For many ranchers in the Bitterroot, the middle of January is about the end of what will be their winter’s ‘rest’. Sure, there’s feeding the livestock and the day-to-day chores but soon another element, calving, will be added to the list and a full night’s sleep will be a thing of the past. There’s not a lot of socializing done during this time so the Bitterroot Stockgrowers Expo and Banquet provides one last hurrah before the busy season.
The banquet was held Saturday night at the fairgrounds in Hamilton. This year the association honored Lee and Lorena Erickson of Corvallis. The couple has lived on their place for over 60 years. Lee Erickson was born just up Popham Lane from their current location. He is the son of Ralph and Florence Erickson. He, along with his sister Dorothy, played and worked on the dairy farm. In addition to raising the necessary crops for the dairy cattle, they had an apple orchard. Erickson became a mechanic during these years out of necessity as his father was said to have only a couple of hammers and screwdrivers and really wasn’t a mechanic.
Erickson attended Corvallis schools and went to Montana Boys’ State in 1957. After graduation, Erickson was drafted and served two years in the U.S. Army. When he came home, he never left the Bitterroot again. Well, except for those two times in a Missoula hospital and the occasional trip to Missoula to get parts or something no store in the valley provides.
Although their main place is on Popham Lane, over the years the Ericksons have leased property from Groff Lane to Hamilton Heights to supplement their property. While farming, he practiced crop rotations and grew many different crops. One year he planted seed peas and at harvest time, he had the crop all cut and laid out in windrows. A huge wind came up and rolled all the windrows to the fence. Erickson then had to use a fork to toss the peas into the harvester.
Erickson raised sugar beets for many years. He said the crop was a good crop but the cost of transporting the beets became too expensive when the sugar mill in Missoula shut down.
Although they didn’t keep the dairy running, the Ericksons have always had cattle. They started out raising baby calves and ‘short term’ cattle, ones that would soon be sold. From there they began a commercial herd. One particular cow stood out, Charlie. Charlie always had an attitude after calving and could be quite cantankerous. When asked why he kept her, Erickson replied that he knew her, and that he knew not to let his guard down. She was a reminder of that for all his cows.
While Erickson was raising crops and cattle, Lorena was raising sons Chad and Kevin, and raising black faced sheep. She also worked at the fair, and still does, taking entries and recording ribbons.
The Ericksons have slowed down a bit. Where once they were leasing ground, they now lease out a portion of their place. But Erickson still has heifers and steers that he will put out on pasture in the spring. He is still a mechanic and has several projects going in the shop. He was once described as an ‘imagineer’, if he could imagine it, he would build it.
Also honored at the banquet were the 2018 Steer of Merit Award winners from Ravalli County. This is a statewide beef carcass contest overseen by members of the Montana Stockgrowers Association and MSU Extension representatives. The 4H and FFA animals are judged on hot carcass weight, dressing percentage, back fat, ribeye area, yield grade, dark cutter, quality grade where the steer must grade choice minus or better, and cut-ability.
This year, 10 exhibitors received the award. They are: Emelia Schairer – 1st in Ravalli County and 9th in Montana; Jaylyn Jackson – 2nd in Ravalli County, 10th in Montana; Louis Wandler – 3rd in Ravalli County, 17th in Montana; TJ Brown – 4th in Ravalli County, 47th in Montana; John Shupert – 5th in Ravalli County, 57th in Montana; Britaney Eyre – 6th in Montana, 67th in Montana; Sam Dunn – 7th in Ravalli County, 69th in Montana; Cade Kolar – 8th in Ravalli County, 85th in Montana; Taylor Weigle – 9th in Ravalli County, 98th in Montana; Josie King – 10th in Ravalli County, 109th in Montana. There were a total of 121 steers evaluated in Montana.