MSGA member, Cooper Hereford Ranch, recognized as one of Montana’s top family-owned businesses

In Montana agriculture few names are as readily recognized as the Cooper Hereford Ranch, a pioneer in the production of purebred Hereford cattle. Over a hundred years in the making, the business was recognized as one of Montana’s top family-owned businesses in the Old Business Category of the 2016 Montana Family Business Awards presented by the Montana State University’s Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship. State Farm Insurance sponsors the awards and Montana Chamber of Commerce sponsors the annual awards luncheon in Bozeman.

The Cooper Ranch, located near Willow Creek, Montana, is currently passing into the hands of a fourth generation, having been first established in 1914 as a homestead called the Silver Brook Farm by their great grandfather, Frank Oscar Cooper. Establishing and holding onto his 480 acre enterprise was no easy matter. Frank raised farm animals and harvested a large garden before losing the land during the Great Depression. He was able to repurchase the farm, after getting a Land Bank loan for $200. In 1946, Frank’s son Jack bought the land and continued to run a general farming operation for several years. The ranch grew to its current 4,500 acres.

Jack and his wife, Phyllis, launched the legacy of the family business as one of the first producers of the Hereford Line One foundation stock in 1947. Following the recommendation of his brother-in-law Dr. Ray Woodard, a Line One Project Leader at the Experiment Station in Miles City, Montana, Jack bought his first foundation stock – 15 Line One females – from the U.S. Range Livestock Experiment Station.
By the time the Montana Beef Performance Association was formed in 1957, with Jack as a charter member, he had ten years of experience with Line One Herefords and performance testing. Jack later joined the American Hereford Association’s “Total Performance Records” program in 1960.

In 1977, after studying Ag-Production at Montana State University, Jack’s son Mark returned to Willow Creek to assist with the ranching and farming operations. He and his wife, Cristy, managed the ranch where they also raised four daughters. Two of those daughters, Kelsy and Katie, and son-in-law Dave Hanson, are also involved with the ranch operations. They believe that bigger is not always better and have focused their efforts on land improvements rather than acquisitions. The family displays acts of land stewardship through implementing weed and rodent control, water conservation, and innovative farming and ranching practices into their business plan. Land improvements made during the last two years include a large river restoration project along the Jefferson River, maintenance and grading to roads throughout the property, and the planting of numerous tree belts and natural windbreaks along with the design of irrigation systems to properly water both.

The fourth generation has transitioned the business from traditional record keeping to an online data system. They maintain their website in-house and create their annual sale catalog and many advertisements in-house as well.

A big Congratulations to Cooper Hereford Ranch, the award is well deserved!