Big Sky Salers: Helm family brings maternal, intelligent and hardy cattle to eastern Montana
Big Sky Salers sits 35 miles north of Angela, Mont. in eastern Garfield County. Bill and Floreta Helm, the working hands behind Big Sky Salers, have been raising Salers cattle for almost 40 years. Bill and Floreta’s three sons, Isaiah, Andrew and Sam, are all involved also.
“In 1980 I bought my father’s Charolais-Hereford cowherd,” Bill explains. “His cowherd had come from my grandfather who homesteaded here in about 1911.”
“At this point, our herd had gone through a lot of generations without introducing new genetics, and we had been keeping our own replacement heifers,” he continues. “I was trying to find another cross to see what would maintain similar weaning weights and other things my father and grandfather had accomplished with the herd.”
Interest in Salers
Bill recalls he saw promotions for the Salers breed, which explained the benefits of the breed. Salers were promoted as a very maternal breed, especially known for calving ease.
“I noticed some Salers entered into carcass contests, and I was really impressed when a Salers won the National Western Stock Show Fed Beef Contest, while the breed was promoted as a maternal breed,” he shares.
Using artificial insemination, Bill introduced Salers genetics to his herd in 1981. He and Floreta were married in 1982, the same year as their first Salers calf crop.
“In 1982, the calves were born, and it was all very easy calving. By breeding season, the calves showed enough growth for me to try them again and I have been breeding Salers every year since then,” he continues.
Word traveled around the county, and by the fall of 1982 some of Bill and Floreta’s neighbors became interested in what they were doing. A few neighbors asked them to keep some bulls, which were purchased at weaning time.
“We decided to become members of the American Salers Association, and this is when we became Big Sky Salers. We bred the herd up to purebreds, which are 15/16 Salers blood or higher,” Bill explains.
Benefits of Salers
Today, the entire cowherd is purebred Salers, which is important to the Helm family.
“As Salers seedstock providers, we raise and sell only purebreds,” says Bill. “Most ranchers have fairly straight-bred and predominantly Angus herds, especially nowadays. I like to see my customers get the benefits of heterosis from crossbreeding and as a seedstock producer, I think the greatest benefit of heterosis should go to our customers, rather than us selling crossbred bulls.”
Bill explains calving ease is one of the greatest benefits of his Salers cows, stating he very rarely has to pull anything.
“The biggest reason Salers are easy-calvers is the calves have smaller heads and longer bodies. Producers can still see a decent birthweight because calves are longer, but they come out easier,” he says.
Salers have a larger pelvic area in general, as has been documented by studies, including a study from Montana State University. The calves are vigorous at birth, and get up quick and start nursing, according to Bill.
“Salers have a good hair coat, which is wonderful for where we are,” he notes. “They make excellent mother cows, they breed back well and have good fertility.”
“Salers were originally imported from the mountainous regions of France, and were bred to be good travelers so they have good leg and foot structure. They marble well and have big ribeyes. They also seem to be more intelligent, and they’re really easy to work with,” he continues.
The herd at Big Sky Salers is red and black, but predominately black, and all cattle are polled. The full bloods from France were mostly all horned and red, shares Bill, but the breed has been bred through selection to be black and polled.
Salers Focus Bull Sale
In 1984, the Salers Focus Bull Sale started with around a dozen consigners, including Big Sky Salers. Gradually, some consignors dropped out, says Bill, and the last few years it has been just the Helm family. The 37th Salers Focus Bull Sale will be held Feb. 15 in Dickinson, N.D.
“Big Sky Salers has sold Salers genetics to 16 states and Canada,” says Bill proudly.
The ranch is not located along any river, nor is it close to mountains or many trees so the cattle are expected to be hardy. Bill shares the cattle are raised like a commercial outfit, braving the environment until weaning. After weaning, bulls will be pampered with nicer feed and sometimes straw to bed in before the sale.
“Whether going to a purebred or commercial operation, the cheapest bull we sell is just as important to us as the high seller,” he notes. “Repeat customers are a sign of success to me.”
For more information, visit BigSkySalers.com.
Averi Hales is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.