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Amuse Bouche: The circle of life

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By Scott Mechura EBS Food Columnist

If you’ve read one of my columns about ranching and the raising of beef cattle, you’ve read a dozen. 

I’ve taken a variety of ranch tours in Ovando, Terry, Belt and just outside of Red Lodge, and beef symposiums in White Sulfur Springs and Billings, and three of the four federally inspected meat processing facilities Montana has. I have met hundreds of hardworking families that contribute to the more than 600 cattle ranches dispersed throughout this great state.

A couple weekends ago I added to that knowledge and experience when I visited my new friends, Rory and Melissa Clark on their ranch, R & R Clark Farms. 

Located a handful of miles south of Geraldine, mountains and buttes are the backdrop to crop fields as far as your vision will take you. It was one of the most expansive 360-degree views I have ever seen in Montana, and that’s saying something.

Being the latest custodian of multi-generational ranchland dating back to 1928 comes with some obvious pressure of stewardship and responsibility. Not the least of which is living up to your great aunt Ruby, who, according to a 1972 feature in the Great Falls Tribune, was a local legend and could outwork young men a third her age. 

Ruby singlehandedly ran this ranch for several years after the passing of her husband, all the while operating the local diner in Geraldine. Keep in mind that the idea that a woman could run a ranch in 1950’s and 1960’s Montana was unheard of.

Talk about multi-tasking.

Currently at around 120 head, R & R Clark Ranch hopes to grow to 200 in the coming year. Since you don’t just drive to the nearest Walmart to pick up more cattle, this is an aggressive undertaking.

I woke early Saturday morning to a sunrise that resembled a Kansas wheat field. The sun saturated already golden, dormant fields just waiting to spring to life the moment nature gives the go-ahead. All this to the soundtrack of at least six different birds that I could identify, not the least of which was a small flock of whooping cranes out in the barley fields.

Our specific task for the day was to ear tag a calf born earlier that morning. Seems like a pretty simple day by anyone’s standards. But as I learned years ago, nothing is simple on a ranch.

Rory had already been physically challenged by a protective mother just two weeks prior who put him on his back with one head-butt to the chest, followed up with her driving him six feet across the ground like he was a pillow. Finally, he was able to get to his feet and use his full ton pickup truck as a shield. Needless to say, we went into the task with some additional caution.

To listen to Rory and Melissa talk about their cows and calves as we walked and drove the ranch, it was crystal clear they live their lives and treat their animals with more respect than most humans do for each other.

For years, I’ve been told by more than one rancher that they have never met a chef before. I always tell them that the way I see it, meeting and interacting with them is almost essential—we are the two people that are the beginning and end user of a mutually respected circle of life.

The life and workload of a culinarian is overwhelming for most people. Yet every time I meet or spend time with a Montana cattle rancher, I walk away feeling guilty for having ever complained I had a hard day.

Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is a former certified beer judge and currently the multi-concept culinary director for a Bozeman based restaurant group.

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