The Mannix Ranch raises cow-calf pairs, stockers, and grass-finished beef in Montana’s Blackfoot Valley. Homesteaded in 1882, the ranch is currently owned and operated by members of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th generations. Brothers David, Randy, and Brent, and their wives Peggy, Mo, and Stacey make up the 4th generation and have been the primary managers since the 1980s. Six members of the 5th generation, as well as Bryan’s wife Kate, and Ashley’s husband Taylor are living and working on the ranch. We also have a couple of non-family employees.
We believe that we are more stewards of our land than true owners and that we need to manage our resources with the long-term health of our land, our customers, and our community in mind. We also acknowledge that we must be profitable to remain sustainable, as our work cannot be sustainable if it does not support those that live and work on the land.
Our main enterprises include a cow calf enterprise, a stocker enterprise, a direct marketing grass-fed beef enterprise, and a timber enterprise. Our cow calf herd is generally about 1250 cow calf pairs, calving in April, May, and June. We are currently backgrounding all of our own calves which are either kept for replacements or enter our stocker operation. Depending on grass we occasionally supplement stocker numbers through purchasing. From our stocker enterprise animals are either sold through the commodity market, or kept through a second winter to finish on grass and market through our grass-finished beef enterprise.
Our direct marketing enterprise is currently selling around 200 finished beef, as well as over 100 cull cows, through a combination of restaurants, grocery stores, and direct to consumer sales. We drive delivery routes each weekend and attend some farmers markets.
The ranch practices intensive rotational grazing on our irrigated ground, usually moving the cattle every 1-4 days to allow adequate time for recovery before returning. The ranch continues to improve infrastructure to allow more intensive management in other areas as well. Some of the ground is rugged, remote, and much less productive than irrigated meadows, with limited access to water. Without further infrastructure, this makes frequent moves impractical and un-economical. In these cases, we improve the range by varying season-of-use, and by resting many of these pastures every other year. We also manage cattle dispersal through mineral and water placement.
The Mannix Family works closely with groups such as Trout Unlimited, the USFWS, the Blackfoot Challenge, and others to implement a variety of conservation projects. Some projects partnerships include: installing fish screens, setting up water leases to allow for more instream flow for trout, installing a fish ladder in a private pond to allow fish to navigate to spawning grounds, and using prescribed burning to control sagebrush and conifer encroachment. The majority of the ranch is under conservation easement, which protect the land from most forms of development and include protecting sagebrush habitat. Soil health has become an important focus for the ranch, and we consult with multiple soil experts, conduct soil tests, and do biological monitoring for the ranch. We also practice careful and planned timber harvest designed to reduce fire risk, improve the health of remaining trees, and improve habitat.
While we do still find it necessary to feed hay in the winter, we work hard to extend the grazing season to decrease costs, improve soil health, and decrease equipment and fuel use. Through stockpiled feed, protein supplementation, improved genetics and phenotype, and a later calving season, we’ve been able to push the envelope for the valley and graze into January most years. We work to feed hay back onto the ground it was harvested from in order to return those nutrients to the soil. We have been using bale grazing for rapid soil improvement in target areas as well as swath grazing to decrease labor cost through winter months.
When possible, we favor biological weed control over chemical control, but do use some herbicides to spot spray weeds. For nearly 20 years we have brought approximately 1100 ewes and their lambs to graze on the ranch to target knapweed. We have also used insect releases, grazing management, and mowing as tools to combat problem weed species.
We practice low-stress livestock handling, and all of our employees have gone through training in this area. We have also hosted trainings on the ranch taught by Whit Hibbard and other teachers of the “Bud Williams” style livestock handling.
The family has been slowly building a direct-to-consumer grass-finished beef business. Mannix Family Grass Finished Beef now sells across the state of Montana. It can be found in several grocery stores and restaurants as well as a delivery route through Western Montana. The ranch has also recently partnered with two other Montana ranches to form the Old Salt Meat Co-op, whose goal is to enhance the working landscapes of Montana through a meat marketing strategy that tells the story of the people and the land.
There are many on-going efforts to improve our management, including planned controlled burns over the next year, a TIP (Conservation reserve transition incentives program) grant to improve water infrastructure on dryland acres, a stream restoration project with trout unlimited, and a new partnership with Snaplands LLC to conduct and extensive monitoring program on the ranch. We also have a new 6000 acre property that we just took over the lease of in the spring of 2022 that needs a lot of work and improvements.
Logan Mannix will be the main mentor.
I was born and raised on our family’s ranch here in Helmville, and grew up helping on the ranch occasionally during the school year, and full-time in the summers. After high school I earned degrees in biology, chemistry, and physics before spending 8 years as a science teacher. I returned to the ranch in 2016 with my wife Kasey, and now have 3 kids here. In the first few years back on the ranch I worked as a general ranch hand, and pursued a lot of professional development, with a focus on soil health.
In 2018 I took over management of our family’s grass-finished beef and direct marketing enterprise, which is now my single largest role. Since taking over the management of that enterprise we’ve launched a website allowing for online orders, an email newsletter, and a weekly delivery route. I’ve primarily been responsible for managing our live beef inventory, scheduling slaughter dates, taking beef to the butcher, managing freezer inventory, and packing/delivering orders. I’m not the only one doing these things, but am responsible for them.
