How to Maintain Your Montana Ranch

October 8, 2019
Operating a ranch can be a lot of work, but it can also be extremely rewarding.

Maintenance is a key component of any successful ranch. Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today. This includes everything from managing weeds to fixing fences. The key to avoiding deferred maintenance is establishing and adhering to a maintenance schedule. Budgeting for maintenance items will also help.

In this article, we touch on some of the things you’ll want to consider including in a ranch maintenance plan. This is not a complete list, but it should give you an idea of the work involved, and it will help get you started. If you’d like to know more, one of our experienced land specialists can help you make a plan for the ranch you have and the ranch you want. Some items to put on your maintenance schedule include fencing, structures, weeds, and a grazing plan. 



With fences, you will find that at certain times of year, you build. At other times, you check on those fences. Like other projects, you plan for it and budget for it. Once you get in the seasonal groove of running a ranch, you will identify times when performing fence maintenance makes sense. If you’re running cattle, you probably won’t get much else done in the spring aside from calving. Plan to do things like building jack-leg fences in the winter when things slow down.



Building maintenance should also be added to your schedule. Most ranches house several buildings. Typically, an operation may have six to 10 houses and outbuildings. Those houses and buildings have roofs, plumbing, paint and other things that require routine maintenance. Just keeping up with painting them can require a lot of attention given the sometimes harsh Montana weather conditions.



Weed control is another thing that you don’t want to ignore. Weeds can overtake a property if not properly managed. Even on a recreational ranch, you need to know which chemicals to use so you don’t have unintended consequences that could adversely affect things like fish in a nearby stream.



A thoughtful livestock grazing plan can benefit the riparian and other areas of the property if done correctly. Grazing plans vary depending upon terrain type. For example, a ranch operator may want to graze dry uplands early in the spring one year but then rest that land the following year. Grazing creek or river bottoms is typically best done in late fall or early winter when the willows and trees are dormant and the stream banks are frozen, minimizing possible damage by visiting cows. On the other hand, it is important not to leave these same riparian areas completely untouched for several consecutive years because they could be overtaken by unwanted weeds, resulting in a drop in production. Livestock grazing will clean up these areas and provide healthy soil disturbance and fertilization.


Plan for What You Want

Evaluate the type of ranch you have and make a plan for the type of ranch you want. For example, during the initial walkthrough of the property, if you saw a stream and imagined yourself fishing there, you need to know that even a good stream requires maintenance. Make sure you know what you’re getting into before buying the property by talking with your broker. When the sale is complete, be prepared to do the work or find someone who will help you manage and maintain the waterways.

Specifically, regarding water, the biggest misconception that people have is that it operates in a natural state. Creating a healthy habitat is critical and often is something that must be developed. Water management includes everything from crop irrigation to stream management. Understanding how these systems operate and providing routine maintenance will help set you up for success.

This is just a quick overview of a few of the things you will need to consider when it comes to managing and maintaining your property. This information is not common knowledge. It takes years to learn how to operate a ranch successfully.

With decades of experience operating ranches in Southwest Montana, the 18 Land Co. team is here to help. Through our land concierge services, we offer offer consultation, management and referral services to give you peace of mind that your ranch is being managed correctly.

Whether you are looking for someone to service your pivots or you need help negotiating a long-term lease on the property, we can help. As your local connection to Southwest Montana, we look forward to helping you succeed at your Montana ranch dreams.

If you have questions or would like to talk to one of us about maintaining your Montana ranch, we welcome you to contact Nate Finch at 406.660.2601 or