By DAVID REESE | Lake County Leader
The tiny calf lay in a deep ditch in a field overlooking the Flathead River.
The calf’s mother loitered nearby, keeping watch on the calf as Liz Marchi stepped for a closer look. The calf had been born only hours earlier on Monday, and this was the first Angus calf born on the Marchi Angus Ranch this spring. There are dozens more to follow at their outfit that sits on a bench overlooking Buffalo Rapids on the Flathead River.
Liz Marchi was concerned about the location of No. 6, though, a calf that had been abandoned by its mother. She found it, stuck between the boards of a hay manger.
Being part of a cattle operation has been an unlikely transition for Liz Marchi, who not that long ago was more used to wearing Brooks Brothers business suits than jeans and boots covered in ranching slop.
Marchi came to Kalispell and the Flathead Valley to help create economic development through an organization called Jobs Now. She met Jon Marchi, who was then on the board of Big Sky Airlines, during a flight to Boise. She was immediately taken with the handsome stranger who sat next to her. She eventually moved to Polson with Marchi, who had already established three successful ranching operations in the Mission Valley: one in Pablo, Ronan and Polson.
The Marchi Angus Ranch raises Angus and Wagyu cattle. Wagyu are a captive Japanese strain that are bred for their excellent taste and marbling.
Jon Marchi knows a good breed when he sees one. Marchi grew up in eastern Montana and developed a fondness for farming and ranching at young age. In 1956 he won the Carbon County 4H Showmanship Award. The photo of him with two heifers shows a proud young man of 11 years. In the years since that photo was taken, Marchi also developed a fondness for business. Marchi earned a Masters in business at the University of Montana in 1972, and he worked for D.A. Davidson for several years. When it came time to move on from the brokerage business, he retired at age 39 and he started ranching in Polson.
He looks at the prime ranch land above the Flathead River like he might look at a business balance sheet. “This is incredibly productive agricultural land,” Marchi said. “You can grow anything here, with water. We’re lucky.”
One variable is the weather. A hard frost in June can kill the alfalfa crop, or high winds can destroy the corn crop, which they feed to their cattle as silage. The Marchis do not use hormones on their beef, and the alfalfa they feed their cattle is raised on their ranches in the Mission Valley.
Marchi knows how to look at cattle, too. He learned as a young man how to judge an animal, whether it’s a hog, horse or cow. “You watch how they walk,” he said. “How does he behave? Are his eyes clear? Does he look interested? I learned that as a kid.
“I can pretty much look at an animal and tell you what’s good about it and what’s bad about it.”
While Marchi attended to business indoors on Monday, Liz Marchi went about the ranch, tending to pregnant cows. Only one Angus had given birth as of Monday. One of the Wagyu cattle was born this week, and it wobbled in the barnyard before becoming stuck in the hay manger. Marchi trudged through the deep mud to retrieve the calf. “Come on out of there little guy,” she said, encouraging the calf. Marchi crawled on her stomach into the manger to retrieve the calf.
She emerged from the manger, hay in her hair, but content at her job. She prefers this work to high-end corporate affairs, although she does manage a venture fund for “angel” business investors out of a loft in the barn overlooking the ranch.
Liz helps out on the marketing of the beef raised on the Marchi ranch. The Marchis have many private clients who prefer the taste of their beef. “We have a fabulous product that cannot be duplicated in the local market,” she said. Liz researched local restaurants to see what they wanted, and she provides them with the right product. The meat is processed at Lower Valley in Kalispell, so they know the chain of treatment of their beef.
With cattle prices at record highs, this should be a good year for them. But Jon Marchi knows nothing comes easy in this business. “It is a financial challenge,” he said. “You have to be very careful. The key is to take very good care of your cattle. If you take care of them, they’ll take care of you.”