Home on the Range: UM Alumna Makes Hay in Business, Ranch Life

A spring Charolais calf on the 100-year-old Judisch Ranch near Ledger, Montana. Loni Judisch, along with her family, manage and market Haymaker Beef. The UM alumna shares how her UM experience informs her entrepreneurship and business sense as a young Montana ag producer. Photo courtesy of Loni Judisch 


MISSOULA – When Loni Judisch was a lanky elementary school student, she would race her classmates behind the little Bynum school, under the wide-open skies of Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front.

Inevitably, Judisch would stop running, catch her breath and look back. She was always far ahead of her classmates.

“I learned I was fast during track and field days with neighboring schools,” Judisch said.

Later, her speed followed her through Conrad High School, where she still holds the high school state record for the women’s 400-meter.

UM alumna Loni Judisch.

She raced all the way to the University of Montana, where the UM legacy ran for track and field, competing in the unforgiving 400-meter and 200-relay sprint and relays for five years. At UM, she received the Most Valuable Track Athlete award and learned to balance the demands of a Division I athlete while working toward two degrees.

 In 2008, in the worst recession and job market of a generation, she graduated from UM with bachelor’s degrees in business administration and fine arts.

“I remember imagining myself as a professional sprinter or working somewhere in the corporate marketing world after college, but deep down I was always a rural kid,” she said. “I always had an entrepreneurial spirit.”

So, she made the decision to join her husband and high school sweetheart, Ross Judisch, to work the 100-year old Judisch Ranch, homesteaded by Ross’s family near the tiny town of Ledger, Montana.

Returning home after college to family and land felt natural, she said. After all, agriculture and UM are both in her roots.

Her grandfather ran a sheep and cattle ranch in Bynum all his life, the same town where her great-grandfather Ira taught at Bynum School for more than 50 years. Her dad and UM alumni ’82 Rock Perkins, was an ag lender in Conrad, banking and farming on and off throughout his career.

Now a mother of three children, ages 11, 9 and 3, and smack dab in the middle of calving season, Judisch and her family manage and market Haymaker Beef. The business sells cuts and boxes of pasture raised beef from the Judisch Ranch’s Black Angus and Charolais mix herd. They help run the 900-head cattle operation with the extended Judisch family.

The business is good and growing, and there is always work to be done. The cows need to be checked. Meals need making. Calves monitored, kids off to school, and bills need to be paid.

“Ranch life never stops,” she said. “Running multiple businesses only makes it more challenging, but that’s when I remember (from UM track) to stay in my lane and focus and not get distracted on someone else’s race. The same is true in business and life.”

The cows feed on native grasses and are fed a mixture of grass and hay and alfalfa in winter months. Cows that will be processed are fed a mixture of grass, hay and grain, making for exceptionally tender cuts, which Judisch boxes and ships to Montana customers directly from the ranch after being processed at Lolo’s Locker.

She also sells cuts at local farmer’s markets and explores additional markets in schools, restaurants and possibly grocery stores.  

“It’s really an interesting time to be in agriculture in Montana,” she said. “Markets change, and there’s a lot of new, innovative technology, ideas, program sand commodities out there. There’s also an influx of younger people in our area coming back to ranch and farm.”

Judisch said her UM classes in business, marketing and economics provided the confidence and skills required of an entrepreneur to remain profitable and competitive in Montana’s $2.5 billion livestock industry.

“Ag has always been a risky business, and it always will be,” she said. “For me, the difference is having that business background so we can make decisions that won’t jeopardize the entire operation.”

Navigating federal funds that help small businesses stay afloat in the pandemic, Judisch applied for a CARES Act grant and used the funds to buy a freezer for a value-add to the ranch. She sold out of stock of earlier this year with the most in-demand cuts being Haymaker’s assorted boxes of ribeye, T-bone, New York strips, tenderloins, flat irons and sirloins.   

“Montana has been a leader in farm-to-table for some time, and we’re edging into the market with ranch-to-table,” she said. “When you look at overhead, transportation costs and shipping, making a choice for operating direct-to-consumer can keep prices low and increase long-term sustainability.”  

The physical demands of packing and shipping boxes of meat, hosting toddlers, working cows, feeding cattle and bailing hay isn’t for the weak, but it’s something Judisch said is a choice every day.

“I remember my UM track coach, Bryan Schweyen, sharing with us that no matter how hard I’m working, there is always someone out there who is going to be working harder than you,” she said. “That has stuck with me years later. It applies to every area of life.”

Judisch also makes time for her artistic side that was nurtured at UM in painting classes.  She started with a camera off eBay a few years back and now runs a photography business capturing senior portraits, weddings and local families in the area.  

She manages the Haymaker Beef business, website and Instagram account, where she documents ranch and family life, sharing the daily rituals of animal care and chores that might make just about anyone pine for a day job on the ranch’s pastures.

 “There’s up and downs every day, to be sure, but to be able to combine your work and your life can be pretty great,” she said. “I owe a lot of my training and creativity to UM. Especially the idea that it takes hard work to be successful.”


Jenny Lavey, UM News Service 

Contact: Loni Judisch, owner, Haymaker Beef, 406-868-8979, hello@haymakerbeef.com.