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An Excerpt from the BLCC Fall Newsletter

November 22, 2011

The First C in BLCC

The Second Installment of the History of BLCC Cattle Operation

Established in 1985, the Bartush Land & Cattle Co. has strived to create an environment that is home to native wildlife. It is well known that the Corporation uses tools such as its Hunt Club, controlled burns, and planned restoration of wetlands.  What many do not know is that the first “C” in BLCC is also an integral part of completing the BLCC mission.  Cattle, whether owned by the Bartush family or by outside operators, have been on the BLCC land since Chuck and Mary Bartush made the purchase. Initially, most of the graze-able land was leased by outside cattle owners as supplemental income for the BLCC. In the early 1980s Mike Bartush (then a high school junior) started working his first set of cattle.  Traveling 14 miles north to the BLCC to feed his 20 head of cows each day, Mike became the first Bartush to own cattle on the BLCC.

Seeing an opportunity for diversification of income sources, the BLCC decided to enter the cattle business. With Mike to manage the cattle, the BLCC purchased 30 additional cows to add to his existing herd. It is important to remember that around this time, the BLCC did not own the Noell Place, the East End (Hess), or the Roadrunner-all three of which are ideal for their grazing pastures. Profits from the small herd did not outweigh the cost put into them, so this initial attempt only lasted about five years. As the cattle numbers dropped, Mike began to find other ways of controlling brush and in the late 1980’s, he added controlled burns to the land management protocol for the BLCC.  With the addition of the Noell Place, the East End, and the Roadrunner in the early 1990s, Mike’s personal herd of Simmental and Simbrah cattle grew to 175 head by1995. Using a barter system, Mike ran his cattle on the BLCC in exchange for his labor to build many of the fences and clear many of the trails seen today on the property, manage the land, and manage the Hunt Club. 

In the mid to late 1990s, the BLCC Board of Directors became concerned that the land was being over-stocked. The Board worked with Mike to reduce his cow herd to 100 head or less by 2000. Over the course of the following 3-5 years however, the BLCC learned what an integral part cattle play in land management. Soon, areas of the property that were kept under control using cattle grazing had grown up to thick brush, brambles, cedar, and minimal grass. Wildlife that relied on low-lying brush such as turkey and quail began to move on to other areas and their population reached an all-time low since the inception of the BLCC.

Seeing a need for change, the BLCC Shareholders met with the Noble Foundation to discuss the BLCC vision. This is when the concept of stocker cattle was brought to the attention of the BLCC as a viable alternative to the cow-calf operation. Up until this point, the BLCC had only run cow-calf operations. As the first installment of this two- part series discussed, a cow-calf operation is a business in which a land owner or lessor will purchase cows, breed them, have calves, and then sell the calves at weaning. A stocker program is different in that the BLCC only provides the grazing for the cattle.

After learning about the potential of stockers, the BLCC decided to move forward with the program.  Properly managed stocker operations require good grazing, winter crops for grazing, good fencing, and good water sources. While some of these were available on the BLCC, others needed to be added. Once the

initial work was completed, the first set of 100 stocker cattle was put on the East End in 2007. In 2008, the BLCC initiated a contract with Hess Farming to run summer stockers. Currently, the BLCC does not offer “custom care” for the stockers. In 2010, the BLCC was able to provide winter grazing and contracted

with Hess Farming for a set of winter stockers. In the course of a year that can support both summer and winter stockers, Hess Farming runs 475-500 head of stocker cattle.

Over the past three years, the stocker program has been a regular source of income for the BLCC. As with any business opportunity, the program has some benefits and some risks.  Stocker programs are highly dependent on weather and land management. If the land is over-stocked in a drought season, the cattle will not gain weight and the pasture will not recover in time to be available for the next set of stockers, essentially delaying the entire operation. Another risk is that contracted stockers are usually purchased by the cattle owner by the truckload. This means that in any given truckload, there may be a certain number of cattle with genetics that are not meant for weight gain.

Years of experience on the BLCC have given Mike the management skills to reduce the risk of over-stocking. However, he cannot control what type of cattle is put on the trucks.  Unfortunately, if the seasons and weather do not cooperate, as happened in 2010, the weight gained leaves the BLCC profit too close to the cost of plowing, planting, and fertilizing the fields and the BLCC takes a hit. While it is easy to focus on the potential risks of an endeavor and let those risks sway the decision to follow through with it or not, the BLCC chose to focus on the rewards and has supplemented its income with the stocker program successfully, netting about $15,000 each year.  In 2010-2011, the BLCC attempted to run summer and winter stockers for the first time. This will bring the net profit up even more in 2011.

In July of 2011, the BLCC Board of Directors voted to move forward with the addition of a cow-calf operation. The entire company, along with Mike’s cattle breeding and management skills, has changed significantly since the first herd of BLCC cows stepped onto the ranch in the 80s.  A small test herd will be added to the BLCC cattle operation in the spring of 2012. The first “C” of BLCC will continue to diversify and provide income as well as land management for the BLCC.  So, the first “C” has played an important role in the history of the BLCC. The BLCC cattle operation has grown and changed throughout the years. From the small cow-calf herd of the 1980s to Mike’s large cow-calf herd of the 1990s – from the current stocker operation to the upcoming cow-calf herd in 2012, cattle have roamed the pastures of the BLCC helping to control brush and maintain an environment conducive to native wildlife for almost 30 years and are likely to do so for generations to come.

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