Nobody just happens upon Bobcat Angus.
In north central Montana, it borders Canada for three miles. The remote location is full of wide open space. It’s beautiful and every bit a perfect illustration of “Big Sky Country.”
When planning my May trip up to Montana, Bryan Ratzburg’s directions ended with, “There’ll be three mountains, and we’re in between the first two.”
If you find yourself there, it’s likely you meant to go there.
But let’s say I had just happened upon the ranch without knowing a thing about them: I would’ve assumed it was a large commercial operation. Not that the cattle weren’t good Angus cattle—they certainly were—or that they don’t know their stuff—they did. But it was a “let’s get down to business” type of place. No extra frills, the cattle shine on their own.
Stepping into the old, square ranch house that’s converted into the office, the Montana State University Bobcat football memorabilia reveals the inspiration for their namesake.
Growing up, Bryan wasn’t sure if he’d eventually farm or ranch, but the producer always knew he was going to be a Bobcat. When he and his brother Ernie walked on the MSU practice field as a freshman, they had no idea that they were about to meet a new best friend and eventual business partner: John Goggins.
A decade later, the former teammates and still friends formed Bobcat Angus, as a partnership between the three and their wives.
It was a natural step for Bryan, who first saw his AI-bred commercial females selling at a premium to the steers. That led to a bred heifer enterprise before diving into the registered business.
Angus was the breed of choice from the beginning.
“They survive, they produce and they give us a good product in the end,” Bryan says.
From an ATV tour of the pasture, I could see some of the high points of the ranch location. Everything was green from well-timed spring moisture; the grass lush, the wildlife roamed about.
It’s a little harder to see the less ideal, like being so far removed from feeders and processors, with little opportunity to build relationships with feeder-calf buyers close by. That doesn’t mean they are unconcerned with how their cattle perform on down the line.
“We were strongly emphasizing our maternal side and now we’re really starting to pay attention to our carcass traits, too,” Bryan says. “We know it’s very important because we sell a lot of commercial steers every year and we want to make sure that the buyers have a very good end product.”
He says “there’s too much risk” in buying a bull that isn’t HD50K tested, and appreciates what the DNA technology offers in terms of accuracy. “I’m a believer.”
Bryan knows Bobcat customers well. He is one. He raises commercial Angus cattle in the same challenging environment, where the temperature can vary widely in a calendar year. He sells on the same video auction, subject to the same market conditions.
“Hopefully we’re developing what the industry is demanding,” the rancher says.
If you’re ever driving Highway 2 across northern Montana, I suggest you go and take a look for yourself. Just be sure to call and ask Bryan for directions first.
May your bottom line be filled with black ink,