Multi-generational Allens of Lewistown show how it’s done

Photos and writing by August Schield

In a high pasture on his ranch just east of Lewistown, rancher Russ Allen rides across his land in near silence. The only audible movement emanates from the birds and the hurried patter of his cattle’s hooves while heading to lower country. On this particular morning, work is slow on the ranch, so rounding up a few cattle for a bit of care is a methodical way to start off Allen’s to-do list.

The Allens diversify their ranch activity in many ways. Diversification is step one of a two-part system to making the ranch economically viable for the entire family. Buying young and underweight cattle at auction, then helping them gain weight before resale, turns them a pretty good profit. This does require a bit of extra work and care, but something this father-and-son duo handle with ease. Here Russ waits for Jaxon to funnel the cattle down the chute so he can then spray them with a bug repellant. 
The way the Allens treat their cattle follows a very classic, simple philosophy: Treat others how you’d like to be treated. Each of these “project cows” receives the same care as all the other cattle on their ranch. They get the works: vaccinations, dewormer and a dose of bug repellant. It may not be all organic, but the basic treatments provide their cattle a higher quality while living in the harsh elements of the prairie. Wendy Allen, who’s married to Russ, fronts the money for the project cattle and feeds the cattle, too.
The Allens don’t quite follow the Montana tradition of raising “black Angus-only” cattle, which most ranchers do who want a pure black Angus stream of genetics across their herd. Instead, the Allens breed their black angus cows with Charolais bulls. The genetic combination produces larger, meatier cattle in the long run — and although this creates a color diversity throughout the herd, the method is becoming more widely practiced across the state. At the end of the day, ranchers are paid by the weight of their cattle, not their color.
In addition to raising and selling cattle, the Allens grow and sell hay and alfalfa — another profitable enterprise. Russ Allen is grateful he has his son Jaxon to cut, rake and bale the crop with him. This time of year is particularly hard to cut and bale alfalfa, especially as late spring rains slow down ranch operations. Here, Jaxon inspects a handful of alfalfa, only to find he’ll have to wait a day or two before he can bale it.
Russ operates his swather through a field of hay and sweet clover.
Jaxon Allen pulls a rake behind his tractor to combine two rows of alfalfa into one. This technique makes it easier to bale the hay later.
Russ Allen sits behind the wheel of his swather. He has worked on ranches his entire life, deeply rooting the lifestyle into in his upbeat personality. His father was a rancher before him, but when life on the ranch got difficult, Russ took up trucking to provide a subsidy for himself and his father’s ranch. The side business helped Russ and Wendy raise a family of their own. Trucking remains a line of work he has passed down to his son, Jaxon.
Jaxon Allen has taken on his father’s tradition of trucking with a modern entrepreneurial prowess. Half the year he leases trailers and hires crews to take loads when his family needs him home on the ranch. The rest of the year he hauls loads to far away places to provide for his family. His plan is to save enough money to quit trucking by the time his kids reach junior high school, when he says his kids will need him most.

Trucking, ranching and farming are all one and the same to the Allens. It’s a simple way to diversify a ranch family’s income while allowing opportunity for the maturing generation to stay at the ranch and make a living. Ranching alone does not provide enough for the entire family. At times, ranches that have trouble diversifying their businesses also have trouble maintaining economic sustainability as the family grows, thus placing pressure on the younger generation to leave the ranch and seek work elsewhere. Trucking is a classic example of one way the rising generation makes modern ranch lifestyles more sustainable. The overall perk of this perseverance is that the growing family gets to enjoy the quiet and intentional lifestyle of working the landscape together.
The next generation of the Allen Family, from top left to right: Haeli, Jaxon and Alabama. Bottom, left to right: Lash-LaRue, Freddie and Army.
Diversifying the ranch’s operation is only 50 percent of the solution to overcoming the economic challenges of maintaining a multi-generational ranch. The rest of the solution lies in communication. Jaxon has a family, a trucking business and an obligation to help his dad on the ranch. His wife, Haeli, is a singer-songwriter and mother of four. Grandpa Russell focuses mostly on running the ranch, a handful in itself. From the beginning to the end of every day, they all need to be in synch. All is manageable when everyone clearly communicates needs to one another. Not only does such teamwork create a common ground for the family, but it also allows them to grow in a beautiful manner.

Haeli Allen shows her son Freddie how to ride their horse, Bubbles, while Army, she and Jaxon’s second youngest child, impatiently waits his turn on the fence.
Antsy Army, 4, impatiently climbs the fence for his turn on Bubbles the horse. With his mother’s guidance and a future spent around farm animals, Army will eventually learn patience.
Grandfather Russ beams while holding his youngest granddaughter, one-year-old Alabama.

–August Schield

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