Montana Stockgrowers Association book profiles cowboy life

Posted: Aug 24, 2012 2:36 PM by Evan Weborg (
Updated: Aug 24, 2012 2:43 PM

In early October, the Montana Stockgrowers Association will releaseBig Sky Boots: Working Seasons of a Montana Cowboy, a coffee table photography book featuring the work of Lauren Chase, the organization’s multimedia outreach specialist.

Chase has spent the past year and a half gathering photographs for the book, traveling to ranches across Montana.

The book takes the reader on a journey through a year in the life of Montana’s cowboys – through calving, branding, and shipping, and everything in between.

Chase said, “Our goal with this project has been to create a unique, fun, engaging and interactive way to tell the story of Montana’s ranching families that raise the beef that consumers all across the world enjoy. There seems to be a growing disconnect as people, even here in Montana, are losing touch with what goes on at ranches and farms, and where our food comes from.”

Big Sky Boots is part of a larger project that uses social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to tell the stories of Montana’s ranching families through photo albums, audio slide shows, and videos.

Chase says that one hallmark of the book is that the photos are largely untouched or enhanced by photo editing software.

Chase noted, “A lot of books that are out there right now depict a romanticized view of the West and of the cowboy lifestyle. We wanted to make sure to show life as it really is on Montana’s ranches. I think there is a tremendous amount of natural beauty in the pictures and it gives the reader a glimpse into the life of a real cowboy in Montana.”

Big Sky Boots is the first book in a series of five books that MSGA will develop over the next five years. The next book, already in production, will feature the women that are an essential part of today’s ranching families.

Click here to learn more about the project.


Stockgrowers book highlights Montana ranches

By Kristin Cates, Great Falls Tribune Staff Writer

Originally posted on Nov. 29, 2012 by the Great Falls Tribune

Upset by the negative connotations national programs such as “Food Inc.” were making about agriculture and the cattle industry, the Montana Stockgrowers Association set out to tell its story in a new way and with the help of a city girl.

“Big Sky Boots: Working Seasons of a Montana Cowboy” has been published and features full-page photographs detailing many of Montana’s ranching families taken by Montana newcomer Lauren Chase.

“It’s been a long process, but I’m very excited about it,” said Chase, originally from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The book is scheduled to be the first in a series of five that will highlight the different aspects of Montana’s many ranches, according to Carl Mattson, program developer with the Montana Stockgrowers Association.

While this book focuses on the men of the ranches and the many seasons of ranching — from calving to summer grazing to trailing and more, Mattson said the next book will focus on the women of the ranch, followed by the children and young animals, then the environment, and the fifth book will be determined at a later date.

Not only does the book feature Chase’s photography skills honed in journalism school at the University of Iowa, it also has QR codes on some of the pages that can be scanned on a smartphone and will link observers to the Montana Stockgrowers website, where they can watch video and see extended stories on the families profiled, according to Mattson.

The book is available for purchase online or in the Montana Stockgrowers Association office for $75. Mattson said they timed the release of the book around the holidays. He sees this being a good gift for someone who has moved away from the ranch and is interested in reminiscing.

“It’s ready to have some wrapping on it,” Mattson said. “We think this has great appeal to the extended families.”

Mattson said the Montana Stockgrowers Association originally hired Chase as an intern in the summer 2010, but soon realized that in order to tell the Montana ranching family story, they needed to hire her full time.

Using a grant from the MSA’s Research, Education and Endowment Foundation, along with sponsorship from a number of banks, the Stockgrowers were able to bring Chase back to Montana in February 2011 to get started on the project.

“She was a city girl able to mix with ranchers,” Mattson said. “She was comfortable sitting at their kitchen tables.”

Chase said her first visit to a ranch was just outside of Harrison during calving season. It was 20 degrees below zero and her eyes were watering because of the cold, which caused her eyelashes to freeze, and her camera lens also fogged up. But she took it all in stride.

“I thought it was an adventure,” she said.

Since her arrival she’s traveled 35,000 miles and visited ranches from Sidney to Chinook. She brought along with her not only a camera, but her phone to make videos, as well as a separate video camera so that the stories could also be captured for the Stockgrowers’ website as well.

“Sometimes I even had an audio recorder duct-taped around my arm,” Chase said.

She watched as the ranchers were perpetually busy checking on newborn calves or feeding the cattle. Most of the ranchers and ranches that appear in the book are members of the Montana Stockgrowers, but sometimes Chase said she would have to make a cold call to a ranch. She found most were willing, and if they weren’t, they took her over to their neighbor’s place to get photos. Chase said she averaged 300 to 800 photos per ranch.

