Page Banner

United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Historical Perspective
headline bar

The Custer Massacre led congress to establish Fort Keogh as an Army cavalry post, July 22, 1876. Fort Keogh was named after Captain Myles Keogh, an adjutant to General George Custer, who was killed in the Battle of the Little Big Horn on June 25, 1876. Establishment and early development of Fort Keogh was under the direction of General Nelson A. Miles for whom Miles City is named. In 1879, Miles City, Montana, was designated the county seat of Custer County and the first court session was held there in May 1879. Both Fort Keogh and Miles City have remained to serve the vast ranching areas of southeastern Montana and the surrounding Northern Great Plains.

In 1907, all infantry troops were withdrawn and in 1909 Fort Keogh became a Remount Station for the U.S. Army. This Remount Station was very active in World War I. During this period, more horses were processed here than at any other army post in the United States. Horses were shipped worldwide. In 1922, the Army relinquished the land and the Fort Keogh military withdrawal was completed on February 2, 1924.

By an Act of Congress dated April 15, 1924 (PL90, 43 Stat. 99) jurisdiction of the Fort Keogh Military Reservation was transferred to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for experiments in stock raising and growing of forage crops. Onsite remains of the original Fort include the parade ground, a wagon shed built in 1883, the flag pole erected in 1887, and seven other structures built prior to 1924.

The size of the original Fort Keogh Military Reservation was 100 square miles or 64,000 acres. The Fort Keogh Livestock and Range Research Laboratory now occupies about 55,357 acres. In 1878, a large piece of land east of the Tongue River was released by the Army and is now the present site of the City of Miles City. Since that time, additional land has been released for the Miles City industrial sites, Custer County fairgrounds, the warm-water fish hatchery and Spotted Eagle Recreation Area. Approximately 1,800 acres are under irrigation in the Yellowstone River Valley west of the Laboratory headquarters. About 625 acres are in cultivated crops and 1150 in irrigated pastures. The remainder of the laboratory is rough, broken badlands typical of range cattle producing areas of the Northern Great Plains.

The early laboratory, then referred to as a station, was a widely diversified unit. There were approximately 1200 Rambouillet ewes on experiment during the early days. Ewes and lambs were on breeding and feeding experiments and wool studies. All sheep were transferred to the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station, Dubois, Idaho, in 1941.

There was also a Milking Shorthorn dairy herd maintained on the laboratory. The milk was sold to the employees, but the animals were not used extensively for research purposes. The herd was dispersed in the late 1930s.

There have also been many horses on experiments. In 1934, the inventory showed 250 head on breeding, feeding and reproduction studies involving purebred Belgian, Morgan and Thoroughbred sires. Some of the early work to develop successful semen collection and artificial insemination techniques in horses was conducted at this laboratory. The Thoroughbred breeding herd was maintained until 1964. Horses that remain at the laboratory today are used solely for working cattle.

Research on turkeys was also conducted at the laboratory. Studies with Bronze turkeys started in 1929 and involved approximately 1500 young turkeys and 350 breeding hens. Studies consisted of feeding, breeding and rearing experiments, and the original crosses and the early work lead to development of the Beltsville White breed. This line of research was closed out in 1939 when the turkeys were shipped to Beltsville.

Early swine research was directed largely toward production of Wiltshire Sides for the European pork market.   In 1930, pork from the U.S. Range Livestock Experiment Station was reported to be the best American Wiltshire Sides on the London market. The swine work is most famous for the development of the Montana No. 1 breed. This was produced by crossing the Danish Landrace and the Black Hampshire breed. Crosses were inbred and through selection, one of the first meat-type breeds was established. Federal funding for swine research at the laboratory was terminated in 1968 and, swine work was then directed by staff members in the Animal and Range Sciences Department at Montana State University. Work involving the Montana No. 1 and the Yorkshire breeds was terminated in 1971 and a crossbred herd was established to supply animals for studies directed by Montana State University nutritionists. The swine research was moved from Fort Keogh to Bozeman in 1986 and the swine unit closed out.

Today, the research program focuses on improving efficiency of beef cattle production for rangeland in the Northern Great Plains. These rangelands, some 150 million acres in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming, are both ecologically fragile and vital to the economic well-being of the region. The work involves studies in genetics, reproductive physiology, nutrition and growth of beef cattle, and in range pasture development, improvement and management. This mix of disciplines provides an effective and integrated attack on basic and applied problems related to efficient and sustainable use of rangeland resources for livestock production. Emphasis is on problem solving basic research to meet the immediate and future needs of farmers and ranchers in the region and nation. Funding for research is provided by appropriation through USDA-ARS. Cooperation with Montana Agricultural Experiment Station provides livestock and labor resources to the laboratory. No appropriated funds are received from the State of Montana.

LANDMARK ACCOMPLISHMENTS

Research in range improvement and management was initiated at Fort Keogh by the U.S. Forest Service in 1932. Early studies were designed to determine optimum stocking rates for cattle and sheep on Northern Great Plains rangelands. Use of the results from this research by ranchers and Federal agencies took the Plains out of an era of exploitation into one of grazing management. Reduced soil loss, increased plant growth and increased production of both domestic livestock and wild animals has resulted.

Beginning in 1936, water spreading systems were developed by building diversion dams and contour dikes. These studies were among the first in the nation to demonstrate that water normally lost to runoff could be used effectively to increase growth of native and introduced grasses.

Methods for genetic evaluation of beef cattle were pioneered at Fort Keogh in the 1930s. All beef performance testing programs now active in the United States and much of the remainder of the world are built on this foundation. Today's producers continue to benefit from t his work as they use estimated breeding values and expected progeny differences to select breeding stock that meets their needs. Success of Line 1 Hereford cattle are proof of the knowledge gained.

The usefulness crossbreeding to improve the efficiency of beef production was first demonstrated at Miles City in the late 1930s. While it took time for the results to be adapted by the industry as a whole, a look through cattle country today verifies its importance.

Neonatal mortality resulting from calving difficulty continues to be a major source of lost revenue for beef producers. Workers at Miles City first established the role of birth weight as the most important causative factor associated with calving difficulty.

Winters in the Northern Great Plains can be long and cold. Grazing time and forage intake may be reduced by extreme cold and the energy requirements of the cow are increased. Nutrition studies conducted at Fort Keogh have demonstrated the importance of proper winter supplementation regimes for optimum rates of subsequent conception, calf survival and cow and calf weight gains.

LIVESTOCK FACILITIES AND MANAGEMENT

Cattle and farming operation at Fort Keogh Livestock and Range Research Laboratory (LARRL) serve to support the research work. Numbers of cattle and production of farm crops are driven by research needs within limits imposed by responsible stewardship of the resources. Husbandry practices are designed to meet the specific research protocols and the animals' needs as humanely as possible. The farming operation is managed to provide quality feed stuffs for research livestock using proper conservation and agronomic practices.

 

USDA, ARS Fort Keogh Livestock and Range Research Laboratory
243 Fort Keogh Rd., Miles City, MT  59301-4016
Phone: 406-874-8200, Fax:  406-874-8289


Last Modified: 2/27/2008
Footer Content Back to Top of Page