Mannix Brothers RanchCattle Ranching apprenticeships in Helmville, Montana
Homesteaded in 1882, the Mannix 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. Currently four of the 5th generation are living and working full time on the ranch, while others help during the summer and are interested in being back as well. Each year we raise cow calf pairs, our own stockers, and grass-finished beef in Montana’s Blackfoot Valley.
Meet the mentors
Mannix Brothers Ranch
Mannix Ranch raises cow calf pairs, their own 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. Four of the 5th generation are living and working full time on the ranch, while others help during the summer and hope to return as well.
The ranch practices intensive rotational grazing on much of the irrigated ground, usually moving cattle every 1-4 days, and trying to allow adequate rest before returning. They have a pivot set up for rotational grazing with a combination of permanent and temporary electric fence and a movable water source allowing 1-day grazes. The ranch continues to improve infrastructure to allow more intensive management elsewhere. Some of the ground is rugged, remote, and much less productive than irrigated meadows, with limited access to water. This makes frequent moves impractical and un-economical. In these cases they try to improve the range by varying season of use, and by resting many of these pastures every other year. They 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 they have partnered on are to put in fish screens, set up water-leases to leave more instream flow for trout, and put a fish ladder in a private pond to allow fish to navigate to spawning grounds. The majority of the ranch is under some form of conservation easement. All of these easements protect the land from most forms of development and include protecting sagebrush habitat. Soil health has become an important focus for the ranch, and they have consulted with multiple soil experts in recent years, conducted soil tests, and experimented with no-till planting and cover crops to rejuvenate some of their pastures. They also practice careful and planned timber harvest designed to reduce fire risk, improve the health of remaining trees, and improve habitat.
They have consulted with Jim Gerrish and 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 somewhat later calving season, they’ve been able to push the envelope for the valley and graze into January most years, and work to feed hay back on the ground it was harvested on. They are experimenting with bale grazing to rapidly improve the soil in some target areas and reduce labor costs, and plan to experiment with swath grazing in the future.
They moved calving season later into April to better match cattle needs with grass production, leading to reduced labor, reduced sickness in our calves, and reduced hay feeding costs. They continue to evaluate the pros and cons of moving the calving season still later.
When possible they favor biological weed control over chemical control, but do use some herbicides to spot spray weeds. For over a decade they have brought 1100 ewes and their lambs for two months of summer grazing to target and control knapweed. They have also used insect releases, grazing management, and mowing at times as tools to combat invasive species.
The ranch has been primarily managed by brothers David, Randy, and Brent Mannix and their wives for the past 30 years.
David Mannix serves in the closest thing we have to a “ranch manager” role. He is primarily responsible for economic and financial forecasts, grazing planning, organizing work crews, and other managerial tasks. David’s wife Peggy has managed the ranches accounting and payroll for many years, and helps out as needed with other ranch chores.
Randy Mannix manages the irrigation, infrastructure, and cattle on the Spieker and Raymond ranch homesteads. He also has a degree in forestry and manages the timber on the ranch. His wife Mo primarily works off ranch as a speech pathologist, but also is the safety coordinator for the ranch.
Brent Mannix manages the irrigation and infrastructure on the original homestead, and oversees much of the equipment purchasing and maintenance. He also has managed public access and hunting on the ranch for many years. Brent’s wife Stacey teaches during the school year, but is experienced in horsemanship and helps with many of the ranches cattle drives. She also works a lot of hours in the summer helping with farmers markets, A-I-ing, Haying, and other jobs.
The brothers (David, Randy, and Brent) have been ranching most of their lives and have a ton of experience and knowledge to share. That includes knowledge passed down from generations of ranching in our family on this ranch, as well as much learned through their ongoing education at conferences, workshops, pasture walks, and conversations with neighbors. They have profitably and sustainably managed the resources on the Mannix ranch for decades, and have experience on both ends of the succession issue.
Brent and Stacey’s son Bryan has been back full time for more than four years. Since his return he has managed the irrigation, infrastructure, and cattle on the Wineglass homestead, which is the most newly acquired part of the Mannix Ranch. He is responsible for the management of our stockers and the grazing management of our pivots where we do our most intensive grazing management.
David and Peggy’s sons Jordan and Logan are also back on the ranch full time. Jordan has been back for nearly as long as Bryan. He is now managing the irrigation, infrastructure, and cattle on the Henault Ranch, which is an important private lease for the ranch. He also works part time in the summers as a Range Rider for the Valley’s predator control program.
Logan has been back for a little more than 2 years after teaching High School Science for 8 years. He has recently taken over some of the irrigation responsibilities as well as the management of the grass-finished beef enterprise.
Randy and Mo’s son Neil is the most recent member of the family to return to the ranch full time. Before returning he worked for nearly two years on another Montana ranch, and has been back on the family ranch for over a year. Neil has a wide range of responsibilities from irrigation and fencing to stock management. He is also starting to take over some responsibility for marketing on the ranch.
