BELT - A multigenerational cattle ranch in Belt is helping drive innovation in agriculture in an effort to keep pace with a transforming industry.
We headed to the McCafferty Ranch for a closer look at a hydroponic plant that produces a drought-resistant and cost-effective feed.
Governor Greg Gianforte — who was in attendance during the tour as part of Montana Ag Week — says this is the first time he has seen something like this.
"Our farmers and ranchers are some of the most innovative in the country," he said. "The McCafferty's are taking grain through hydroponics and turning it into feed. This is not something I've seen at any other ranch here in Montana. It's really unique and allows them to produce a superior beef."
The McCafferty's beef is sprout-finished with barley and pea sprouts, grown in their hydroponic plant. The animals are finished for 120 days on 100 pounds of fresh grass fodder each day, resulting in a grass-finished beef that is well marbled, has a depth of flavor, and is tender.
The fodder system allows them to feed their cattle fresh barley sprouts every day of the year.
The McCafferty Ranch is a third-generation cattle ranch whose roots date back to 1926 and the owners say their goal is to provide the highest quality beef directly to consumers.
The "ranch to table" concept allows the customer to know not only where their beef comes from, but also how it was raised.
Joel McCafferty says he'd been working on developing a hydroponic plant since 2016, but it wasn't until the COVID-19 pandemic , when he met with his partner, Matt Woodworth of Woodworth Industry, to design the plant.
"He's really the brains behind it," McCafferty said. "He's from an automotive background, and him and his engineers were able to go ahead and solve some of the problems that I perceived we had in hydroponics. With not very much water, we can sprout a lot of grain. So, we're producing out of a 40 by 60 building, and we could feed close to 800 cattle a day."
After finishing the cattle, the beef is then processed at a local processing facility where it will be aged 21 days. The unique method provides all sorts of benefits to the family ranch.
"It's helped us immensely this year," McCafferty said. "Ironically, the drought hit and in July, we got this system. Our hay production was horrible, but I didn't panic. I lost a couple of leases and normally, I would have to sell cattle in a down market. This helped us go ahead and maintain our cattle herd."
Learn more about the McCafferty Ranch at https://www.mccaffertyranch.com/.