Montana’s Cow Capital

Fergus County listed top 5 in nation for most beef cows
By: 
CHARLIE DENISON
Reporter
Tuesday, August 27, 2019
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Cattle graze in Fergus County, which Drover’s Magazine recently called the no. 5 beef cow county in the nation.

File photo

Driving across Fergus County it’s easy for one to wonder, “just how many cows are there around here?”

The answer to this question was revealed last month in “Drover’s Magazine,” and the number is remarkably high.

According to Drover’s, there are approximately 79,847 beef cows in Fergus County, which equates to 18.3 cows per square mile, making Fergus County rank fifth in their recent article on “America’s Top 25 Beef Cow Counties.”

“This is a cool thing,” said Fergus County Ag Extension Agent Emily Standley. “I think it’s a testament to how strong agriculture is for our economy.”

The top four counties listed in the Drover’s article are all Nebraska counties, making Fergus County the top-listed beef cow county in Montana (Beaverhead County took no. 10, ahead of Custer County at no. 21 and Carter County at no. 23).

“The highest number of beef cows seems to go back and forth between these counties,” said Standley. “Last year Beaverhead County took the top honors in the state.”

Standley said cow numbers are hard to predict. Nonetheless, when it comes to cow numbers, she said Fergus County usually scores high. 

“We have a lot of cows in Fergus County compared to the rest of the state,” she said.

Drover’s received its statistics from the recently released 2017 Census of Agriculture, which Standley said is a reliable source. When looking through numbers from previous years, Standley was interested to see that Fergus County’s numbers had climbed quite a bit.

“The 2012 census showed us at 63,308,” she said. “We’ve seen a pretty big increase.”

There are many factors when it comes to rising cow numbers, Standley said, and much of it is weather-related.

“Numbers usually go down if there is a drought or a harsh winter,” said Standley. “Similarly, if we get more moisture – which is often the case for Fergus County –we can see higher numbers.”

Geography also plays a large part in Fergus County’s consistently high cow numbers.

 “We have a lot of grazing land and pasture land, so it makes sense we’d have more cattle,” she said. “This is mutually beneficial, as a lot of the area we use for grazing helps produce food on lands that wouldn’t otherwise be able to grow food.”

The expansive rangeland of Central Montana is a trademark of the area, and a significant reason the area holds so many cattle.

Although Fergus County has some bragging rights with other counties in the top 25, Texas remains America’s top beef cow state, with 4.57 million head (approximately 14 percent of all the nation’s beef cows). Oklahoma is the second-leading beef cow state with 2.1 million, followed by Missouri with 2 million. Nebraska – despite having the top four beef cow counties – ranks fourth in the nation with 1.9 million beef cows. Montana ranks seventh with 1.45 million beef cattle.

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