Stevensville, MT – Real Ranching and Grass Fed Beef!

Salmon Idaho hat shop

Hat shop in Salmon, Idaho.

Salmon Idaho cowboy hat shop

Trade-in hats from loyal customers.

Lemhi County Fair Idaho

Lemhi County Fair

Lemhi County Fair Idaho

Cowboys watch the rodeo.

BItterroot Mountains Montana

Beautiful barn and ranch in the Bitterroot.


Little Buck eyes me up.

Horseback riding

He did exactly as my reins told him.

BItterroot Mountains Montana ranch

A peaceful but busy ranch.

Ranching in Montana

Calves come barreling down the chute to be


Ranching in Montana

They are held in a small pen for their shots.

Ranching in Stevensville Montana

That's a mighty big syringe!

Ranching in Stevensville Montana

Two quick shots.  Some calves barely seemed to


Ranching in Stevensville Montana

And off they run to join their waiting friends.

Ranching in Stevensville Montana

Sunset casts a warm glow on the Bitterroot mountains.

Kootenai Creek Fire Montana

A wildfire had burned for a month in the nearby hills.

Mountain biking Bitterroot Mountains Montana

Carl shows us what ranchers do in their free time.

Mountain biking Bitterroot Mountains Montana

The views became more and more

grand as we climbed.

Mountain biking and hiking Kootenai Creek Montana

New growth from the wicked 1910 blaze to the left and

new charred scarring on the right.

Mountain biking and hiking Kootenai Creek Montana bark beetles pine trees Montana

Beetles bore into the tree bark

and the tree responds by oozing

thick sap.

cow dog Montana ranch

The newest ranch hand.

Wild turkeys Montana

Wild turkeys pay us a visit.

Just a few feet to one side and we'd have had a good sunny

glimpse of the family.

Bambi deer Montana

Bambi trots across the grass nearby.

Cows on a Montana cattle ranch

The cows come when called.

Cows on a Montana cattle ranch

Yum, freshly mowed grass!

Cows on a Montana cattle ranch

That's something to moo about.

Cows on a Montana cattle ranch

The moms circle us.

Cows on a Montana cattle ranch

A few treats to lure them in, and they know the next

step is a romp in a new pasture.

Cows on a Montana cattle ranch

This guy was hopeful mom still had some milk for him.

Cows on a Montana cattle ranch

And they're off to greener grass on the other side of the fence.

Stevensville, Montana

Late August, 2009 - We left Stanley, Idaho and continued traveling

north towards Montana, following the wonderful twists and turns of the

Salmon River as it descended down the mountains.  During two days of

leisurely driving along the river's edge, we watched the terrain gradually

change from tall pines on steep mountainsides to rolling, barren hills that

seemed to have been shaped and smoothed with care.  We slowly

began to feel the mood changing from fly fishing in fast-moving streams

under cool trees to ranching on the wide open range under the big sky.

Stopping in the small town of Salmon, Idaho, we found a shop filled with

cowboy hats.  The new ones on the racks looked very crisp, but the

ones with real character were the crumpled ones the customers had

turned in.  These hats lined the tops of the walls in the store.  Each hat

was crinkled and worn in a different way, and each had the owner's

name under it.

Outside of town we found the Lemhi

County Fair in progress.  There was

all kinds of horse activity going on,

and we watched a little as the riders

competed with each other to be the

fastest one to sort out a single cow

from the herd.

It was more fun watching the

cowboys watch the event.

Some of the ranches and farms we passed were beautiful properties.  One red barn in

particular caught my eye, and later I found that this same barn

was featured on a glossy Montana calendar.

We went to Stevensville to visit our friends Bob and Donna Lea.

Before we'd even said "hello" to them, we met their horse Little

Buck.  He was carrying Bob's ranching boots on his back.

I got a chance to try my legs at

riding a horse.  This was just the

third time I'd been on a horse

since my first outing on a pony at

the church fair when I was five.  I

managed okay, but I got the

signals crossed for turning right

versus left and consequently had

to duck under a very low branch.

Bob had work to do at his

neighbor Carl's ranch, and we got

a fantastic inside view of what

ranching is like.  This was the day

the cows and their calves had to

be inoculated with two vaccines

and sprayed with an anti-fly

spray.  I had no idea what to

expect, but I loved the sights and

smells and busy activity on the


First the calves were sent down a chute to a single-calf sized holding

pen.  There they were held in place with a clamp on either side of their

neck so they could bob their head up and down but couldn't wriggle out.

