Madison Valley Cattle Drive
July 30 thru July 2, 2007.
We are staying in Cameron RV-Park & Store in Cameron, Montana. Cameron is a STORE located 10-miles south of Ennis in the Madison Valley. The Cameron RV-Park is about 12 sites located behind the Store & Saloon (the social gathering place for miles around). The PPA campground is nothing fancy but for the PPA price of $12.50 for FHU it is just fine. The view over the Madison Valley and mountains surrounding Virginia City is worth the $12.50.
For those of you that are not familiar with PPA (Pass Port America it is an organization you can join for less than $50 per-year. Campgrounds that belong to PPA offer 1/2 price discounts. That kind of savings can quickly add up. While participating PPA parks generally have some restrictions on dates the PPA offer is valid, or possibly days of the week the discount is valid, or perhaps the number of days that the PPA discount will be honored the discount is genuine. Many times PPA campgrounds are new campgrounds that need help in getting established. Other times PPA campgrounds may be on the outskirts of town instead of in the "prime" location thus they need to provide an incentive for campers to stay with them. Whatever the reason PPA campgrounds generally provide a much cheaper option. PPA is the only campground organization that I think is worth the cost. PPA does not have a gimic. What you see is what you get. Once you join they send you a directory listing all participating campgrounds. The PPA directory is the FIRST directory we check when trying to locate a place to spend the night. You can join PPA by calling 228-452-9972. If you decide to join PPA, it would be nice if you gave them my number "R-0156251" as the PPA member that told you about PPA. In return PPA will give me a years membership free. I will thank you in advance for that kindness. Thank you.
Ranch Gate in the Madison Valley
We learned that there are cattle drives through Ennis every Spring and Fall. It seems that every Spring ranches south of Ennis trail their cattle north through downtown Ennis on US-287 to National Forest Service land west of McAlister about 6-miles north of Ennis. In McAlister they turn west off US-287 onto South Meadow Creek Road. That road eventually forks and the cattle drive follows the north fork. This road is gravel and it passes a multitude of ranches as it slowly makes its way up and into Deerlodge National Forest. The cattle drive takes more than one day so the cattle have to be overnighted on a ranch somewhere along the way. Of course in the Fall they reverse that train and return the cattle to the ranch for the winter.
We were discussing these semiannual cattle drives with a lady that lives on one of the ranches (her husband manages a 6,400 acre spread) when she said that one year her cows started coming home earlier than they were supposed to and the highway patrol called to tell them their cattle were on the highway. She told us that in normal years the cattle would come out of the national forest lands and gather in the area around the entrance to the forest. When this started happening ranchers (generally 3 to 5) that used that national forest access for their cattle would go up and separate their cattle into groups before taking them down the highway to their ranches. To understand all this you have to realize that Ranchers in the valley own the cattle and have brands on them. They have to feed the cattle during the winter. Winter is also when they drop their calves. However, when the cattle are "on the ranch" they have to be fed. As soon as possible in the spring these cattle are driven (as in an old fashioned cattle drive) to the National Forest where they are turned out to graze for the summer.
National Forest Service personnel monitor this program and determine how many cattle can be grazed in the forest and if need be contact the ranchers to move their cattle to other areas of the forest.
Some of the ranchers south of Ennis have to drive their cattle through the city in order to reach the National Forest area where cattle spend the summer. Around Cameron we talked with Ranchers that drove their cattle south, along US-287, for about 10 miles before turning off the highway onto a gravel road where it was another 10 - 15 miles, before reaching the National Forest.
The lady who lived on the ranch her husband managed (the 6,400-acre ranch) said that they could only support 110 cows because the land was so poor. They did not have irrigation thus were not able to grow hay during the summer. Ranches with irrigation to grow hay on could support a lot more cattle through the winter. We didn't question the number of cattle too closely but I would think that the 110 number would be the "breeder" size of the herd consisting of possibly 5-bulls and 105 females of breeding age. If that is the case then then immediately upon the cattle returning to the ranch in the fall ranchers will take all of the steers born last winter to market in addition to any of the females born last year that are not being retained as part of the breeding herd. I suppose it would be reasonable to assume that some of the "breeder" females would be marketed each year as they got older and replaced with younger "breeder-age" cows in the herd.
In any event from what this lady said they would only have 110 cattle wintering over on their 6,400 acre ranch.
We are intrigued by this way of life. It is a much slower pace of living and much closer to the land. These folks are attuned to the environment. Ranchers have to constantly mend fences and maintain water access for their cattle. Noxious weeds are also something that has to be fought on a continuing basis. There is always something to do on these large ranches.
By the way, Ted Turner has purchased some of the large ranches in this area. Montana folks do not like Ted Turner. It seems every resident has a story about "Ted Turner" and it generally has something to do with a restaurant (generally located in the Bozeman area) refusing to serve Ted and Jane (when Ted Ted Turner and Jane Fonda were married). The story varies according to who is telling it but it seems to take place in a "popular upscale" restaurant. Ted supposedly arrives with Jane in tow and announces that he is "Ted Turner" and wants to be seated-----ahead of the waiting line of locals. The restaurant owners then tells Ted and Jane that he is a veteran and that he isn't welcome in the restaurant and won't seat either of them and ALL of the locals waiting in line clap and cheer. Everyone that tells the story got the story from one of the "locals" standing in line when this happened.
We enjoy hearing the ranch stories and learning about the way of live in these parts. It is a major part of our traveling experience.
Ranch Gate in the Madison Valley
We were following this gravel road out to the National Forest so we could see for ourselves how far the cattle were driven to their summer range. On the way Joyce was taking pictures of ranch gates. She started taking pictures of ranch gates back in Texas where ranchers like to go "all-out" when constructing a gate. These are more modest but many show creativity.
Ranch Gate in the Madison Valley
This one is not ostentatious by any means but it should win a creativity award.
Trail head where cattle are turned lose in the National Forest each summer
We saw this sign on the fence/gate leading into the National Forest. Just how do you lose a saddle & spurs?
Ranch in the Madison Valley
This range land in the Madison Valley provides habitat for wildlife such as these antelope. The ranchers cattle will be grazing on this piece of property in the winter.
Ranch in the Madison Valley with stored hay
In addition to having the range land you can see in this picture this rancher also has some irrigated land where he is producing hay. Lots of hay from the looks of enormous inventory of hay in this picture.
Madison Valley ranch where cattle will spend the winter
This pasture is preparing for cattle that will reside here all winter. If no cattle graze on it all summer, hopefully there will be enough forage for this rancher's cattle to survive the winter, otherwise he will have to provide them expensive hay.
Remember that this rancher's cattle are grazing on National Forest land during the summer months.
Mike & Joyce Hendrix
We hope you liked this page. If you do you might be interested in some of our other Travel Adventures:
We would love to hear from you......just put "info" in the place of "FAKE" in this address: FAKE@travellogs.us
Until next time remember how good life is.