Sara Hollenbeck learned about Montana ranching by diving right in, and that meant venturing out into the snow and cold and helping pregnant ewes deliver their lambs.
Hollenbeck was no city slicker before meeting her Montana rancher husband. Her mother teaches agriculture in California. After graduating with a degree in agricultural business from California Polytechnic San Luis Obispo, she worked in California’s large and diverse agriculture industry for a few years.
“The agriculture I worked in was very different,” she said. “I was used to orchards and grape vines and seasonal crops, but that wasn’t quite the case here. We do livestock: sheep, cattle and goats. My first year here, my husband wanted to make sure I could make it through a Montana winter. He was afraid I was going to leave, and he wanted me to get through the lambing season.”
Hollenbeck not only survived Montana’s challenging winters, she came up with a plan to enhance profits from the family ranch.
High Five Meats LLC of Molt sells beef, pork and lamb directly from the ranch to consumers. She began selling at the Yellowstone Valley Farmers Market in August of 2015, and that provided an immediate boost.
“We hit the tail end of the market the first year, and this year we had a full season, and it was tremendous. The farmers market is a great resource for local farmers and ranchers,” she said.
In recent months, Hollenbeck has been participating in Farm Fresh Wednesdays, a weekly event in which local producers and consumers meet up at Thirsty Street Brewing Co. in Billings. Eggs, chicken, lamb, beef, pork and produce are offered each week.
“It’s catching on,” Hollenbeck said.
Farm-to-consumer marketing has seen tremendous growth in California and in larger metropolitan areas. Hollenbeck sees similar potential for the Billings market.
“Being a rancher, I want people to know where their food comes from,” she said. “Your food doesn’t just come from a grocery store. There is so much more than that. I like to share my story, meet people and make the connection to their table from our ranch. I know we raise animals sustainable, humanely,and I wanted to share that experience with the local community.”
What’s the biggest challenge you face in your job? Competition, education and marketing.
What’s the best business advice you have received? Don’t get stuck on an idea that doesn’t work. Change, adapt and move on.
Who gave you that advice? A complete stranger.
Here’s how I’d like to improve my community: I want to bring awareness to where people’s food comes from, and create a resource for anyone to source any food product offered by local farms and ranches.
Outside of work, my biggest passion is: My goat, Mr. Totes Magoats. He has become somewhat of an Internet star and it’s become a fun hobby to dress him up. It sounds crazy, and it totally is, but it’s also hilarious. You can find more of Totes on my Instagram account @SaraSheepLady.
Which living person do you most admire? My grandparents, Jack and Nancy Henderson. To this day they go to work every day and continue to build a business that they have owned and operated for over 50 years. They are the true definition of entrepreneurs, and living the American dream.
Aside from profit and loss, how do you measure success in your job? By how happy I am, and I have never been happier in my life.
What do you consider your greatest achievement? Starting my own business, being my own boss. There isn’t a better feeling in the world.
I'm happiest when I'm...with animals.