Proven bloodlines: Paintrock Angus carries on a 60-year traditionWritten by Saige
Hyattville – Paintrock Angus has been a seedstock supplier of Black Angus cattle for many generations. Its current operator Martin Mercer took over the operation from his father just last year, but has a number of years of experience on the ranch, both in growing up on the land and working on the property.
“My grandpa started raising Black Angus 60 years ago,” says Mercer. “I guess he was a visionary and figured they would be good cattle.”
Martin Mercer is the fifth generation on the ranch and continues traditions established over 100 years ago. He grew up and went to school in Hyattville, saying he has been on the ranch at least six months every year for nearly 40 years.
The Mercer family was awarded the honor of Centennial Farm and Ranch in 2006 to commemorate the ranch that was started in 1896 by Asa Shinn Mercer. As times got hard in the late 1800s, the Mercers sold their cattle and began growing beans on the property.
“They finally made enough money raising beans so they could finally buy a few cows,” says Mercer. “They got started in the black cattle business and off they went.”
Paintrock Angus sits at the foothills of the Big Horn Mountains west of Hyattville. The operation runs its cattle on private land and on both BLM and Forest Service leases in the Big Horn Mountains.
“We run our cattle from about 4,500 to 11,000 feet,” says Mercer. “We live in a very arid environment. It’s high desert, and we’re usually short on rain.”
Mercer comments that his registered herd is run under the same conditions as the commercial herd, so the bulls perform well.
“We run our registered herd the same way we do our commercial cows,” adds Mercer. “One thing we have to offer is that our bulls tend to work well for guys in this kind of climate because we run them just like they do.”
“We combine old bloodlines that have been raised in this environment for a long time,” says Mercer. “We try to use proven genetics. It might not be popular, but we know they won’t throw a kink in somebody’s calf crop.”
Mercer elaborates that they focus on using proven bulls and emphasize structure of their cattle, including leg structure and good feet, along with having a functional female.
Paintrock Angus also focuses on uniformity, carcass quality, growth, calving ease, big, stout thick bulls, maternal strength, low maintenance and good disposition in raising their animals.
“We try not to get too wild about using a new bull,” adds Mercer. “It’s simple, and nothing fancy, but we try to keep adding a few pounds here and there.”
“We deal with a lot of repeat customers,” says Mercer. “Apparently they like how their calves look, so we try not to vary too much.”
In the summer, Mercer’s herd runs on both BLM and Forest Service leases at high altitude.
“It’s a wide variation in environments that they go through,” says Mercer. “Working with the BLM and Forest Service is almost a full-time job. It’s a little more political and scientific than it used to be. There is more paperwork and more phone calls, but we get by.”
“We’ve been selling bulls for 60 years,” says Mercer. “That was my grandpa’s intent when he got started.”
“If producers can get a calf on the ground and on the truck to the feeder, that’s what pays the bills,” says Mercer. “What defines the people who are successful from those who aren’t is a live calf.”
Mercer also runs a commercial Red and Black Angus operation alongside his seedstock cattle.
“When ag is good like it is right now, it’s an exciting business to be in,” says Mercer, who is optimistic about the challenges they face.
“Here in Hyattville, our biggest stepping stone is probably facing the environment,” says Mercer.
“Running on government land and keeping up with the new mandates and paperwork is probably second.”
Other obstacles Mercer faces include the large numbers of grasshoppers and the BLM Big Horn Basin Resource Management Plan.
“It’s nothing we haven’t dealt with before,” says Mercer. “We just have to wait and see and adapt.”
“Other than that, it’s a good place to live,” comments Mercer. “I enjoy the challenge of it all. My ancestors had a vision, and I want to try to build on that. I’m proud of who we are, after we’ve been here this long. I just try to keep toeing the line.”
Mercer and his family operate Paintrock Angus together, and everyone stays involved in all aspects of the ranch.
“My wife Kelly does the books and helps outside, too,” says Mercer. “Royce is 15 and Aca is 13, and they do quite a bit of tractor work. Emma is 10 and she does some tractor work, but she’s a cowgirl. I think they all like what they do and might be interested in taking over when they are older.”
Mercer says his family is rooted in agriculture and taking over the decision-making and management has been an easy transition.
“My mom and dad still help out here full time, and we ran a lot of it together before,” says Mercer.
The Mercer family operation also raises corn, alfalfa/grass mix hay, oats, barley and beans on the property, though the seedstock operation prevails.
Mercer, who plans to continue in the business, says, “I like it, and I think my family likes it.”