As part of the Montana Family Ranching Project, Montana rancher features are imperative for telling the beef story. Today, we feature Scott Wiley of Musselshell, Montana. Scott and wife Kathy, along with their two daughters and son, run the Wiley Ranch located in the Bull Mountains. Not only does Scott ranch, but he also volunteers with the local 4-H, Montana Stockgrowers Association, and a cultural exchange program for youth called, “Provider Pals.” After reading this feature, please share the link with your friends in order to help more people learn about Montana family ranching.
How long has your family been involved in ranching?
I grew up on a ranch in Idaho and worked for various ranches in the area. As often happens, the ranch was not big enough to support all of us which lead me to Montana. Upon completion of a MS degree in Animal Science at Montana State University, my wife and I were hired to manage Dyer Land and Cattle. After running the ranch for 12 years, we were given the opportunity to lease all of the land and buy all of the cattle. We have been in this situation for the last 10 years. The only time in my life that I was not involved with ranching was when I was going to college, but even then I worked on the college farm and local ranches on weekends.
What was your favorite part about growing up on the ranch?
My favorite part of growing up on the ranch was being outside and working with animals. There was never a dull moment with 2 older brothers, horses to ride, open spaces and the freedom to enjoy it.
Today the ranch is raising Gelbvieh and Angus cross cattle. We have over 13000 acres of leased ground and can run as many as 400 mother cows. With all of the kids grown up and doing things of their own, my wife Kathy and I are the only family members involved. I am probably most proud of the condition of this land that we have been caring for. Bob Ross whose family homesteaded part of this ranch, came here and toured the place. He is a retired Range Conservationist so when he told me that I was doing a wonderful job managing this range I was very proud. The number of wildlife that share this land with us has increased dramatically which to me is an indicator of good range management.
What have been some of the trials you’ve had to overcome?
We have so far been flooded, burned out, taken over by grasshoppers, gone through drought, gone through severe snow storms and terrible cold. The fire of 2012 was the worst, we lost almost all of the range and had to start feeding hay real early just to keep the cows. The aftermath of that fire will be with us for years to come as the cattle did not perform very well after the smoke inhalation, the stress and being fed poor hay for nearly 8 months. The range is recovering with good rains and snow but we will be looking at burned trees forever, reminding us of the devastation.
I wish that more people would know about the reality of ranching. We do not get up at dawn every day, saddle up the horses and ride around all day. That only occurs on a few days of the year. Reality is we spend many days fixing fences, fixing water lines, putting up hay, feeding the hay, fixing machinery and doing many little things to keep the ranch running. People need to know the way it feels to work very hard trying to save a new born calf only to have it die as well as the feeling of helping a heifer deliver a live calf and hear her talking to her new baby as she cleans it off. Ranching can be really rewarding but it can be just as depressing. My daughter wrote of ranching: “It is decisions. All building up on one another until it seems as if one can’t take it anymore. Burdens of making decisions that affect too much and burdens of when there was nothing you could do.”
Working with your family is one of the best things about ranching. Having your kids growing up working alongside of you is a really good way to teach them responsibility and a good work ethic. Working together makes you grow together when you face adversity and you take it head on as a family.
Is there anything you would have done differently on the ranch if given the chance?
I am not sure what I would do different, certainly not anything major. Maybe little things like use AI more extensively early on or put fences in different places.
How would describe “building a legacy” on the ranch?
Building a legacy to me would be that when I am gone people will say of me that I left the land in better condition than when I found it and that I had one heck of a good set of cows. All of our pastures are named after the original homesteaders, they left a legacy. I would like for someday that people would refer to some part of the place the ”Wiley Place”, that would be leaving a legacy.
Do you have any advice for future Montana rancher generations about running a successful beef cattle business?
The best advice I could give is get educated and never stop learning. That may not mean going to college but working with a mentor and going to every possible seminar or school that you can attend. It may mean getting a job on a ranch and learning the hard way. I also think that even ranch raised kids should go and work for other ranches to see how others function. One of the worst things that I have seen is ranchers who continue to do things the way that grandpa did it and they get into a rut, never improving. Being exposed to new and different things is good. Yes some of the things that grandpa did he did for a reason, but everything should be questioned and looked at from a business perspective.
What’s your favorite beef dish?
It would have to be a good roast, prime rib or top sirloin slow cooked on the grill to a medium rare with horseradish!
Every rancher should have at least 2 Corgi dogs that will help him work cows and snuggle on him at night!