranch fixing my break downs and doing the heavy lifting. We are thrilled to raise our two young boys here and teach them the value of hard work. We hope to pass on the way of life we love.
One of the things I love about ranching is that most projects change with the season. I try to work 6 days a week and take Sundays off with the exception of chores. I plan on having weekly planning meetings to discuss projects that need done and how each project will get finished. However at least for the first month we will likely be working side by side for the most part.
I would like to mentor an apprentice for several different reasons. I like sharing my knowledge and meeting new people. I love to see others perspectives on things that I do and learn from them as well. I need help and loved the idea of this program because people that apply have a true passion for agriculture. I think I would be an excellent mentor because I love what I do and hope to share that passion with an apprentice. I am told that I am easy to talk to and work with by others. I value hard work and honesty, I am not afraid to reach out for advice or help when I need it. I am very excited about this opportunity.
What will an apprentice do?
A list of work duties would include but not be limited to:
- Tending to Cattle, including calving, herd health, cattle working and moving, pasture management, and feeding.
- Tending to Pigs, including farrowing, health checks, feeding, and overall management.
- More ranching duties would include, fencing, weed management, tractor driving, haying, irrigation, basic maintenance of equipment and buildings, cleaning barns, farming, hauling animals, and whatever other surprises that ranching throws at us.
- Meat business duties may include, marketing, sorting meat, selling at venues, organizing, writing newsletters.
What skills and traits are required in an apprentice?
- Good attitude
- Willing to work hard
- Willing to be flexible
- Be a self starter/find something that needs done and do it (not right away but eventually)
- Kind and willing to have kids hanging around
- Passionate about the things you love
- Must keep the cabin tidy and be respectful of the landlord. (They are awesome people)
- Willing to keep an eye on the landlords property and help them when they are gone including caring for her dogs and cat.
- Must be a dog lover Or at least not be terrified of dogs!! We have ranch/pet dogs and Livestock guardian dogs.
What skills and traits are desired in an apprentice?
Able to drive an ATV
Some basic livestock knowledge
Nuts & Bolts
Start Date: Ideally March 15, 2021; Housing could be available in January if apprentice was interested in taking care of property while the landlords are gone for part of January and February. See housing for more details.
Length of Apprenticeship: 8 months
General work hours:
Housing: Jolyn Montgomery, is the landowner of my leased ground that is adjacent to our property. The provided housing for the apprentice is on her property. (roughly a 10 minute atv ride to our headquarters across the pasture or a 10-12 minute drive on a gravel road). Since we run cattle on her property in the summer she is very hands on and involved in the day to day. She travels in the summer and asks that as part of the agreement for the rental of the house that the apprentice would be willing to keep an eye on things while she is gone intermittently. To include keeping an eye on her dogs and watering her garden, and possibly other tasks like mowing her yard if she is away for extended periods. The housing is a beautiful one bedroom cabin with a full kitchen, bathroom, washer/dryer, and it is fully furnished. However I would ask that the apprentice brings bedding and towels and is willing to keep the cabin well-kept and be respectful of driving in and out at odd hours. Power and internet as well as a Verizon cell phone booster are included. It is not owned by the ranch and any pets would need to be pre- approved with Jolyn in advance. She and her husband will be included in the hiring process since the apprentice will be living on their property and helping them out as well. Details about boundaries for visitors and other housing issues will need to be brought up with Jolyn.
Laundry: The cabin has a washer and dryer.
Time off: 1-2 days per weekThe required 1 day off a week will be Sundays unless the apprentice would like to specifically request a different day. This day may change depending on any big ranch events that we would require all hands on deck. This will be discussed in advance and another day that week will be chosen between the apprentice and Annika.
Visitors policy: Visitors will be allowed on a case by case basis. Visitation will be contingent on ranch schedule and arranged in advance with Annika. Visitiations will be limited in the number of guests allowed and the duration of the stay. Meaning choose your guests wisely! We want this to be an enjoyable experience for the apprentice that they can share with their loved ones but first and foremost this is a work position that we hope the apprentice will remain dedicated to and see visitors as a privilege.
Food: Ranch meats will be available to the apprentice as well as produce from my garden. I love to garden and always plant to much and usually get so busy with the ranch that it gets slightly neglected. There will be at least one shared meal a day and plenty of time off to go to town when needed.
Pets: No cats. A dog may be permitted on a case by case basis but will have to be negotiated with landlord and not chase livestock. A horse may be permitted.
Tobacco and alcohol use: No tobacco use is permitted. Legal and appropriate alcohol use is ok outside of work hours.
Guns: Apprentice is allowed to bring guns to the ranch but we expect to be consulted if apprentice wants to use guns on our property.
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 farm 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.
COVID-19 policy: Cooper Creek Ranch expects any apprentice to use common sense when in public including wearing a mask when it is required by businesses and/or local and state regulations. We also expect our apprentice to practice social distancing as much as possible when in public. With the assistance of Quivira, we will monitor the COVID situation in our community and may ask the apprentice to take additional precautions depending on current transmission rates.
Ranch vehicles: The apprentice will be allowed to use ranch vehicles for all ranch work activities. This is a privilege that can be taken away if the apprentice proves inept at taking care of vehicles or being careless while driving around ranch.
Personal vehicle: 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 an apprentice should bring: The apprentice should bring bedding and towels and any personal items.
Living at Cooper Creek Ranch: Cooper Creek Ranch is located 8 miles from the tiny town of Helmville. The Copper Queen is the local watering hole/eatery and gathering spot for the whole area. We are 55 miles from Helena, 70 mikes to Missoula. Both Lincoln and Drummond are about 30 miles away. You can be as secluded or as social as you like here. On a regular non COVID year there is usually lots of different opportunities for learning, field tours, workshops, etc within a 2 hour radius.
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 an April orientation, participate in supplemental education provided in partnership with Holistic Management International, 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.
Specific challenges an apprentice could help with: Specific challenges that I think an apprentice could help me with are intensive grazing, I really want to do more but I do not have enough time on my own. Weed management is something we also struggle with despite our best efforts. Bonus would be if apprentice is more tech savvy than I and could help me with some struggles I have with my website and online content.
Applications for 2021 will open on November 1, 2020
If you have any questions about Cooper Creek Ranch, please email NAP Northern Coordinator Alexis Bonogofsky at firstname.lastname@example.org
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