At 24 years of age, Bill Bergin, Jr., third generation rancher from Roundup, Mont., is positioning himself to take over the family operation, the Foster Ranch and Feedlot. He grew up working alongside his father, but as much as ranching was in his blood he wasn't always sure that was the path he wanted to take.

"Sometimes it's hard to go back," Mr. Bergin says. "It can be hard for the younger generation to return with fresh ideas to an environment that has been doing things the same way for years. There can be a lot of resistance to change."

While at Montana State University, he eventually decided to focus on his agricultural background and in 1997 he returned to the family ranching operation with a degree in animal science and agricultural business. To make the transition easier, Mr. Bergin and his father developed a list of goals. This helped provide direction for the operation and let both father and son know what each other expected and desired to achieve with the business. They defined specific goals for all areas of the operation including their 500-plus cowherd, the 1,600 backgrounding calves and range and irrigated cropland management.
One of the main goals defined in their list was to utilize technology and information available to keep up with the fast paced changes of the beef industry. To accomplish this and remain profitable for future generations, the operation uses electronic identification on calves, follows them through to harvest and traces carcass data back to individual dams. Cows are weighed and condition scored during pregnancy checking. That data is used to determine what each cow weaned for her body weight. This helps them reach their goal of reducing winter feed costs by using more grassland.

With plans to expand both the commercial herd and backgrounding operation, Mr. Bergin and his Father are doing everything they can to profitably carry the ranch from one generation to the next. "With the way the agriculture and beef industry is headed," he says, "you have to continually expand and cut costs."

Artificial insemination has become an integral part of helping the family reach various goals on their list. Mr. Bergin will artifically inseminate 200 heifers next year using free semen he receives from an area producer who in turn gets carcass data back on his bulls. This led to his award winning dark box design. Composed of used oil field pipe and sheet metal, the tires on the inside keep heifers from moving around and the hole in the front draws the cows in and keeps them calm.

Because Mr. Bergin's father has been so accepting of his unique and fresh ideas, the transition from one generation to the next will be easier. In the meantime, father and son are working side by side for the same goals, and the family ranching operation is benefiting in profits.

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