The Last Word
Making Their Mark in MontanaKyle Partain
Sheep Industry News Editor
Graffiti is in the eye of the beholder. So I learned earlier this year when I visited with David and Jennifer Breck in Big Timber, Mont. Jennifer led a brief tour of the old warehouse that has been home to the Sweet Grass Wool Pool throughout the years. Area sheep producers are free to stop by any time of year because the Breck’s operate the neighboring Yellowstone Feed Store and are usually around to accept wool as it comes in.
The walls of the historic warehouse are “littered” with signatures of those who have been involved with the wool pool for decades. As lower portions of the wall filled to the brim, producers and others on hand simply climbed wool bales to make their mark a little higher up. These days, you’ve got to get pretty close to the ceiling to find an empty spot.
“I’m sure that at some point, both of my grandfathers were in here,” says Jennifer, who has been operating the feed store and accompanying warehouse for about four years. “I haven’t found their names yet, but I bet they are up there somewhere.”
Signatures, the occasional profession of love and a few timely slogans make for interesting reading while artwork shows up sporadically. Some of it isn’t necessarily family-friendly, but it was all done in good fun and as a way to pass the time through the years. Walking through the building with Jennifer and Montana State University’s Whit Stewart, we stumble across something that would cause a loud chuckle from most of today’s sheep producers.
“You raise cattle for prestige,” it reads. “You raise sheep for money.”
David and Jennifer purchased the feed store and raise cattle, pigs and chickens in addition to sheep to make ends meet. They sell black face sheep for crossbreeding to many of Montana’s largest producers.
“We send around 10 head to Larry Pilster every year,” David says. “The first time they used our bucks was kind of an accident, but it worked out and he’s been coming back every year since. He used to walk by our pen at Miles City and just shake his head. He said their heads were too big and that he couldn’t use them. But he needed some bucks one year. The next year, he was happy to come back and buy some more.”
The couple also oversees the county’s wool pool each season as David has served as president of the group nearly every year since graduating high school in the 1990s.
“Every operation has to diversify,” David says. “A lot of the farms and ranches just aren’t big enough to support a family anymore, even in Montana.”