Personal Experiences in Buying and Selling Ranches
As a kid growing up in the farming community of Fairfield, Montana, I was always captivated by ranches. We would go up on friends and family ranches, hunting and fishing in the mountains west of Choteau and Augusta along the Rocky Mountain front. From an early age, it was a dream of mine to own a ranch, and I convinced my wife to buy into the idea also. We now have a shared interest in looking for ranch properties that not only excite us, but that we believe we add value to them based on our past experiences and agricultural background. We are fortunate in having been able to own some of these ranches, and as a ranch broker it helps me better understand the ranch ownership process from both a buyer and seller perspective.
We enjoy properties with creeks and trees. We work together to clean them up. Our original project was an old homestead with wire, old boards and machinery that had to be hauled away. This spring, my wife and I purchased the Tillinghast Creek Ranch and recently listed the Limestone Butte Hunting Ranch, in which we are part owners.
EXPERIENCES BUYING A RANCH
Tillinghast is an intriguing property for an elk hunter and fisherman. Located near Belt, Montana, this ranch had been inherited by the previous owners who varied in age, generation, and financial needs and were struggling with a common vision in selling the ranch. Some of the obstacles in selling the ranch were long term agreements entered into by parents that proved an obstacle to buyers. For my wife and I, with our background and a longer time frame, these are issues that we believe can be worked through with potential results that benefit all that are affected.
After closing on this Montana ranch, we immediately addressed issues that the previous absentee owners were not. Of the 100-acres of crop ground, we prepared the ground and seeded 55 acres into Sanfoin, an excellent feed and hay source for livestock, and a great food source and attractor for elk, deer, bears, and upland birds. We will plant the remaining acres this fall or next spring.
We also implemented a weed control program for noxious and invasive weeds on the ranch. While we will hope to integrate biological controls such as using flea beetles to limit the spread of these plants, our immediate concern was to control their spread with the use of chemical application until the biological controls, which may take years to establish, can become the primary control. We also sat down with our neighbors who were not equipped to manage weeds and developed a strategy to help with their weeds, as weeds don’t stop at a fence line. All of us have already noticed a positive result in teaming up to tackle this issue.
The ranch house was still proudly showing its 1970s roots with loudly colored carpets and curtains when we went to work on updating it. My wife has great vision, incredible energy, and good hammer and painting skills. Her talent, eye for design and hard work transformed this small cabin into a bright and modern farmhouse on the inside. It is a comfortable house now to enjoy and entertain.
From the beginning, this has been a fun and successful project for me. Limestone Butte did not have structures when we purchased it, and I was comfortable putting up the building, developing the water and controlling weeds from road construction and use. We immediately constructed a building for us to stay in and keep the “toys” we use on the ranch. The elk and mule deer already were on the ranch in good numbers, so we examined what could we do to further enhance the habitat. We decided to focus on these four points to increase wildlife numbers:
1. Water development
4.Planting livestock and wildlife friendly food sources
In developing the water, we buried 17,000 feet of pipe, installed two cisterns and seven water troughs, and last fall added an additional 2,000 feet of pipe and a storage pond, which is close to being completed. This enables us to distribute cattle in the summer to remove old grass growth. Elk are picky eaters and the removal of old growth enables new shoot growth on grasses that elk look for throughout the fall.
To manage the property, we initially installed seven miles of new fence, which has been added to in recent years. This helps define what is ours and allows for cattle grazing management.
Wherever there are new roads, there will be weeds that come in also. We spray 30-50 acres each year for noxious weeds and have been good stewards in limiting the spread of these plants and have reduced weed populations throughout the ranch.
Our planting program is still a work in process. Our problem is a good one for a hunting ranch. The elk on the ranch have not given our improvement areas a good start before they start grazing the plots with the impact of pulling up plants before they can be established. One project that is successful was to plant creeping alfalfa on the old roads through the property. These are now good food sources for livestock and wildlife and have firmed up roads for vehicles and ATVs.
With each of these ranches, we have learned to look at the land and condition of structures and make a decision to purchase based on if we are willing to take on a project or want a finished product and are willing to pay more for the work completed by previous owners. For us, we have enjoying doing the work and have been patient with the progress. With each of these projects we continue to learn and enjoy the process. The results are exciting to see and fun to share with family and friends.