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Ranching

A blizzard warning didn't slow Bitterroot Valley ranchers in their morning feeding chores last winter. A new business launched by a former University of Montana student and the IX Ranch in Big Sandy could help ranchers be more proficient and save them money.

Just last year, Walker Milhoan was a typical University of Montana student studying information systems and taking classes in the School of Business Administration.

But the young entrepreneur also arrived at the university well-versed in the ways of ranching, a legacy he inherited from his grandfather who ran a cattle operation in Rifle, Colorado.

“I spent a lot of time there as a kid, but he sold the ranch when I was 13,” said Milhoan, who lives in Missoula. “I worked on ranches growing up. I did the high school rodeo and Little Britches Rodeo, and I’ve always had an interest in agriculture and ranching.”

Milhoan took his ranching genes and his business acuity to the Blackstone LaunchPad’s annual Demo Day in New York City last month, where he pitched a new venture he believes can lower ranching costs, increase stock weight and drive up the return on cattle by growing more efficient cows.

In partnership with the IX Ranch in Big Sandy, and with support of Blackstone LaunchPad at UM, Milhoan is aiming to make Ranchlogs available for purchase next summer.

“From there, we’re going to iterate off how people use it and what features people use and what they don’t use,” said Milhoan. “From everyone we’ve talked to, they’re definitely confident that if we can execute it properly, it’ll become a big thing.”

The program will help ranch managers track livestock, view production statistics, plan grazing rotations and generate reports that can offer insight into the health of a livestock operation.

Out of 75 ventures nominated for the New York event, only 20 were accepted, including Ranchlogs. Milhoan put together a video pitch and presented his business in the first round. Six ventures moved to the final round, including his.

“It was the major CEOs of New York and big venture capitalists,” he said. “It was pretty intimidating. We didn’t win the final round, but we got a lot of good feedback and made some good connections.”

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Milhoan describes his product as a livestock inventory and rangeland management system. It helps ranchers track their cattle, their ages, their location, where they’ve been, how many have died, and how many have been branded.

For larger ranches, it also helps with pasture rotation. Milhoan believes big ranches can increase their stocking weight by 20 percent through better grazing management. He also believes ranchers can reduce their costs by $63 a head with better data insight.

“The rangeland management aspect helps track how much grass or forage you have in different pastures on your ranch, and how much grass the livestock are consuming on a daily basis so you don’t overgraze,” he said. “The data can be drawn from the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, or you can enter it yourself.”

Milhoan, who’s been around the ranching industry most of his life, said the program also helps track key performance indicators. In ranching terms, he talks of bred cows, pregnancy and calf weaning rates, among other things.

“Most ranches don’t have the time update and maintain Excel spreadsheets,” he said. “They’re so busy doing other things, I thought that maybe I could create a simpler way that digitizes the plan so you can just enter the numbers.”

Milhoan said he’s had the idea since graduating from Texas Christian University’s ranch management program in 2010. But at the time, he knew little about Excel, and gathering commodity prices from hay to fuel to livestock proved challenging.

As Milhoan toyed with the idea, he met Rich Roth with the IX Ranch Co. in Big Sandy. The ranch had built an iteration of a similar program in 1984 and has been using it ever since.

Roth and Milhoan collaborated to launch Ranchlogs and are co-owners of the upstart business.

“The ranchers I’ve talked to, they’ve been real interested,” said Milhoan. “But they come from a financially conservative background and they don’t want to dive in and buy the program without it being tested first.”

Ranchlogs plans to launch its web-based platform next year and make the software available for purchase. Blackstone LaunchPad at UM helped Milhoan create a business plan and settle the financial projections.

“Through better data, grazing history, knowing where the cow has been and where it goes next, it all translates into more grass, helps the resources and puts more pounds on the cattle,” Milhoan said. “We’re hoping to launch our first viable product by mid-summer.”

To find out more, visit the prototype page at wbmilhoan.wix.com/mpprototype. The full site is coming soon, Milhoan said.

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