Stick Leg Ranch: A Story of Success  

 Stick Leg Ranch Family

photos by Eliza Jayne Photography

Seth Becker (Petroleum Engineering & Engineering Science, ’01) does not recommend losing one’s legs, but he jokes that if you are going to lose them, there’s no better community to have around you than the one at Montana Tech.

Seth Becker

A quarter-century after Becker lost his legs in a drilling accident during a petroleum engineering internship in the Gulf of Mexico, he’s used good humor, perseverance, and ingenuity to build a successful regenerative ranching business with his wife Jennie. The Stick Leg Ranch ships and delivers high-quality Black Angus beef and Berkshire pork directly to customers around Montana and the United States.

Stick Leg Ranch Family

Seth’s story starts in Conrad, Montana, a tiny town of 2,300 people an hour south of the Canadian border, where he grew up working on a local cattle ranch.

Stick Leg Ranch cattle

“I loved ranching,” Seth remembers. “I knew I wanted to come back and be a rancher someday.”

Stick Leg Ranch

When high school graduation came around, Seth packed his bags for Butte, with practicality in mind.

Stick Leg Ranch

“Montana Tech had really good job placement,” Seth said. “I wanted to be a veterinarian or I wanted to do engineering. Petroleum engineering had good starting salaries. Oil and gas were around where I grew up. I wasn’t trying to save the world or anything.”

Stick Leg Ranch

Seth made lots of friends as an Oredigger. He spent a summer working in the oil and gas industry in Shreveport, Louisiana, and found that he enjoyed what he was doing and was right on track.

Stick Leg Ranch

“College was top-notch,” Seth said. “How do you not fall in love with Butte?”

But in the summer of 1999, Seth was working on an offshore oil rig when a mechanical malfunction caused catastrophic and irreparable injuries. He was slammed against a wall. First his legs were broken, and then they were mangled beyond repair. Becker lost 9.5 pints of blood, which is 95% of the human body’s total blood volume. He almost died multiple times and spent weeks in the hospital. Beyond losing his legs, Becker suffered trauma to the head and other injuries that had long-term impacts.

Stick Leg Ranch

Undeterred, Becker came back to campus. He had to fight off infections and learn to walk again with prosthetics. With the help of a local doctor and support on campus, Becker crossed the graduation stage as a double major.

Stick Leg Ranch

“Everyone was wonderful,” Seth said. “All of the faculty and students were so helpful.”

Petroleum Engineering Department Head Dr. Todd Hoffman remembers Seth’s determination.

“Seth and I started at Tech together in petroleum engineering, and like everyone, I was devastated by the news of the accident,” Hoffman said. “It broke my heart, but when Seth came back to college, he had a great attitude. His grit and determination were inspiring.”

Engineering in the field wasn’t in the cards for Seth anymore. He went back home to Conrad, and eventually, after a long, drawn-out court battle, won a settlement that allowed him to purchase a piece of property.

“It was something I could handle,” Becker said. “I could do a lot of the maintenance myself.” 

Eventually, Becker cleaned up the property, and launched his cow and calf operation. Becker’s dad came to work for him. Things were going well, but something was still missing.

In 2012, Jennie, a teacher from Salt Lake City, visited a ranch in Seth’s area through an acquaintance made on a rafting trip in the Grand Canyon. Jennie was happy with her suburban life, and did not think much of it when an area rancher named Steve Hutton and Lisa Schmidt tried to set her up on a date with Seth. Still, she emailed Seth, and after the email went unanswered, Steve picked up the phone and gave Seth a push.

After emailing back and forth, Seth and Jennie decided to meet and go on a spring break camping trip. Jennie jokes she wouldn’t have typically gone on a camping trip for a first date, but she was pretty sure he wasn’t a murderer as friends recommended him. During that date, Jennie tried to push Seth to test his limits, by sending him down a terrible back road. She knew he was a legless rancher, so he obviously had mettle, but she wanted to see his personality in the face of immediate adversity.

Seth was not rattled and was able to laugh his way through it.

“I thought ‘This guy can handle anything at this point,’” Jennie remembers.

After long-distance dating for some time, it was time to make some choices. Seth was dragging his “feet” on a marriage proposal, so Jennie proposed. The pair tied the knot in 2014.

“I’ve never really looked back,” Jennie said. “We kind of jumped into life full steam. I was 30, he was 37. Life happened really fast.”

The Beckers added three children, chickens, turkeys, ducks, and pigs to their brood as they grew hay and raised cattle. But in 2020, after years of drought, the cow-calf operation wasn’t as profitable as it once was. Seth and Jennie started thinking about how they could run a better business. They attended seminars on regenerative agriculture, and instead of only producing calves to send to market, they settled on producing high-quality grass-fed and finished beef and pork that would be shipped directly to the customer.

The Beckers had to make some big changes to be successful. Instead of calving in the harsh winter, they let their cows give birth in summer, when the herd was out to pasture on green grass. They learned to work with nature to produce better beef. Jennie had to take classes to learn about business, and how to build a website, and she became a master at social media marketing.

Three years later, Stick Leg Ranch ships and delivers beef and pork to customers across the U.S., as far away as the East Coast. Jennie’s Instagram account @sticklegranch has more than 3,000 followers and details the ins and outs of life on the ranch. Products are constantly being added. Cutting boards, beef tallow soaps, and apparel merchandise are all available on the ranch’s website.

Jennie’s advice for running a successful business is to get going, and not to worry about what others might think.

“Just start,” Jennie said. “I wasted probably six months because I didn’t know where to start. You have to start, little by little. Expect yourself to fail and expect yourself to grow. We have a saying around here, ‘hard things aren’t bad, they’re just hard”.

Seth also has a few words of wisdom for the entrepreneur.

“Put out a product you believe in,” Seth said. “If you absolutely believe in your product, then it’s really easy to sell it. You want to shout it from the rooftops.”

He says much success builds from Newton’s first law of motion.

“An object in motion tends to stay in motion, so get in motion and stay there and you really can overcome many things if you stay there. Keep moving and keep pushing,” Seth says.

Seth’s journey has continued to inspire those who know him.

“I’ve had the privilege to remain friends with Seth throughout the years and witnessed his growth both personally and professionally,” Todd Hoffman said. “A bunch of our college friends do an annual float trip down the Missouri, which has been a great way to stay connected and hear some of Seth’s great stories, from grizzly bears on his ranch to calving in a blizzard.  He’s one of a kind!”

As he reflects on the incident in the Gulf that changed the trajectory of his life, Becker speaks about it with peace and acceptance.

“It’s just part of who I am now,” Becker said. “I don’t even think I’d take it back anymore, especially if it meant I didn’t have my wife, kids, and life that I have now. Life would be hard if I didn’t have them.”