Montana Rancher Feature Q&A: Lillian Ostendorf

Lillian and Tom Ostendorf.

Lillian and Tom Ostendorf.

Lillian and her husband, Tom, own and operate the Ostendorf Red Angus Ranch near Powderville, Montana. They are working to not only run a successful cattle business, but to be able to pass the ranch on to the next generation when the time is right. This family business means the world to the Ostendorfs…read more in today’s Q&A feature with Lillian:

How long has your family been involved in ranching?

Lillian Ostendorf (age 1) with her father.

Lillian Ostendorf (age 1) with her father.

My Norwegian grandparents came to this country and settled here around the time my Dad was born in 1917. The Orestad’s started a ranch on a section of land in Powder River County. My Dad grew up there and worked for ranches like the WL and the Brown Ranch. Dad met and married my Mom in Sioux City, IA. He worked for the stockyards, and later the Milwaukee railroad. They saved their money and bought their first section of land at the head of Ash Creek, in Custer County. From that section of land, our ranch has grown to about 17 sections, including the original Powder River section and the land that Tom and I bought and combined with my parents. (Dad passed away in 2004.)

What was your favorite part about growing up on the ranch?

My favorite part of growing up on the ranch was being my Dad’s sidekick, because it usually involved horses and riding. Whenever we didn’t have something to do, I could be found at the corral with the horses. I learned to ride bareback quite proficiently at an early age. I might not have been able to lift the saddle, but the old horse would let me bridle him and stand by the feed bunk until I scrabbled on.

Tell us about your ranch today.

Ostendorf Red Angus Ranch

Ostendorf Red Angus Ranch

Today our ranch consists of a herd of Red Angus cattle instead of Herefords, like Dad had. Using AI and Quality natural sires we have established a Registered Red Angus Herd and sell bulls. We have installed waterlines, cross fences, and established good grazing practices. Hay is more abundant on our dry land ranch since we developed alfalfa meadows and plant peas and hay barley for feed instead of wheat. Aaron and Mollie Phipps (our daughter) and the two grand boys are working with us on the ranch. Our son Steve has cattle and involvement in the ranch even though he is an engineer and works for an oil company in Minot. Even our daughter, Martha who writes for the JD Furrow magazine, comes out from Miles City to help on occasion. We continue to work the ranch in family style tradition.

What have been some of the trials you’ve had to overcome?

A few of the most trying setbacks we had to overcome were, a hailstorm that knocked out probably the best wheat and hay crop we have ever raised, a prairie fire that burned our ranch and neighboring ranches in 1996, but still probably the most devastating was the drought of 1988. Our ponds all went dry and grass was scarce. We had to move our cattle and my parent’s cattle to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in S.D. for the summer. It was really hard to keep watch over them that far away in 100 degree day temperatures. We hired a cowboy to check on them regularly and we made many trips that summer to fix fence and bring cattle back to their pastures. We were able to keep our cattle herd and bring them home in the fall.

What is one thing you wish more people knew about life on the ranch?

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Ostendorf Red Angus Ranch

Our ranch and cattle is not only our livelihood, but it is our backyard where we live and raise our families. We take pride in being good stewards of the land and work to make it sustain life not only for humans and cattle, but for the wildlife to co-exist as well.

What does it mean to you to be able to work with your family every day?

Working together with our family who fully understands our dedication and expectations towards the animals and the ranch, makes our life whole. Children grow up here learning about trials and responsibility side by side with grandparents and parents, to become responsible caring adults. It’s an indescribable prideful feeling, when after college they want to continue on the ranching tradition or they are responsible employees in another field.

How would describe “building a legacy” on the ranch?

Our goal has been to preserve the basic land we have making improvements that sustain it for the future. Improved grazing practices, waterlines, solar power wells, buffer grass strips in the water ways all contribute to the overall sustainability and wellbeing of continuing the heritage of a ranch, while improving the number of animals it will support. Teaching methods and patience to contribute to the humane handling of cattle, like being Beef Quality Assurance certified on our ranch is important to us. Do you have any advice for future Montana rancher generations about running a successful beef cattle business? Figure your expenses a little higher and cattle prices lower than you anticipate and enjoy it when it works out better than you figured. Keep extra cattle feed on hand for those unexpected long winters and storms. Treat your cattle, your helpers, and the land well and they will reward you back. Trials will come along, persevere and work your way through them. It is a great next year country!

Ostendorf Red Angus Ranch

Ostendorf Red Angus Ranch

What’s your favorite beef dish?

A medium rare beef steak grilled with a baked potato and salad has to be my favorite meal.

Is there anything else you can share with us?

Different problems face this generation. One of the biggest issues we face, in my opinion, is the challenge of our private property rights from the government. Interpretations of rules from government agencies like the EPA’s attempt at new definition of the Waters of the US that would establish their jurisdiction over dry ditches and creeks that only carry water once or twice a year will threaten ordinary practices on our ranches, like mending a ditch. The definition of the waters of the United States is only those “navigable” waters. The Supreme Court never intended for EPA to rule on dry streams and ditches, proven by two previous Supreme Court cases. It takes time away from our ranches to talk to legislators about these issues.


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