Besides yearly conferences I’ve attended multiple ranching for profit schools, low stress livestock handling clinics, Wally Olson’s livestock marketing school, and online professional development related to direct marketing. Besides my role as beef manager I manage irrigation on one of our main homesteads in the summer, and do much of the profit and loss and enterprise analysis work for the ranch.
When I think about my philosophy towards agriculture I start with an appreciation for the many environmental and resource challenges facing us today, all of which intersect with agriculture. Climate change is probably one of the biggest challenges of our time, but we also have to think holistically about soil health and topsoil loss, air and water quality, biodiversity, and so much more. I think that ruminant agriculture will always have an important role to play in sustainable food and fiber production. Ruminants can graze on land that is not suitable for farming, and often not irrigated, and up-cycle low quality forages into nutrient dense food, fiber, and other products. Not only is grazing one of the few ways of harvesting natural resources that leaves the ecosystem intact with native forages and wildlife, but at its best I believe grazing can even improve soil and forage health over time.
I’m passionate about finding ways to produce food, fiber, timber and other resources in ways that use less fuel, fertilizer, herbicides and other inputs, and in general steward our natural resources. That said, I’m not a purist, and am open to the idea that in some circumstances some of these “conventional” practices may have their place. In the end, I want to use our natural resources wisely. At the same time, I’m passionate about small towns, especially my small town, and how to sustain them. We need healthy communities, kids in schools, and enough good paying jobs to obtain a high quality of life for those on our ranch and in our greater community. Balancing these economic and social needs with the environmental challenges above is a constant challenge.
The apprentice will likely be interacting with many others on the ranch, and how much they will spend with each will depend on our needs and the apprentice’s interests. Brothers David, Randy, and Brent Mannix, all members of the 4th generation, are the leaders and most experienced members of the ranch. The apprentice will likely end up spending significant time with all of them at some point. David Mannix is the ranch manager, and has been since the 1990s. He directs our weekly meetings that we encourage apprentices to attend, lining out crews, and working with the apprentice on different cattle drives, cattle processing days, and other ranch projects. He probably has more experience than anyone on the ranch with cattle work, livestock health, grazing management, and other ranch management topics. Brent Mannix functions as the foreman for much of our infrastructure work. Whether this is installing water tanks or water lines, cleaning ditches or installing culverts, maintaining equipment, repairing buildings, or other similar tasks, Brent is often doing or directing the work. He is the overall manager of our irrigation work, although many of us participate. Randy manages two of our “homesteads,” the Spieker ranch and the Raymond ranch, and the infrastructure and livestock on them. He also has a forestry degree and is the manager of our timber enterprise.
Other members of the fifth generation, including Bryan and his wife Kate Mannix, Jordan Mannix, Erica Mannix, and Neil Mannix, all have extensive experience on the ranch and will likely be working with the apprentice at some point. Bryan Mannix manages our stocker program and the daily moves involved, manages the Wineglass homestead, and oversees our herd genetics among other things. Jordan manages our Henault homestead and the livestock grazing on it. Erica has a lot of experience riding and training horses, and low-stress livestock management. She is very involved in cattle drives and grass management. Neil works with Randy managing the Raymond and Spieker homesteads and is very involved in the timber enterprise.
What will an apprentice do?
The apprentice will work closely with ranch staff to do a variety of activities depending on the week and the season. They will likely be a part of many different crews as the tasks at hand change. This may mean helping with calving chores in April and May, moving electric fence once the cows are on grass, flood irrigating, fixing and putting up both hot and cold fence, moving cows, haying, etc. They will certainly be part of the cattle work days when a larger crew is necessary, such as branding, vaccinating, taking cows to summer pasture, fall gathers, and shipping. On these days, they will be welcome to ride a horse or use an ATV depending on interest and experience. The apprentice will receive hands-on experience with low-stress livestock handling, health monitoring, and monitoring forage quality and utilization. They will also be a part of our weekly team meetings where we make most of our management decisions.
As our grass finished beef business has been growing, the apprentice will gain experience in this enterprise. While the level of involvement may vary based on needs and interest, their tasks may include helping to inventory beef, pack orders, drive meat routes, take animals to the processor, attend the farmers market, move the beef herd, and identify and sort finished animals. Depending on interest and experience, they may be able to help with things like the monthly newsletter and beef marketing.
We are actively working on the process of succession. While we acknowledge that this is a never-ending process, the transition of both ownership and management of our ranch is in the near future. This will not only be a topic of conversation; it will also affect how the apprentice will be mentored. They will not work exclusively under one mentor, but instead will be a part of our team. This may look like learning from and working with many different people. We recognize that this can be challenging and are looking for an apprentice willing to navigate that complexity.
What skills and traits are required in an apprentice?
- Valid Driver’s License
- Open minded with a willingness to learn and not afraid to share ideas
- We are looking for a hard-working, honest, self-starting, passionate, open-minded team player. People and relationships are very important to our family and our business; an apprentice will need to have good interpersonal skills in order to be successful in this environment.
