The Blaine County Journal News-Opinion - We've Got The County Covered

South of the Border: Jesse Thompson: Sweet Grass Hills resident represents Montana sheep and cattle interests


October 2, 2019

esse and Chance Thompson, with daughter Clementine, pose with recent issues of association publications for the Montana Woolgrowers Association and the Montana Angus Association. Jesse serves both associations and edits the magazines as part of her duties. The couple runs Thompson Livestock, a commercial Black Angus cow/calf operation in the Sweet Grass Hills. The family ranch is south of Whitlash at the base of East Butte which is visible in the photograph.

Columnist's note: The Sweet Grass Hills are blessed with some very talented individuals. Not only are there ranchers and oil/gas operators, there are teachers, nurses, bureaucrats, writers and artists, even a former engineer on the B-2 stealth bomber. Jesse Thompson who lives on a ranch south of Whitlash, is a spokesperson for both the Montana Wool Growers and the Montana Angus Associations.

I was curious how Jesse balances helping her husband, Chance, on their commercial Black Angus cow/calf operation, takes care of their 21-month old daughter Clementine, is active in her community and represents the interests of two diverse livestock groups in the Treasure State. Here's some of what I learned about Jesse, her preparation to represent these ag groups and how she promotes the goals of the two associations.

From 4-H projects to ranch wife:

Preparation to represent Ag Associations

Jesse's parents, Mike and Luanne Wallewein, operate a "franch" (farm + ranch), a large grain farm along with a cattle and sheep operation. Jesse and her siblings grew up working on the farm/ranch regularly helping with lambing and calving. She was active in 4-H for 10 years, taking on various projects. She wrote, "I didn't get along very well with my first couple market lambs." She explained that it was her first large animal project and, "...just starting out that lamb drug me all over the place." Her favorite project was the market steer, where she won several awards for showmanship. Jesse noted, "While I grew up helping with both the cattle and the sheep, I gravitated more towards the cows while my sister helped my Mom with the sheep."

Planning someday to be back on her folks place or married to a rancher, she earned a BA in Animal Science at MSU. After college she trained for a short time as a loan officer in Ashland, MT, then worked for CHS Transportation in Oilmont, MT after she joined husband Chance on the ranch. Chance has been on the home ranch for about 15 years, Jesse has been helping him for six plus. When possible young Clementine tags along while her parents do ranch work. The Thompson Ranch, just south of Whitlash at the base of East Butte, has been in the family for more than 100 years.

First the Montana Wool Growers Association,

then the Montana Angus Association

Admitting she never thought she would end up managing two ag associations, Jesse said, "'s the perfect blend of agriculture and administrative work for me." She joined the Wool Growers as Executive Secretary in December, 2015 after a friend sent Jesse the announcement about the position and asked, "How do you feel about sheep?" The Wool Growers group was formed in 1883, making it the oldest ag organization in Montana.

The Wool Growers Association "advocates for and works on behalf of Montana's farm and ranch interests, namely Montana's sheep industry." In addition to managing the membership of the association, Jesse is editor of the Montana Wool Grower Magazine, organizes and oversees the Ram Sale each September and the Annual Convention in December, handles correspondence, membership, social media and the associations' website, manages the agenda and minutes for board meetings and handles finances. Asked what she likes best about her job with the Woolgrowers, she wrote, "The people. The wool growers are really an awesome group of people who support one another and are just great to be around."

Describing some of the challenges facing the sheep industry, Jesse referred to notes made when the group formed in 1883: concern over wool and lamb imports; grazing on public-domain land, predator control and expanding markets for both lamb and wool. She said, "Today our concerns remain the same." The association's work is mostly supported by voluntary assessments of the lamb and wool growers. Jesse added, "As the numbers of sheep and the size of flocks decline, there are fewer financial resources to support the work of the association. That is a challenge."

Jesse joined the Montana Angus Association as Executive Secretary in February, 2019. Husband Chance was reading the "Western Ag Reporter" and saw a notice about the job. Jesse said, "Chance encouraged me to apply." Started in 1942, the Montana Angus Association was organized to "advance and assure the success of the Angus breed, breeders and owners."

Still new to the position, Jesse recently completed editing her first edition of the Montana Angus News Annual Breeder's Directory. She described jumping into the work of the Angus group as "like drinking from a fire hose. Just trying to learn the ins and outs of the association along with teaching myself how to use the graphic design programs (to lay out the magazine and other publications) has been challenging." She said she enjoys the graphic design and editing.

his photo was taken at Top Notch Angus south of Chinook during the 2018 Montana Angus Tour hosted by Angus breeders in Hill, Blaine and Phillips Counties. The 2019 Montana Angus Tour recently showcased Angus cattle at ranches in the Hot Springs area, Flathead and Mission Valleys as well as Flint Creek and the Bitterroot Valley. About 400 visitors typically join the tour for all or some of the stops during the three-day event.

She's begun meeting the Montana Angus board members, visiting with the membership and attending bull sales. One highlight she shared was participating in was the Beef Leaders Institute hosted by the American Angus Association. The week long program helps prepare future leaders for the beef industry. The program was held in the Midwest and included learning about and visiting various segments of the beef industry from producers to packers. Conferees spent two days in Wooster, Ohio, learning about the national associations Certified Beef Program, which just celebrated its 40th year of operation.

Each September the major Angus event is the Montana Angus Tour. Last year the tour was hosted by the North Central Angus Montana Association made up of producers in Blaine, Hill and Phillips Counties. Many out-of-state guests on the tour join the Montana tour to see where their major seedstock (breeding cattle) come from and how the animals are raised. Per Tim Skinner with Skinner Ranch Seedstock in Hall, MT, "Montana is #1 for the number of Angus bulls produced in the U.S., recording 20% of all registered Angus bulls sold." This year's tour was hosted by the Western MT Angus Association.

One last comment about Jesse Thompson and her future work with Montana's ag associations. She shared that while in 4-H she was, "...also grand champion chicken showman for 10 years in a row." Could there be a future third association connection for this young ag leader? Don't be surprised if it happens, Jesse is an energetic supporter of all Montana's agricultural interests.


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