Montana’s rich ranch history continues to evolve as more people seek a slice of the “Big Sky.”

WESTGELBSTEIN, Mont. – Montana is a place where you can lose yourself in mountain ranges, forests, wide valleys and beautiful vistas.

Ranching has been the backbone of the state known as “Big Sky Country” for generations, and it is evolving. As the region becomes more coveted, people worldwide are eyeing the open-air land.

“We’re lucky to be here because there aren’t many people,” said Eric Roberts of CB Cattle & Guest Ranch. “We hope it stays that way, but a lot of people who come here also want to be here.”

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In the sprawling Madison Valley, CB Cattle & Guest Ranch covers 6,500 acres along the entire length of Indian Creek. Kate and Eric Roberts look after about 200 Black Angus cattle and a small team of Quarter Horses. They also produce alfalfa hay.

“Change is inevitable,” said Kate Roberts. “With COVID, the ability to work from home, we’ve definitely seen a shift where more people in rural areas can find employment.”

Known for having a larger cattle population than humans, the vast expanses of Montana are becoming increasingly crowded.

Record 2021 farm and ranch land sales in Montana, sometimes referred to as “the last best place,” resulted in a scarce inventory of ranches in the market, with demand and prices remaining at all-time highs through the summer of 2022.

“The more development and urban pressures these areas have, the more impact it will have on wildlife and our food source,” said Kate Roberts. “It’s important to think about it.”

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Agriculture remains Montana’s most important economy, although high-tech is quickly moving up this list as more people immigrate to the state. Montana Governor Greg Gianforte has welcomed the influx of new residents while trying to preserve the state’s uniqueness.

“Farming is our foundation, and it’s critical to the state of Montana that we keep the land productive,” he said. “We can do both, develop land and raise cattle in the countryside.”

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For the Roberts, they worry about being able to continue raising cattle as a family tradition.

“The greatest asset we have is our real estate value,” Kate Roberts said. “This isn’t the kind of business where — raising cattle, you don’t get rich… and the easiest way to make a profit is to cash it out and sell it to a divider.”

CB Cattle & Guest Ranch has no plans to sell, but they are concerned about other agricultural producers across the state who may have to do so due to the rising costs of keeping animals healthy and their operations running smoothly.

Only time will tell how the history of Montana ranchers will evolve and adapt.

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