By Sue Carlbom
When Lisa Schmidt and her husband Steve Hutton bought the Graham Ranch west of Conrad in 2006, they took on more than a land payment. They embraced the heritage of Alistair Graham and adopted the responsibility of taking care of the land, their livestock, and the wildlife as the Grahams had.
Their grass-fed beef and sheep are raised without added hormones or antibiotics on rangeland that looks essentially the same as when Lewis Clark saw it—native prairie. As Lisa walks out each evening to bring the sheep in, she sees where the grass has grown in the area around the prickly pear cactus (because the cactus ensures that the animals don’t graze there and ruin the terrain). The badgers loosen and fluff up the compacted earth when digging their dens, aerating the earth and encouraging new growth.
When Steve died suddenly in 2017, Lisa fended off numerous attempts to buy her out by those assuming she was a desperate widow left in limbo. She, however, was determined to carry out the mission she and Steve had envisioned: “to raise livestock in an environmentally and economically sustainable manner and to teach others about how and why we do it this way.”
Although she does not have hired help (except for shearing the sheep), Lisa is the first to acknowledge the importance of friends and family who fill in the gaps. Her mother, Nancy, comes from Oregon often and willingly does the behind-the-scenes jobs like cooking and cleaning while Lisa coordinates “guests” who pitch in where needed. Her friend Mary has been known to make a flying leap when tackling an elusive ewe at lambing time. When one “city” gal was positioned between the end of the barn and the closest fence while sorting calves, she yelled to Lisa, “I’ll head them toward the gate!” Lisa hollered back, “You are the gate!”
Lisa’s weekly blogs (which have been compiled into a book, Prairie Ponderings) give readers a glimpse into her world and an understanding of what it takes to put food on our tables.
For more information, visit a-land-of-grass-ranch.com or call (406) 278-0159.