If you have been attending any agriculture conferences or ranch visits lately, the conversation could possibly turn from talking about elite herd sires to a new television series that was aired this summer. Animal Planet’s “Last American Cowboy” has created a new buzz topic for agriculture producers to discuss. The Last American Cowboy aired June 7 and concluded July 26 and over 12.3 million viewers around the nation gathered in front of their television sets every Monday night to watch three ranch families from Montana take on a nasty winter, disease outbreaks, and forest fires all leading up to one significant day in the lives of ranchers – sale day.
Animal Planet says it cast Last American Cowboy because the network is always looking for new ways to share human animal relationships to its viewers. The Last American Cowboy does just that by showcasing of animals depending on humans and humans depending on animals for survival. Most Americans haven’t witnessed the life of a modern cowboy first hand and Last American Cowboy is as close as some people will ever come.
“The families featured in Last American Cowboy have extraordinary and compelling stories of grit and determination as they struggle to preserve their way of life for future generations,” says Marjorie Kaplan, president and general manager of Animal Planet Media. “The rawness and tenacity of the American West has built their character and continues to test it everyday, and we are privileged to offer our viewers a glimpse into an authentic way of life few get to see first hand.”
Meet the ranchers
Scott and Stacey Hughes, along with their children Sarah and Parker, manage a herd of 400 commercial Black Angus Crossbred cattle on the family-owned ranch outside of Stanford, Mont. with the guidance of Scott’s father, Tucker who owns the Hughes’ land and cattle operation. Besides the ranch, Scott and Stacey run a hunting and recreational business and find time in their busy schedule to exercise for the Hood to Coast relay race.
Earl and Glenna Stucky have been in the ranching business for the past 30 years in Avon, Mont. The ranch supports five families and all the ranch work is entirely a traditional family affair-horseback and building handmade beaver slides used to stack hay. The Stucky ranch has 10,000-acres and runs 1,100 head of cattle and feels the bond they have living and working together is among life’s biggest treasures.
Bill Galt along with his nephew and ranch foreman, Tyson Hill from White Sulphur Springs, Mont., are the innovators of ranching by running 100,000 acres, 3,000 mother cows and approximately 1,000 yearlings, and 100 horses with the help of helicopters and ATVs. The Galt ranch has been passed down through many generations and Galt believes technology is the future of ranching of his caliber.
All three-ranch families had similar reasons on why they willingly opened up their lives to be viewed by the nation. Mainly, they wanted to showcase how they live and work with nature, as well to show the general public how cattle are raised from pasture to plate everyday and how ranchers are stewards of the land.
“It was obviously a huge decision to open up our ranch and share our story,” says Stacey. “We wanted to help shed a positive light on the general community about ranching ethics.”
The three family-owned and operated cattle ranches took on freak storms, deadly outbreaks of disease, hungry predators and forest fires that threaten their livelihoods. Throughout the show, each family shared the highs and lows of life on the ranch as they went through the seasons - calving, summer ranch work, and the fall cattle selling season.
The Hughes ranch was typically seen as a one-man show, ran by Scott with Stacey’s assistance, everyday was seen as an opportunity to prove to Scott’s father, Tucker, that he was able to run the ranch by himself.
The Stucky ranch has seen better years than the year when the show was taped. They used their last hay reserves to get through the winter storms and had to deal with a vehicle accident that put Cal, Earl and Glenna’s son, in the hospital for six months.
The Galt ranch dealt with severe calf death loss when scours hit their herd after the winter storm. They also spent valuable time with youth interns eager to learn more about what it takes to be a rancher.
Voices from the industry and communities
A month has gone by since the last episode of Last American Cowboy aired. The feedback about the show has been well received from those in the agriculture industry and the ranchers’ local communities. Many people have shown praise and support to the ranchers for sharing their stories.
“We didn’t know what to think at first,” says Mick Goettle, Earl and Glenna’s son-in-law. “But now we run into people who are supportive and say good words about the show.”
For Tyson, he says he has had people stop by the ranch to say how great the show was and to give them a handshake, especially one guy who was traveling to Sturgis, S.D. from California.
Unanswered questions and what’s next?
There were many unanswered questions as the last episode aired leaving viewers wondering, did Scott earn the ranch? How is Cal Stucky doing? Are the Galts still taking interns? And most importantly, is there going to be another season of the Montana ranchers?
Well, Scott and Tucker have been visiting frequently about Scott’s potential ownership in the ranch. Scott says they are working together in order to have a successful transition.
After Cal’s horrific accident and spending six months in the hospital, viewers saw him arrive on the ranch when the last episode aired. Since that episode, he has been doing very well, says Earline, Cal’s sister. He was recently in the hospital for hip surgery, where doctors removed a five-inch bone spur that was disrupting his sciatic nerve. However, he helped rope calves during branding this past spring, so things are again looking positive for the Stucky ranch.
As for the Galt ranch, they are not apprehensive about having interns again after the season aired. In the second episode, Galt’s intern, Cliff, assisted a cow in birth, a highlight for the intern and viewers who had never seen a live birth. Cliff did come back to the Galt ranch this past summer to help again. Not surprisingly, the ranch has been bombarded with intern applications and is committed to giving youth an experience on the ranch.
Now the infamous question everyone is wondering, is there going to be another season? All three families say they did not know but the network has been discussing the potential of having another season.
With the forecast for another season unknown, the Hughes, Stuckys, and Galts will continue with their daily ranching lives.
“The episodes showed the elements of ranching. It’s a gratifying experience,” says Earline of the ranching traditions.
Ranching is about pride and dedication and just being plain tough, Tyson says. “To see them work that hard and show people how many hours and the sweat that goes into traditional ranching is amazing,” he says of the other ranchers featured on the Last American Cowboy.
“Ranching is about honesty, integrity, and communities coming together,” concludes Tyson.