Rancher Profile: Matt McElligott

Matt McElligott has family ties to agriculture that go back well over a century. Starting out in Kansas, his family began ranching in the 1800s, eventually homesteading in Eastern Oregon where the family ranch still operates in the McElligott name through his cousins. Matt represents the fifth generation of a shared family heritage, owning and operating a place of his own in North Powder, Oregon.

Matt grew up on his family’s ranch in Ione, OR and eventually left to pursue a college degree. Shortly after graduation, he began working as a representative for Purina. In 1999, Matt and his wife LaDonn decided to return to their roots and got back into the ranching business. They began by purchasing 12 bred heifers from the KG Ranch in Montana, and six years later grew to own and operate their own operation in Oregon. Not only does Matt run a highly successful business focused on improving rangelands and producing quality beef, but he has humbly become an industry leader by making it a priority to give back to his community.

Rangeland Management: The Foundation of A Ranch

It is no secret among ranchers that rangeland health and proper management are critical to a successful operation and a sustainable business plan, and the McElligotts epitomize this approach. Matt continually puts sustainability at the forefront of his operation by incorporating practices such as cross fencing, water development, and rotational grazing. Even with these measures in place, invasive species can prove difficult to manage and can have a serious detrimental impact on range productivity. Matt knows this firsthand, as he has sought to mitigate the spread of medusa head and ventenata grass on his operation’s grazing lands.

Medusa head and ventenata grass can be incredibly harmful to rangeland ecosystems. They often choke out native perennial and annual grasses and decrease forage available to livestock, something of utmost concern to the McElligott operation.

“Over the past twelve years, I have seen a reduction in the animal numbers that we can carry, because those annuals choke everything out. The deer, the elk, the cattle, nothing likes it, so it just takes over…I’ve tried burns in late spring, I’ve tried other sprays, [and] you can’t graze it out; you can’t mechanically remove it, so you’re kind of tied.”

To combat the issue, Matt joined a pilot project in 2019 to test Bayer invasive grass control programs, implementing a combination of chemical applications, grazing, and seeding to rehabilitate infested rangelands. The program focuses on testing the product Rejuvra® and utilizes technologies like Fieldview satellite imagery and rainfall monitoring equipment to assist in monitoring spread, treatment effectiveness, and reseeding success. A large part of the pilot program includes developing treatment plans specific to the percent biomass of invasive grasses on each plot of land. In partnership with Bayer, Matt is working on developing grazing and reseeding timelines that maintain the integrity of the chemical treatment. His participation in the pilot program will help develop large scale treatment programs that are effective and practical for the producer.

Every investment in rangeland ecological health is also an investment in the economic health of the ranch. Matt views controlling invasive species as a critical component of achieving beneficial economic outcomes. “When you start losing carrying capacity upwards of 20 percent, which is what I have seen, then that’s 20 percent fewer cattle on the same range.” Matt says his treated plots are showing lots of promise, with up to 40 percent increases in forage. More native perennials certainly mean a healthier rangeland, increased stocking rates, and more efficient economic gains on the operation. “If you could go from a reduction of 20 percent to an increase of 30 percent to 40 percent on the same land, that’s big time.”

Volunteer Leadership: Giving Back to the Industry

Matt’s commitment to building a brighter future for the industry goes well beyond his own land and cattle. He has served in numerous leadership roles, beginning in 1999 when he became part of the Morgrass Grazing Association, eventually serving as its president. He later joined the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association where he now serves as president elect. Matt’s strong belief in the importance of rangeland health and his desire to see a strong, national-scale defense of grazing rights led him to serve on the Board of Directors for the Public Lands Council. He also leads the PLC grazing committee and is active on a number of working groups, giving a great deal of his time to facilitate discussions that build consensus and move the industry forward.

Paying it forward has always been one of Matt’s guiding philosophies. “My goal is, whether it’s been in the cattle industry or on the local school board, is to give back to the industry, give back to the community,”  he shared. Like many permittees, Matt recognizes that this local involvement is vital to strengthening rural towns and creating a solid economic and social foundation for the next generation. Without the support, contributions, and participation of industry and community members, operations and organizations cannot sustain themselves and provide for the needs of their members. “You have to be willing to be a part of your community, whether it’s your church or your school or whatever industry you’re active in to keep it going. Volunteering and being part of the community has always been key for me.”

A Family Operation: Ranching for the Future

Professional work aside, nothing is more important to the McElligotts than family. After raising two kids with his wife LaDonn, Matt looks forward to one of the most satisfying parts of sustainable ranching: passing it on to the next generation. “My long-term goal would be to have something to hand off to my kids … When [my son] gets out of the Air Force he would like to ranch, so I would like to keep it sustainable and together until then.  My goal is [to have] a self-sustaining, family working ranch.”

Whether within his community or on the range, Matt McElligott’s passion for ranching and stewardship drives his success as both an operator and leader, helping to forge a better future for upcoming generations to enjoy.

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