Roots That Run Deep
Tucked in the heart of the Bear Paw Mountains, Shipwheel Cattle Company has been making its mark on the Angus cattle industry since the family ranch was first homesteaded on the Rocky Mountain front in 1896. Multiple generations later, the family-run operation is now headed by Klint and Lori Swanson, along with their children, Austin and Bree, who oversee the family’s ranches located in North Central, Montana, about 60 miles from Canada. The Shipwheel Cattle Company’s sale barn and grow yard are located about 15 miles southwest of Chinook at the Clear Creek Ranch, with most of the registered cows located at the family’s Snake Creek Ranch in Lloyd, MT in the Bear Paw Mountains.
Today, Klint and Lori pride themselves on continuing the family ranching legacy that was first established by Klint’s grandfather, one of the first cowmen to bring the Angus cow to Northern Montana in 1945, transitioning from ranching Herefords at the time.
“Klint’s parents founded Apex Angus in the 1960s and began raising and marketing bulls from the registered cows they had purchased,” explains Lori. “The Shipwheel herd originated from two bred heifers given to Klint when he was nine years old in 1984.”
From those two original heifers, the Shipwheel Cattle Company’s herd has grown to nearly 500 cows, along with 100 additional cows that were purchased from Dr. Gale Jellum from West Fork Angus in Chinook, MT. After marrying in 1998, Klint and Lori moved to Lori’s parents’ land on Clear Creek, south of Chinook in 2000.
“We continued to market bulls with Apex Angus until 2009 when the decision was made to go on our own and we formed Shipwheel Cattle Company,” Lori says. “In 2010, we purchased the Miller Ranch at Lloyd in the Bear Paw Mountains, where the mature registered cows reside.”
Today the Swanson family runs 1200 mother cows with 500 being registered. With limited feed and labor resources, the ranch’s cows are required to run in a true commercial environment and range calve on their own and graze winter pastures after weaning until the snow gets too deep.
As Klint explains, Shipwheel Cattle Company’s main focus is breeding sound, problem-free cattle with longevity and fertility. Their cows are required to have excellent mothering ability and maternal instinct along with good feet, udder and teats. If they don’t, they get sorted out pretty quickly. “These aren’t barn cows, they calve out on their own in the hills and we ride through them once a day and tag,” Klint says.
“A medium framed, easy fleshing, 1350-pound cow is ideal for us. We don’t breed for big numbered, terminal-type cattle. Mother nature sorts them out pretty quick here. Renown and Resource females have the extra body, length, and fleshing ability that we like and the bulls carry extra muscle over their top and rear quarter,” Klint says. “Every registered cow is artificially inseminated once, then they are put with our top clean-up bulls. We put in approximately 100 embryos into our commercial cows from our elite donors every year.”
For both Klint and Lori, retaining and improving the qualities that the Black Angus cow is famous for is their priority. In fact, their donors must prove themselves before being flushed, with many having pathfinder status.
“We rely on these cows to pay the bills here and pay for the ranch we purchased in 2010. Every cow needs to do her job, do it well and do it for a long time. This is the mindset we have for every animal that we produce,” Klint says. “That animal needs to be profitable for our customers and keep them in business. We stand behind our sale cattle with a 110% guarantee. Our bulls’ feet are guaranteed for three years.”
Being a multi-generational family ranch requires the entire Swanson family to personally handle everything they can on the ranch. This not only allows the family to ensure the quality of their herd and their overall operations, but it allows them to pass along the traditions of ranching onto their children.
“There is no better way to raise kids. Our kids started working with cattle and horses and running machinery at a young age. We put up most of our own feed for our cowherd and feed yard,” Lori says. “Ranching isn’t just a way of life, it’s what God put us here to do. It’s no different than our cow dogs that are bred to work cattle. They don’t want to do anything else.”
A Continued Focus
In addition to exuding exceptional qualities of longevity and fertility, the Shipwheel Angus cattle are hardy, grazing on native short grass as well as tall grass, traveling in some steep terrain in extreme climates with temperatures ranging from -60°F to 110°F,” Lori says.
Because of these attributes, Shipwheel Cattle Company has earned a name for itself within the cattle industry, thanks in part to its long-standing, proven genetics. As such, the ranch hosts an annual sale, providing the opportunity for industry members to purchase various bulls and females from the herd.
“Our first sale was a silent auction where we sold 25 yearling bulls. We have since grown and transitioned to a December sale at the ranch and offer 100 18-month-old bulls along with 150 to 200 bred females,” Lori says. “We also market 80 private treaty bulls in the spring. Every bull we market is bred, born and raised here.”
Having been ranching Angus cattle for nearly 80 years is testament to the Swanson’s family success in the industry.
“God, family and freedoms that this great country have blessed us with, along with a whole lot of faith, determination and hard work, have led us to where we are today,” Klint says. “We are truly blessed to do what we love and wouldn’t be here without the people before us. The seedstock business is as much of a people business as it is a cow business. We breed these cattle to work for people. The countless relationships we have made over the years with our customers and friends that support us is truly one of the best parts of this business. Our hope is to pass this ranch and way of life on to the next generations, with each generation improving on the previous. We work every day to improve the quality of our cowherd and ranch.”
The next Shipwheel Cattle Company sale will be held on Wednesday, December 13, 2023 at 1p.m. They will be offering sons by Shipwheel Dreamer 8522, Basin Rainmaker 4404, U2 Coalition, Shipwheel Essential, Duff Real Deal, Fairview Pacesetter, Connealy Packer.
For more information about the upcoming sale, visit www.shipwheelcattle.com