By Cheryl Kepes
Photos courtesy Ratzburg family
Bobcat Angus produces cattle built to thrive in the toughest of environments.
Ranching in northern Montana, with its brutally frigid temperatures and bone-chilling wind gusts, is not for the faint of mind, body, or spirit. However, the passion and perseverance required for success in such challenging conditions exists at the very core of the Ratzburg family located near Great Falls, Montana.
Brothers, Bryan and Ernie Ratzburg, along with their families, operate Bobcat Angus, a registered Angus and commercial cattle operation. The ranch name serves as a nod to Bryan and Ernie’s college alma mater Montana State Bobcats. The Ratzburg family business started with the farm division in 1917. The operation expanded through the decades creating the diverse agricultural business that exists today.
In addition to the registered and commercial cattle ranch, the Ratzburg family operates a large-scale farm and two 2,500-head feedlots. The farm division grows corn silage, Sudangrass, barley, wheat, and alfalfa hay. The forages produced feeds the cattle at the ranch as well as the feedlots. The Ratzburgs sell select barley to Coors and Anheuser-Busch as well as high-quality winter and spring wheat to various grain terminals.
Bryan and his wife Cathy, along with their adult children Cole, Kamron, and Rebecca focus on the ranch. While Ernie and his wife Jayne and their sons Justin, Richard, and David concentrate on the farming operation. Bryan and Ernie’s parents, Karl and Roberta Ratzburg, still play an active role in the businesses.
The Ratzburgs have spent decades building a cow herd that possesses the genetic prowess to thrive in northern Montana’s harsh environment while also meeting customer demands for excellence in growth and carcass traits. Bryan and his family started the ranch division of the operation in 1992. They run 500 head of registered Angus cows and well over 1,000 commercial females.
Much of the cattle operation resides in the region of Montana called the Sweet Grass Hills located near the Canadian border. In the Sweet Grass Hills the mountain ranges loom as high as 3,000 feet above the surrounding plains. The expansive skies and undeveloped land that spans for miles creates a beautiful scenery for farming and ranching.
However, amid the majestic setting, the cattle and their caretakers must be designed to handle whatever Mother Nature sends their way. “This last year we went from 80-below windchill factors, up to 100 degrees,” Bryan Ratzburg, owner of Bobcat Angus, said. “It takes a special cow to be able to survive all that temperature change and still remain reproductive through all of it and maintain body condition to survive it. It is brutal.”
Building a herd of high-performing, genetically superior cattle is as much of a necessity as it is a preference. “It’s kind of like survival of the fittest up here. A lot of the things that revolve around our genetics is survivability,” Bryan said.
The attention to quality genetics permeates through the commercial and registered Angus herds. The Ratzburg family produces the genetics it desires through extensive use of AI in both herds as well as through its robust ET program.
Around ten years ago, the Ratzburg family purchased a nationally and internationally known bull, Musgrave Big Sky. “We sold a lot of semen out of him throughout the United States and internationally to Australia. He was our cornerstone for quite a few years,” Bryan shared. Other influential herd sires in the Bobcat Angus operation include Circle L Gus, Bobcat Blue Sky, and most recently Carter Power Surge.
Extensive AI Program
The emphasis on quality genetics drives many of the management practices at Bobcat Angus. Each spring the family breeds more than 2,000 head of cattle through AI. Cole, an embryo transfer technician with a master’s degree in cattle reproduction, and Kamron, a veterinarian, do most of the AI work at the ranch.
This year the Ratzburgs bred via AI 1,200 commercial heifers, 150 registered heifers, 300 commercial cows, and 500 registered cows. “We are very cognitive of the growth factors and carcass traits. Ever since we have been able to use genomics on the registered side, we try to accelerate those genetics through the AI programs,” Bryan stated.
The driving philosophy behind the AI program is to improve the genetics of the commercial herd equally with the registered herd. It’s a management strategy Bryan’s been following since he started his herd after college. “We are trying to accelerate our genetics with the AI bulls we buy or identify as superior bulls, we are trying to produce commercial calves that check a lot of boxes for the feeders who buy them,” Bryan explained.
When selecting matings the Ratzburgs keep in mind their end product. “I am a commercial guy at heart, I like the registered business too, but my commercial cows are special because what I started with was breeding commercial cows. So, always in the back of my mind is what my commercial cows are going to look like in the end,” Bryan said. The strong maternal genetics play a key role in the viability of the herd especially in the challenging climate of northern Montana.
The extra work the Ratzburgs put into their commercial herd through AI, also pays off when marketing their calves. They estimate they receive a 5-to-10 cent premium per head on their calf crop compared to similar types of calf groups.
Bobcat Angus values its ET program. The ET work has accelerated the quality of the registered females and helped the herd maintain average or above EPDs. The Ratzburgs put in 250 embryos each year from their donor pen of five to six Angus females. They utilize Angus cows out of their own herd as their donors. Occasionally, Bobcat Angus will purchase a donor female to infuse a different set of genetics into the herd.
Bobcat Angus operates with two calving seasons. Fall calving runs from the middle of August through October and then the next calving season starts in February and ends in March. Each calving season requires all hands-on deck. Though Rebecca works fulltime in the healthcare industry in a nearby town, she travels home most weekends to help on the ranch. Throughout calving season, she picks up the weekend shifts to give the crew a bit of a break.
When calving during the cold months, the family utilizes a large barn built seven years ago to shield the newborn calves from the elements. The barn can house up to 110 pairs at a time. The pastures also contain calf barns and other wind breaks to protect the calves during inclement weather.
Unique Sale Offering
One of the unique aspects of Bobcat Angus resides in its diverse sale offering. When customers come to Bobcat Angus’s sale, they can view a representation of the Ratzburgs’ herd through the years. The sale is comprised of bred heifers, yearling and 2-year-old bulls, 2 and 3-year-old cows, and 8 to 10-year-old cows.
Customers from Montana, Idaho, the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Wyoming as well as other states purchase Bobcat Angus bulls and females. Bobcat Angus’s production sale in 2023 will feature 160 bulls and 900 females.
Building a Name
The family takes pride in the cattle operation they have developed through the years. For more than a decade, Bobcat Angus has displayed its cattle at the National Western Stock Show (NWSS). The family participates in the NWSS as an avenue to build Bobcat Angus as a well-known name in the cattle industry.
Maternal power coupled with strong carcass and growth characteristics serve as the cornerstones of the Bobcat Angus operation. The commercial cattle herd serves as a proving ground for the registered operation producing consistency and reliability throughout both herds.
Though those factors are critical to the family’s success, the most important ingredients in Bobcat Angus’s wheelhouse are passion and grit. Without those driving forces, it would be nearly impossible to operate a large, thriving cattle ranch in the oftentimes vicious and variable climate of Big Sky Country.
19th Annual Production Sale:
December 15, 2023
12:30pm MST - Great Falls, Mont.
learn more at www.bobcatangus.com