Montana's Big Blackfoot River skirts the southern edge of the Bob Marshall Wilderness, just west of the Continental Divide. The small town of Helmville in Powell County sits at the heart of the river's valley, shadowed by the Garnet Mountains and surrounded by rolling hills of sagebrush and pine. When Robert Meyer came to the region in 1990, he ended his search for the perfect place to pursue his lifelong dream of returning to his agricultural roots by ranching. He settled in this region, steeped in ranching history, and successfully cultivated that history. Yet raising cattle for the future would also mean looking back to the "old-fashioned way."
Homesteaders first settled Helmville, named after Henry Helm, the area’s first postmaster, in 1872. The early Helmville pioneers made their living ranching, mining and farming. Though the community grew and thrived, living there required flexibility. When the mines played out, many settlers turned to ranching or selling fresh produce and dairy products. When cattle did poorly, others raised sheep. An Irishman, Andrew Wales, and his family brought their own innovation to the Blackfoot Valley around the year 1880 when they settled near Helmville and eventually established the Wales Brothers Park Ranch. From the early 1900s to the 1940s, the family operated its own lumber mill and successfully sold registered purebred Percherons (French draft workhorses) to farmers, miners and ranchers. The approximately 6,000-acre Wales Brothers Ranch was the first land Meyer purchased in 1990.
The Company Ranch, established by a Helmville banker in the late 1800s, was the next addition by Meyer. In its heyday, this ranch was a sheep operation, and within the cavernous, post-and-beam barns there can still be seen carved names of sheep shearers, as well as dates and numbers that chronicle when and how fast they sheared their flocks. Following these acquisitions, Meyer slowly bought additional property as it became available, piecing back together subdivided parcels and pursuing his goal of restoring a large segment of land. The result is Meyer Company Ranch-the largest working ranch in the valley.
Though Meyer wanted to build a progressive ranch, he also wished to tap the historical roots of the Helmville area. He has continued to follow the Wales' family tradition by maintaining the Percheron program. Other links to the past are evident throughout the ranch. An old schoolhouse still stands on the former Wales' property, as does the original log cabin homestead. The historic stagecoach road leading to Garnet passes through the ranch. A horse barn built in 1900 and granary built in 1910 are both still vital parts of the Meyer Company Ranch.
Meyer's working history on the land began in 1990, when the Meyer Company Ranch began aggressively using embryo transplants and artificial insemination to start a program of Red Angus genetics. Meyer believed that solid Red Angus genetics would not only help the company achieve high quality and consistency in meat production, but also would allow it to sell high-quality calves and bulls and maintain a healthy breeding herd.
Meyer also believed that raising quality genetics and becoming a leader in the agricultural field could not be achieved without an ethical attitude towards his land and his animals. He reasoned that responsible stewardship of his land and humane treatment of his cattle would not only be good for the environment, it would be good for business. Consequently, the Meyer ranch restores riparian areas through bank stabilization and fencing, and cattle are grazed below the carrying capacity of the land. Furthermore, the Meyer Company Ranch was the first ranch in the country to be Certified Humane Raised and Handled under the Humane Farm Animal Care Program standards.
After establishing firm roots in Red Angus genetics, Meyer used the Meyer Company Ranch to build the foundation for an integrated natural beef program called Meyer Natural Angus, dedicated to raising Angus cattle without the use of added hormones or antibiotics.
Quality has long been a sought-after goal in the ranching industry, but Meyer has stayed a step ahead of society’s growing concern over health and ethics in food production. The goal behind the Meyer Natural Angus and Meyer Company Ranch is to produce the highest quality, most consistent, natural beef available while addressing the public’s growing demand for additive-free beef and its desire to support environmentally friendly, humane growing practices. For over 18 years, Meyer slowly carved out a niche for his company. Today, his companies produce top-quality Red Angus genetics, provide a major market for producers who wish to raise natural calves, and sell high-quality beef into consumer channels. The Meyer Company Ranch on the Big Blackfoot River continues to provide fertile ground for Meyer’s progressive vision.