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Big Hole Valley Association

The Big Hole Valley Association (BHVA) is a non-profit corporation whose members are residents and business owners in the upper Big Hole Valley including Jackson and Wisdom MT.  The organization exists to better the community and the help the residents and businesses in the valley.  The BHVA sponsors events like Ski Joring, Run for Renewal, and the Fourth of July celebration which raise money that is then used to help veterans with PTSD, support suicide prevention, help kids in the valley and complete other projects that  improve our community.  The organization is recognized by the IRS as a 501c3 non-profit.  We are always looking for new members, new projects to work on, and support for our organizational goals.

 

Wisdom Community Center

The Wisdom Community Center has been serving the residents of the Big Hole Valley since 1916.  The building is used for public meetings, church services, youth events, weddings, funerals, a senior exercise class, education programs, voting, and is a disaster relief center. Rental rates are reasonable. For more information or to rent a room contact the Crossing Bar and Grill in Wisdom at 406-689-3260.


 

Ranching the Big Hole Valley

Ranching is the mainstay of the valley economy and is the largest employer.  The first homesteaders reached the valley in the 1880’s and patented homesteads from 160 acres to 640; over time consolidation has occurred and now the average ranch is several thousands of acres and runs several hundred to several thousand cows.  Interestingly, several of the ranches are owned by descendants of the original homesteaders.

Most ranches run a cow calf operation and they calve in April and May.  Some have purchased ranches outside the valley at lower elevations where calving season is less harsh and they now calve there.  Many of these ranchers retain ownership of their steers and heifers and sell them to the feed lots at age18 months.  Interestingly, many of the early homesteaders did not even try to calve cows in the Big Hole rather they bought calves from neighboring valleys and raised and sold heifers and steers.

Irrigation water is plentiful and ranchers flood irrigate the fields of hay.  The hay is grass hay and they get one cutting.  The growing season is so short that alfalfa is not a viable crop.  Irrigation water is typically shut off around the 4th of July to allow the fields to dry so the equipment can access the hay fields.  Haying starts in mid July and most ranchers are finished in 15 to 20 days.Some ranchers have changed their operations to lease grazing pasture to other ranchers.  They no longer hay the fields; they graze them.

As you drive through the valley you will see large wood and metal structures that look like ramps and large stops or walls.  These are called beaver slide hay stackers.  Loose hay is pushed up the ramps hay stacks.  The the very top of the stake will deteriorate over time, however the majority of the hay stays as green as the day it was put in the stack.  Most but not all valley ranchers have switched to balers as they cannot find a workforce to hay in the old fashioned way. 

Most of the hay fields you see were carved out of the sagebrush in the 1880 and 1890s and have not been plowed or leveled for over 100 years.  There is little topsoil in these fields; plowing up the gravel and rocks is counter productive. 

During months of May and June you will see a good deal of standing water in the fields which results in the production of Carex rather than grass hay in these wet areas.  There are also a number of swamps associated with the streams and river bottoms. This might seem like wasted land however in November and December cattle will turn to this forage and delay the need to feed hay to the cattle for a couple months.  The Carex seed heads are loaded with oils and the Carex stays green down near the bottom of the plants.

Cow country means cowboys and horses.  While some ranchers have switched over to motor bikes and ATVs many of the ranches are still roping, herding, and branding like they have done for 100 years.

BIG HOLE VALLEY
ASSOCIATION

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