What skills and traits are desired in an apprentice?
This apprenticeship is best suited to a person with one or two years of hands-on experience on farms and/or ranches. Because we are a large and diverse operation, we are probably not as well suited to teaching the most basic skills of agriculture, as we are giving a deeper and broader experience in ranching.
In a perfect world, the apprentice would have experience operating basic ranching equipment. This would include driving a vehicle with a standard transmission, driving and backing up a truck with a stock trailer, operating 4-wheelers and/or motorbikes, and would have some experience operating heavy machinery such as tractors, swathers, etc. Some experience with other types of hands-on work like operating a chainsaw and power tools would also be beneficial.
Nuts & Bolts
Start Date: The apprenticeship would generally run from March 1st through October 31st with some flexibility for starting/ending a few weeks earlier or later.
Length of Apprenticeship: 8 months
General work hours: We generally start our day at 8am and finish around 6pm, with time for a lunch break in the middle of the day. We expect employees to work an average of 9 hours per day and about 5 ½ days per week. However, this certainly varies from day to day and one season to the next. For example, cattle drives may start very early, and calving and haying seasons may require working 7 days/week for a stretch. We are usually flexible enough that if something important comes up, a day off even in these busy stretches is possible. If an apprentice is required to work 7 days a week occasionally, that time will be compensated for during a less busy time.
Housing: This is still a little bit undecided. We have an additional family member coming back this year, and another that may be looking for a change in housing. As a result our final housing picture is not decided at the moment. The most likely spot is a small bunk house cabin on the ranch that is currently available. It has a kitchen, a bathroom, living room, a loft bedroom, laundry room, telephone, and WIFI. If for some reason this is not available, the housing may be a room in a house with other ranch employees.
Laundry: In apprentice housing
Internet availability: In apprentice housing.
Cell Phone Provider: There is NO cell service to speak of in Helmville. On occasion you will find a spot to receive a text message or make a call, but that is the exception. The best provider is Verizon. Wifi calling is often what we rely on with our cell phones.
Time off: Apprentices work an average of 5.5 days per week, but this may mean working a full Saturday one weekend and having it off the next. Or it might mean working a few hours each day over the weekend, say with an irrigation move once or twice/day, or a short 30 minute move of our stockers which are moved every day, or at least taking turns with these responsibilities. In general, Sundays are off, but this can change with the season. The apprentice will likely work 7 days/week for a stretch in haying, but time off to get groceries or see family can be arranged during this time too. We have enough of us on the ranch to be a little flexible most times, and can work to cover for each other when time off is needed
Visitors policy: Visitors are welcome as long as their stay is reasonably short and the time required doesn’t regularly conflict with their work.
Food: There will be occasional shared meals on bigger crew work days, but most meals/packed lunches are on your own. The apprentice will have a supply of beef from the ranch in addition to their stipend.
Pets: Other pets will be considered on an individual basis. For the most part a dog or cat is probably fine, although we have enough dogs on the place that we would want to make sure they got along with other stock dogs and weren’t a disruption when working cattle.
Horses: We would prefer that apprentices do not bring their own horses to board on the ranch. We do NOT require that you have experience with horses. You are welcome to use an ATV when moving cattle. We ARE willing to teach you to ride if that is a skill you would like to learn. Horses are not used daily on the ranch, but they are used often during some seasons. Depending on interest and skill level, the apprentice could spend quite a bit of time on horseback, or very little.
Tobacco, alcohol & cannabis use: Tobacco use is permitted, cannabis and alcohol are ok during non-working hours but employees must not be under the influence while working.
Guns: The apprentice is welcome to bring a hunting rifle or shotgun with them. Our only expectation is that they are used carefully and responsibly.
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. Vehicles are manual transmission.
Additional items apprentice should bring: The apprentice will be expected to provide all appropriate clothing, including boots, gloves, coats, etc, for ranching in a Montana climate that can range from well below freezing to over 100 degrees. Basic bedding, cooking utensils, pots, and pans will be provided, but the apprentice is encouraged to bring extra utensils, pans, or equipment that they like to use and cook with.
Living at the Mannix Ranch: The Mannix Ranch is located a few miles outside of Helmville, MT. Helmville is a small town with two churches and a local bar is the only business in town. The towns of Ovando and Lincoln are about a 20 minute drive away and have access to small grocery stores, a few restaurants and bars, and a hardware store. The cities of Missoula and Helena are each about an hour drive away, and are where we typically go for groceries, shopping, or a night out on the town.
We have access to some of the best hunting, fishing, and backpacking around. The Blackfoot River flows through a section of the ranch, and it offers excellent fishing. Access to the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex is just 20 minutes from the ranch. If apprentices were able to get a hunting or fishing license, they would be welcome to do some hunting and/or fishing on the ranch or nearby as time permits. Apprentices are encouraged to get involved in the community. There are often live bands and dancing at the local bar in the summer. Helmville puts on a Labor Day Rodeo, as well as several other community events. In the Blackfoot Valley, summers are warm and often dry with average highs around 80+ degrees and average lows around 40 degrees. Spring and fall can involve snow, freezing temperatures, and periodic wind.
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.