“My goal is to educate as many people as possible about ranching and how beef is produced,” Chase said.

Reach Tribune Staff Writer Kristen Cates at 791-1463 or Follow her on Twitter @GFTrib_KCates.


Caption This Photo For A Chance To Win A Copy Of “Big Sky Boots”

by Amanda Radke in BEEF Daily

Thanksgiving is this week, and if you’re like me, you’re busy preparing for the big holiday with family. It’s a time to be thankful for our many blessings in life and to show our appreciation for one another. This week, I’m thankful for the growing community on this blog. It’s thanks to your loyal readership and thoughtful comments that make this blog so great!

As a thank you gift for your continued support and participation on this blog, I am giving away a copy of Lauren Chase’s new coffee table photography book, “Big Sky Boots.”

The book is the first of a five-part Montana Family Ranching Series: a photographic story-telling project of the Montana Stockgrowers Association (MSCGA) says. In “Big Sky Boots,” readers can journey through the ranching year and learn about the great people who take care of the land, livestock and their families. This first book focuses on the cowboys themselves; the men and the seasons. Photography and impressions by Lauren Chase.

A $75 value, this newly released book would make the perfect Christmas gift. You can enter to win one with this week’s contest, or order one — or a dozen — here.

To enter to win, simply leave a caption for this photo, also by Lauren Chase, in the comments section below. Entries will be accepted until noon on Nov. 21, and the winner will be announced on Thanksgiving Day. Good luck!

Caption This Photo For A Chance To Win $125 Roper Gift Certificate

by Amanda Radke in BEEF Daily

With November in full swing, folks are starting to gear up for the holiday season. As a member of the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Auxiliary, I’ve got a busy week of beef promotions planned. We are donating beef roasts to local food pantries for families to enjoy over Thanksgiving and, at the end of the week, we are filming a holiday commercial at our ranch — featuring prime rib, harvest stew and beef pinwheels — all recipes found at

In addition to our holiday promotions, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas around here, as well! I feel like one of Santa’s elves, as I have lots of fun goodies to give away on the blog in the weeks leading up to Christmas!

I had so much fun in October giving away $50 Roper Apparel gift certificates in two different photo caption contests, and I have one more to give away this week. This time, I’m upping the ante with a grand prize — a $125 Roper Apparel gift certificate!

You know the drill. To enter, simply leave a caption for this photo by Lauren Chase in the comments section below. Entries will be accepted until noon on Nov. 7, and the winner will be announced on Nov. 8. Good luck!

A final photo caption contest will start on Nov. 19, with a copy of Chase’s new book, “Big Sky Boots,” as the grand prize ($75 value). And, on Dec. 10, the final photography contest of the year will begin. The theme is “Santa’s Little Helpers,” and the prizes will be two $100 Farm Boy gift certificates! Let the fun begin!

By the way, mark your calendars for this Thursday, Nov. 8, for a beef cattle economics webinar. Join Glynn Tonsor, Kansas State University (KSU) livestock economist, as he discusses the market overviews for the cow-calf, stocker and feedlot sectors,; and provide an outline of the expanded stocker value of gain and feedlot return projection tools. He’ll also detail an economic research update concerning mandatory COOL, animal welfare and demand assessment issues. You can register for the webinar here.

Big Sky Boots for Christmas

Do you have an uncle in Chicago? A cousin in Los Angeles? Big Sky Boots is the perfect Christmas present for them! This photographic journey through a Montana ranch year teaches audiences of all backgrounds about what happens on a ranch and how beef ends up on consumers’ plates.

Ordering is easy! Visit: and click the “Shop” tab or stop by the MSGA booth at our convention in December to pick up your copy!

Baxter Black on Big Sky Boots

Montana is one of those places like Alaska where the people should be

bigger.  Maybe 12 feet tall, to fit the country.   That way places would

seem closer together.


The branch of the Montana family that I know best is the livestock

raisers.  They come in all shapes and sizes, but they are all quite

durable.  When they order a Montana cowboy from the dealer it is usually

with the heavy duty package; a one ton, maybe three-quarters with heavy

duty drive-train, undercarriage, shocks, mud and snow tires, 4-wheel

drive, of course, pre-dented, a shovel, bedroll and a deer guard bumper

that weighs as much as the cow-catcher on a Burlington Northern locomotive.


When you look at the pictures in the book, you can tell the characters

are solid as a corner post.  I didn’t see a one of them that you

couldn’t wrap a wire around and pull tight against.