This made it easier to give them their shots.  They didn't seem thrilled

with the idea, but they didn't protest too much.  A scratch on the head

helped the medicine go down.  Next, two ranchers lined up with the

shots.  The syringes were pretty good sized.  Bigger than I'd want,


Then the vaccines were injected and

the calf was released to run off to his

friends down the hill.  There was all kinds of mooing going on in the distance, as the calves and

cows had been separated from each other for this project, and they kept calling to each other

from their separate pens.

Eventually everyone got their shots

and later they all got their spray.  We

had a chance to go through the

calving barn to see where and how

that is done (in March when it is zero

degrees and snowing).  As I looked at

the apparatus for handling a breach

birth and for nurturing a sickly calf, I

was amazed at how much biological

and medical knowledge a rancher

needs to have.  I missed most of the

scientific words Carl was throwing


Yet there was a cozy intimacy to this family enterprise that brought a new group of calves into

this world each year.  I felt like I was peeking in on a James Herriott story.  In the distance that

evening the mountains were lit with a momentary splendor, adding a special glow to this world of

Montana cattle ranching.

A wildfire had been burning in the

nearby mountains for a month.

During the day you could smell the

smoke, and at times the fire danced across the mountainside,

sending up a ribbon of smoke first from one area and then another.

A few days into our visit a torrential rainstorm came, dropping an inch

of water on the mountains and valley (along with a thin layer of pea-

sized hail).  That doused the fire long enough for us to take a

mountain bike ride up to a nearby peak to get a closer look.

Our new ranching friend Carl showed us that ranchers don't just raise

cattle.  They mountain bike too.

Once we got up in the hills a

few miles we had an

expansive view of the

Bitterroot Valley below.  We

met some US Forest Service

rangers at the crest of the

mountain, and they told us that

the fire was subdued but not

quite out.  As we looked out at

the charred hillside in the

distance (on the right side of

the photo below) we could not

see any smoke just then, but

in later days it returned.

The modern wildfire fighting method is to let them burn, as fires are natural in this part of

the country.  The hillside on the left of the photo shows the forest's re-growth since the

1910 inferno that roared from Washington state across Idaho and into Montana.  The shorter, even trees covering most of the hill

are the regrowth and the taller, darker ribbon of trees that lines the ravine going down the hillside are the original pre-1910 trees.

One hundred years later and the evidence of that fire is still plain to see.

Hopefully the burnt areas from this year's fire will grow back

a little faster, as the fire was not hot enough to sterilize the

ground (like the 1910 fire did).  All the fire talk aside, it was a

good moment for a photo op.

The fire was working its way across many healthy trees, but

we found ourselves in a stand of beetle infested trees.  The

beetles bore into the bark and the tree tries to repel them

with thick sap.  This gives the tree a pock-marked look.

Some trees are able to stave off the infestation, but most

eventually die

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Carl had just acquired an

adorable new cow dog.  She was all cuddles and goofiness,

just settling in to her new home before learning the ropes of

her ranch job.

Out in the "wildlife sanctuary," a portion of the pastureland allowed to grow

wild, two families of wild turkeys showed up.  They had been in the area all

summer and at one time numbered two adult females and 17 chicks.

We counted 15 chicks with

the moms, but couldn't get

them to stand still or pose for

us in the sunshine for a family

portrait.  They ran across the

road in the shadows instead.

In the midst of taking way too

many photos of these

turkeys, I looked up and saw

Bambi running across the

field, white spots and all.

A few days later, Carl invited us

over to see a "cattle drive" at the

ranch.  This wasn't the big round-

up you might imagine, but a simple

walk-through from one pasture to

another.  The cows had made

short work of all the grass in their

current field, and when Carl called

to them, they came running.

He presented them with some

freshly mowed grass and they got

very excited.  The mooing was

tremendous, and each cow came

bellowing over to us, calf in tow.

They all stood around us in a circle,

expectantly.  He hand fed a few,

telling me some of the stories behind

each one.  The bulls were lounging

under the trees in another pasture

way down the hill.  It was like a boys

school and a girls school with each

waiting for spring time when they

could finally get together at the prom.

Each May he puts two bulls in a

pasture with 50 cows for 70 days.  By

the end just about every cow is

pregnant and the bulls have a

lot of notches on their belts.

Some cows had been on his ranch

for 13 years, and others for just a

year or so, but each had a history

and a personality.

This big guy was still nursing (a

little old for that, perhaps!).  He

spent quite some time going round

and round from teat to teat, quite

sure that there was something

there for him, but not finding what

he wanted.  Finally momma just

walked off.

Carl led the cows and calves through the gate, and they went running down

the lush green hillside.  They were delighted with their new digs.  The grass

was tall and soft, and the view was superb.  The cattle on this ranch have it


We said goodbye to Carl, and took off with Bob and Donna Lea for the

annual Labor Day Helmville Rodeo.