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Little Belt Cattle Company works toward sustainable agriculture

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Greg Putnam, a Navy Seal of 10 years, wanted to ranch after returning to Montana from military service. He and his partners, who are also military Veterans, started Little Belt Cattle Company, a ranch at the base of the Little Belt Mountains between White Sulphur Springs, Mont. and Harlowton, Mont.  

“We were naïve about what this was going to entail when we started. Our goal was to not only ranch, but to help other Veterans transition into ranching after their military service,” said Putnam. 

Getting started

“We started the ranch in 2020 right before COVID-19, and the pandemic highlighted some of the cracks in the food system,” Putnam shared.  

The food chain from producer to consumer was already broken, but people didn’t realize it until they couldn’t get food at grocery stores. This was a very scary thing for most Americans because they had taken food availability for granted.  

“There was a high level of complacency in this country. We have all of these things we are fortunate to have but often take for granted,” he added. “We started to look at the food system. My partners and I came up with the idea of building a sustainable local supply chain of 100 percent Montana beef to put beef back into our community and into our state, but we didn’t know what it was going to take to do this.”

Putnam and his partners started the business as a standard cow/calf operation, then added yearlings and eventually partnered with a multi-generational Montana ranch on a feedyard east of Billings, Mont. which acts as a grow yard and a commercial finishing yard.

“We are now finishing cattle for some large national programs as well as for our own beef program,” he said. 

Vertically-integrated supply chain

Little Belt Cattle Company has become a vertically-integrated sustainable supply chain of 100 percent Montana beef. 

Putnam explained the operation is a true start-to-finish model, where they oversee calves hitting the ground, all the way to wholesale purchases. Little Belt Cattle Company also provides some of the top restaurants in Bozeman, Mont.; Big Sky, Mont. and other areas around the state with their high-quality, local beef products. 

“We also have a plan to buy outside cattle from other local producers who we feel do a fantastic job of raising their animals. We can source-verify those cattle and buy them at a premium to reward the cooperating producers who do all of the hard work in the system, yet generally get the least reward,” Putnam said. 

Regenerative agriculture and cow performance 

Another part of the program is an effort at regenerative agriculture through grazing management.  

“Some folks in the industry are doing regenerative-type projects and grazing programs highly focused on soil health and forage production, but maybe not as much focus on overall cow performance as it relates to carcass,” Putnam noted. 

“On the other side of the line, there are folks who are extremely focused on cattle performance and production, sometimes to the detriment of the land. So, I wanted to overlap those circles and be in the middle area,” he added. 

Putnam shared Little Belt Cattle Company’s cow herd program is based on Black Angus genetics, and the operation is focused on managing their cattle in a regenerative way in terms of grazing. The goal is to raise high-quality beef with a focus on soil and pasture health. 

“We are now seeing an increase in overall performance of our cattle and the land we manage,” Putnam stated. “This involves our overall grazing plan and our cattle performance plan. They are very much tied together.”

Putnam noted any ranch that has stayed in business very long is using some kind of sustainable practice. 

“When we see the value of those practices, it’s undeniable – such as how our pastures look today and the way they are managed, compared to when we started,” he said. “We have increased our carrying capacity, as well as overall quality and quantity of forage.  This correlates to the overall performance of our cattle with higher conception rates, bigger and healthier calves in the fall, etc.” 

This also translates to increased value through overall environmental impact.

“We believe our products are good for the people consuming them, good for the environment and good for telling the story about beef,” he stated. 

Benefiting the beef industry

To conclude, Putnam noted one of the goals at Little Belt Cattle Company is to provide a positive benefit to the beef industry by sharing strategies that have worked for them with other producers. 

“If more ranches put more acres into this type of production system, the collective benefit will be significant,” he said. “I want people to know our cow performance has increased due to these grazing practices and our profitability has increased.”

“A lot of multigenerational ranches are afraid to make changes because if they don’t work and there is a negative financial impact, it could be enough to end that multigenerational business,” he continued. “This is a lot of pressure to be cautious.”

Since most producers only want to make changes if they know the outcome will be positive, it makes trying new things scary and overwhelming.

“The ranch we bought and put together was in various states of deferred maintenance and mismanagement. In the short time we’ve been running it, the difference in what it looks like now, compared to when we bought it and what it probably looked like for the past 40 to 50 year is noticeable,” he shared. “People who have lived in this area much longer than us have seen the change. The benefits of good grazing practices are undeniable.” 

Heather Smith Thomas is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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