What shows through the book is how this hardy breed of pioneers fits

perfectly into their own part of the planet.  They inhabit the land, the

cattle, the wildlife and the weather, like a big buck rules hos own

territory.  They aren’t goin’ somewhere, they’re home.


Baxter Black – Aug. 14, 2012

Dayton ranch family featured in stockgrowers’ book

Posted: Saturday, October 20, 2012 10:00 pm | Updated: 8:53 pm, Sat Oct 20, 2012.

By LYNNETTE HINTZE/The Daily Inter Lake |

The Meuli family’s ranching roots reach down five generations in Proctor Valley, so when it came time for the Montana Stockgrowers Association to profile Montana cowboys in its new book, the Meulis were well-suited to the theme.

“We’re kind of the last longtime ranch” in the Dayton-Proctor area, Mike Meuli said.

His great-grandfather came to Proctor Valley in 1900, homesteading not far from the present Meuli ranch his grandfather bought in the 1920s.

“This is where my dad grew up,” Meuli said. “This is were I grew up.”

And it’s where Meuli and his wife Nancy’s three children are growing up.

The Stockgrowers Association featured working ranches across Montana in the just-released coffee-table book, “Big Sky Boots: Working Seasons of a Montana Cowboy.”

The book features the photography of Lauren Chase, the association’s multimedia outreach specialist. She spent 18 months traveling to ranches all over the Big Sky State. Her work takes the reader on a journey through a year in the life of Montana’s cowboys, from calving and branding to rounding up and shipping out cattle.

“There seems to be a growing disconnect as people, even here in Montana, are losing touch with what goes on agriculturally on ranches and farms, and where our food comes from,” Meuli said. “This book is meant to help ranch families like ours tell our story, so I am very excited to be involved.”

“Big Sky Boots” is part of a larger project to bring beef eaters closer to the people who raise and care for cattle, according to a Montana Stockgrowers Association press release. The project uses social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to tell the stories of Montana’s ranching families through photo albums, audio slide shows and videos.

The book connects the social media platforms to the printed page.

“Something really unique to our book is that we have included QR codes that people can scan with their smartphones,” Chase said. “They can go to MSGA’s YouTube channel to watch a video of the rancher featured in the book and hear directly from him about his life. In that way we’ve really tried to marry the traditional print media with the social media that seems to be central in so many people’s lives today.”

Meuli owns 1,750 acres and leases another 15,000 acres to accommodate a herd of 470 Angus cows.

The book’s photography features Meuli and his two sons, John Michael, 19, now a freshman at Montana State University, and Matthew, 16. Matthew’s twin sister, Mikayla, likewise is an integral part of the ranch family.

A former part-time ranch hand, Garrison Vrooman, also appears in a few photographs that were taken in the summer of 2011.

“We fill in with part-time labor,” Meuli said. “We’ve never had a full-time hired man, though I could easily keep another full-time person busy.”

The Meulis raise their own hay, and the work is never ending as the seasons unfold at the ranch. Calving runs from February to April; then the cattle are put out to pasture in May and June and herded to forest land for grazing in July through September. The first week in October, the annual roundup began, bringing in the herd for the winter.

Horses still are used for much of the cattle herding, especially in the rougher terrain. But all-terrain vehicles, namely four-wheelers, are quicker in some situations.

“The basics of ranching haven’t changed,” Meuli said.

Haying, calving, branding and herding are age-old activities that remain a big part of ranching.

What has changed is, of course, the use of technology. Electronic identification tags make it possible to keep track of source and age verification and other data that follow a cow until it’s finished and processed into meat. Most of the Meulis’ cattle are weaned at 600 pounds and shipped to feedlots in Nebraska and Iowa for finishing, but the electronic tracking allows a consumer buying a package of steak from Meuli cattle to electronically call up information about the Meuli ranch.

Ultrasound technology is used when selecting which bulls to buy, and also for cows to determine the size of the ribeye, the amount of marbling and backfat.

And there’s a lot more environmental management these days, Meuli said. On the land he leases from Plum Creek Timber Co., he does riparian monitoring twice a year and fences areas to exclude the cattle from getting too close to certain creeks.

“Most ranchers with cattle and land want to do a good job and to be sustainable you have to do a good job,” he said.

“Big Sky Boots” is the first book in a series of five books the stockgrowers association will develop over the next five years. The next book, already in production, will feature the women who are an essential part of today’s ranching families.

To learn more about the project or to order a copy of the book, visit The books are $75, which includes shipping and handling. The profits from the book will help support the continuation of the association’s “Telling the Story of Montana’s Family Ranchers” project into the future.

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or by email at