Brock Tibbetts and a few of his friends spend time driving in the western Montana mountains every summer.
They travel there from eastern Montana to chop oats, triticale and other mostly annual forages for about 10 beef producers. Most of the work is on flatlands, but some requires driving up and down Rocky Mountain foothills.
“We used to look at some of those hills and sidehills and think, ‘Man, that’s really steep,’ ” says Brock. “Now we’re kind of adapted to it.”
He’s part of Tibbetts Beefland of Terry, MT, a diversified family farming operation that also includes his parents, Steve and Sue, and brothers, Todd and Cody. They have an 800-cow beef herd, a backgrounding feedlot and sizable acreages of corn, sugarbeets and other crops.
The custom forage harvesting enterprise, now called Beefland Services, has been in place since the early 1960s, when Steve Tibbetts harvested corn silage for neighbors with a one-row chopper. One year, he calculated that, if the single rows he chopped were placed end to end, they would stretch 600 miles.
“We’ve done work for a lot of people,” says Steve. “If you do a good job, it seems like there’s plenty of work.”
The family now has two self-propelled machines, mostly to chop corn for themselves and other livestock producers within 100 miles of their farm. The longer-distance mountain chopping began in 2000, after the soon-to-be first high-elevation client told Steve that it took him two weeks to chop his small-grain crop.
In mid-July, he and several employees load a chopper, swather and bagger onto flatbeds and head into the mountains, also taking four or five hauling trucks. The chopping lasts about six weeks. Brock and his crew normally return home for a weekend or two during that period, but the equipment stays in the mountains until the work is done.“Dad told him we could do it in five days,” Brock recalls.
The crew consists mostly of neighbors who also help the Tibbetts around the farm. One is a local grain farmer himself.
“Part of what’s made it work is having good employees who are also our friends,” says Tibbetts.