The Hamiltons – 2014 Commercial Producer of the Year
Each year, the American Salers Association recognizes an outstanding commercial cattle operation as its Commercial Producer of the Year. Commercial cattlemen that epitomize the character and contributions held in high regard by the breeders within the Salers breed are nominated and selected to be recognized with this award. This year’s recipient is Jim and Marge Hamilton of Decker, Montana. The Hamilton’s ranch in Eastern Montana has been blessed not only with good cattle, but with a loving family first and foremost. Jim says, “We worked the kids hard when they were growing up. They helped with everything. We tried to teach them the cowboy way of doing things. You work hard, you are good for your word, be a person of integrity and treat others the way you want others to treat you, just to name a few. We also tried to make it fun so they didn’t begrudge the ranch or having to work hard. I guess it worked, since we have 3 kids that like to be involved with the ranch.” The kids help out all those times of the year when they need the extra help even though they all don’t live nearby and they have their own lives and careers. Jim and Marge were blessed with 2 daughters, Terri and Nancy, and a son, Mike, and now have 6 grandchildren. The grandkids consist of 3 boys and 3 girls that range in age from 27 to 11, and “we are absolutely thrilled when the grand kids can come and help. The kids all have a work ethic that makes a parent proud and they utilize those cowboy ways of doing things that make them an individual and family success,” says Jim. Jim and Marge are working to insure the ranch continues in good hands as son, Mike, nears retirement from law enforcement with intentions of returning to the family ranch.
The Salers operation began back in 1986 as they were getting started a 2nd time. Jim recalls, ”We went out of business in the early 80’s as the financial strain hit us. We sold all of our cows to ‘an acquaintance with money to invest that became a great business partner and friend’ in order to save the ranch and they continued to have us run them on our ranch. So, we started fresh with Salers cattle when we began running our own cows. We hadn’t utilized crossbreeding until it was almost too late to save the ranch. So, we were a little smarter the second time around. You actually didn’t have to be too smart to see how good these Salers cattle were. We began using Salers bulls on black baldy cows and we really liked the calves. We liked them so well, we just kept using them.”
The ranch starts calving the heifers around the 8th of March and the cows get started around the 20th of March. Jim states amusingly, “Not sure why, that is just when the ranch has always done it. That way we never miss the equinox storm!”
They are usually turned out to grass by mid-April. The ranch always saves back some grass from the previous year so they have some grass to turn out to earlier in the spring. “We try to graze until January 1st, but mother nature decided we should start the first of December in 2013. So, I fed all of my January hay in December this year. We have plenty of cold weather and winter, but today it is 50 degrees with a little wind and the snow is settling a bunch. There should be good moisture to get the grass started this spring.”
The ranch usually ships the calves in the fall of the year around November 1st. “Our weaning weights have consistently been going up and they are usually between 620-640 pounds. They have been going to the same buyer in Kansas and they have been really happy with how the cattle have performed for them.”
For anyone who has had the opportunity to meet Jim and Marge, it is always a joy to visit with them. Many people have heard Jim recite his cowboy poetry. He credits Salers cattle for making it easier to take off for a cowboy poetry gathering. The biggest benefits Jim sees in Salers cattle is their “labor savings, their hardiness, ease of calving and just the total ease of care for the Salers cattle. We run a range operation. The cows calve on the range. We calve the heifers up closer, but have minimized any issues calving them by paying close attention to the bulls we use. When we had British cattle, we used to ride the calving pastures at least 2 times each day. We don’t do that anymore. The problems are so few, we don’t need to do that anymore. The ol’ cows will tend to themselves. It is no longer a worry if we need to be gone overnight. The cattle are just easy calving. Seldom do we even have a breech or a foot back. Many of the skills I learned and perfected with British cattle I have forgotten how to use,” Jim confirms.
The ranching operation raises a small amount of dryland hay but there is no irrigation. They used to do a little bit of farming, but have let the hay meadows go mostly back to grass. “The economics are that we don’t have enough serious hay ground to justify the cost of all of the equipment we would need to have to raise hay off of it. So, we buy the majority of our hay. We are a horseback operation. We certainly feed hay because of the winters we have, but we buy the majority of it,” Jim explains.
The Hamiltons buy mostly high percentage Salers bulls – 3/4, 7/8 or Purebreds. “We like them black and polled. They have purchased bulls from several sources over the years and want to compliment the Salers breeders that sell bulls today. The Salers breed took some hits on disposition and some of the cattle were extreme in their frame when the beef industry was chasing frame size, but the bulls out there today are as good as you can find.” Jim continues, “The breeders need to be commended for working hard to cull the bad ones and make the improvements they have made.”
Jim states, in his ever-humble manner, “I want to thank those that nominated us for this award. We are very happy to be honored with this award. Anytime you are honored by your peers it is as good as an honor as it gets.” On behalf of the American Salers Association and its members, we congratulate the entire Hamilton family as very deserving of this award.