In general our family makes decisions by coming to consensus whenever possible. We have a board with 9 members that includes the 3 brothers, their wives, and 3 of the next generation that vote on big decisions when necessary. We believe it is important for us to share decision making duties as well as the labor, and everyone on the ranch takes part in the labor at some point.
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.
This is an 8-month apprenticeship from March through October. There is a little flexibility here and the exact start/finish dates can be discussed. We generally start our days at 8:00 AM and finish around 6:00 PM, with time for a lunch break in the middle of the day. We figure that 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 activity to activity. For example cattle drives may start very early, and calving season and haying season require longer days and more weekend days worked.
The busiest part of the year begins with calving season in April. During calving we are feeding, processing newborn calves, and assisting the birthing process when needed. The grass is growing by early May, and the cattle are turned out. Cows that have not calved yet are kicked out to calve on their own in May and June with no assistance. After calving there is a lot of irrigating, fencing, and cattle moves to take care of before A-I-ing occurs in late June. Most of the cows are turned out with bulls in late June and early July to summer pastures in the mountains while the crew works long hours putting up hay. Finishing beef and stockers stay closer to home and are moved frequently around higher quality dryland and irrigated pastures using permanent and temporary fencing. After haying season irrigation picks back up, cattle are brought home from summer pastures, stockers are shipped, and then calves are weaned and shipped in October. Throughout the year we haul finished beef to the butcher every two weeks. We market beef to restaurants, grocery stores, and individuals, and attend farmers markets in Missoula and Seeley throughout the summer and fall.
Fall is project season. Most projects that are not emergencies are put off in the busy summer season to be tackled in the fall. This is when we are often expanding infrastructure such as new water tanks or winter water lines, fixing broken water tanks, fixing or re-building corrals, building new fence, maintaining ranch buildings, etc.
Stipend: The stipend is $800/month, with an additional food stipend of $200/month, a place to live, and some additional meals and grass finished beef.
Housing: We have multiple housing options available, and which is used may depend on the apprentice and their preferences. There is a small cabin on the ranch and a small house in the town of Helmville that are currently unoccupied. Both have kitchens, bathrooms, electricity, etc. There are also rooms available in some of the occupied ranch houses.
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: We generally work 5.5 days a week.
Visitors: Montana has a large tourist draw. As a temporary resident, the apprentice may experience that draw through requests for visits from friends and family. The apprentice may also want to express their enthusiasm for the program by inviting friends and family to visit. Visitors are fine as long as their stay is reasonably short and the time required doesn’t regularly conflict with the apprentices work.
Pets: This can be discussed on a case by case basis with the mentors.
All the fun stuff: Tobacco and Alcohol are permitted on the ranch. Illegal drugs are not. The apprentice should not host parties at the housing they are provided.
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.
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.
Want to read more? Check out mannixbeef.com
Position Filled, Check Back Next Year!
Applications for the Mannix 2019 apprenticeship are closed.
Kate Clyatt, 2nd Year Apprentice
I grew up in a county where cattle and timber were the primary resources and form of employment, so I’ve been around agriculture most of my life. In college, I began exploring ecology through coursework and agriculture through extracurricular activities, such as urban gardening, volunteering on a variety of farms during breaks, and helping to open a student owned- and operated- cafe and grocery store. Eventually, I developed a passion for applied ecology and ended up majoring in forestry, which I found to be a perfect culmination of applying ecological principles to balance resource production with land health. My interest in mimicking natural disturbance regimes to increase ecological function and land health brought me to Montana, where I pursued a second degree in Forestry, examining how restoration treatments in fire-frequent, dry forests in the Rocky Mountains could balance carbon-storage and resiliency against future fires.
After finishing school I got a job working as a forestry consultant in central Montana. I worked primarily on private ranches and land holdings across the northern Rockies. During my time working as a consultant to ranchers, I began to recognize the need for a broader, more holistic approach to private land management. In much of the Rockies, timberlands and rangelands intersect, and managing each of them separately began to make less and less sense to me. I also began to realize that my role in land management needed to be even more applied, and that my true calling is to be outside, working hard at work worth doing. Ranching fits this bill like a glove. My dream is to someday be able to work with ranches across the northern Rockies, using ecology to manage both range and timber. I would love to be able to take the management methods I learn during my apprenticeship and apply them for years to come. I’m very excited to continue my ranching education with the Mannix family this year!
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t having the time of my life exploring the many ridges and arroyos of the Mescalero on horseback, struggling to improve my clumsy stockmanship, and roping the dogs far more times than they would like. My days are filled with a constant stream of learning, whether it’s from trial and error; from my fantastic mentors, or from my Quivira and HMI coursework. The philosophies embedded in holistic management are synchronous with my own land management and life perspectives, and I feel so blessed to have found this community. Looking forward to a great year and many more to come!
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