By Jessianne Castle
Each year, Montana rancher Teri Angelo has one day, in particular, that she greatly looks forward to. It’s not a day written on a calendar, or one that can be predicted with high accuracy; it’s a time Angelo anticipates and watches for: the miracle of birth.
“My favorite day of the year is when that first baby calf is born,” she says. Angelo Cattle Co. births about 400 calves a year during the waning months of winter — a time when wintertide releases its hold on the earth in fits and starts. Calving season here might mean temperatures that plunge below zero, blizzards, wind, rain, mud or the embrace of golden rays of sun.
Angelo and her son, Luke Larson, manage the operation as a family. As time draws near, they bring expecting cows into the calving barn and watch and wait, ready to provide care and assistance as the mother cows deliver their calves. As soon as they’re born, the calves are vigorous and full of life. They wriggle to their feet, the mothers patient as the calves learn to nurse. “It’s amazing to see that mother take care of the calf,” Angelo says, adding that the sound of a suckling calf is like music to her. “I always listen for that sound. We’re with them during calving season 24-7. We’re making sure the baby is nursing, the mother is taking care of the baby, that they both have what they need, that they’re both healthy. It’s a very personal relationship that you have with these animals.”
Angelo Cattle Co. is nestled in a mosaic of creek beds and hillsides near Drummond, Montana, in the west-central part of the state. Angelo says her family is fortunate to have been able to purchase land over the years so that they can operate as a self-contained operation. With approximately 17,000 contiguous acres, Angelo Cattle Co. can produce hay to feed its cattle in the winter and pasture them on grass in the summer.
“This spot is a diamond in the rough,” Angelo says, noting how rare it is for larger ranching operations to have access to grazing land that doesn’t rely on leases or land use agreements. “I wake up every day grateful for where I live.”
Angelo specializes in Red Angus genetics and produces commercial calves as well as breeding stock for other cattle ranchers. Her family has long been in the business of cattle and her parents started Glacier Red Angus in the 1970s, an operation that continues today. Angelo commercial steer calves are sold through a natural market and are both G.A.P. and IMI Global certified, as well as Certified Humane. These certifications mean that the company manages its cattle in a way that meets a series of standards, such as providing access to large pastures, using low-stress handling practices and offering quality feed without added hormones, antibiotics or drugs. IMI Global ensures traceability of beef products, from their origin at ranches like Angelo to their final sale at a grocery store.
These certifications, as well as Angelo’s participation in the Montana Red Angus Association, give the ranchers a quantifiable way to assess the quality of its products. Each year, Teri and Luke take breeding stock to the top Red Angus auction in the state and in 2022, their cattle were the top second and third sellers. “That was a very proud moment for my son and I because it just shows that the work that we’re doing in our breeding system pays off.”
She adds that their commercial calves have gone to the same buyer for the last decade, and she’s thrilled to have been told by the buyer that the quality of their calves gets better and better. “We know that what we’re doing as breeders is working; we’re getting a product out there that we’re proud of.”
Certainly, for Teri and Luke, the ranching way of life is a labor of love. “It’s labor intensive but it’s very rewarding,” Angelo says. “As a rancher, you have to be able to roll with the flow and problem solve as you go.”
Some days, Teri says it’s so cold the tractor won’t start. Other times the netting is frozen to the hay bales, making it difficult to feed. Other times, still, they have to keep calves warm in the barn. The amount of work that comes with running a large cattle operation means it’s all hands on deck, all day every day.
“It’s a family business,” Angelo says. “Our kids grew up driving tractors and baling hay. They were feeding cows and responsible for chores. That builds a lot of character in kids and a work ethic that, today, has proven to be very beneficial to them.”
Luke, she says, knows the operation inside and out. “Luke knows every cow on this ranch. He can tell you who they are, who they’re bred to. He’s kind of a savant in that regard.”
Care for their cows is paramount for the mother-son duo. “The cattle are your family,” she says. “We are proud every day to be ranchers.”