Ranching Legacy: Talkingtons carry on for 107 years | TSLN.com
Loretta Sorensen
for Tri-State Livestock News

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Ranching Legacy: Talkingtons carry on for 107 years

The same year the first "flying machine" was patented by the Wright Brothers, 1906, Ott Talkington brought his family to west central North Dakota to establish a cattle ranch. He and his family made the long trek from Indiana to make their home on the North Dakota grasslands butted up against the heavily eroded, barren plateaus known as the Badlands.

Four generations later, Shane and Amanda Talkington are carrying on the family's ranching legacy Shane's great-grandfather began 107 years ago.

"Amanda and I had the opportunity to come back to the ranch 11 years ago," Shane said. "We live on the ranch my grandfather purchased in 1950. Over the years my grandfather and father have purchased additional land that now makes up our entire ranch. That land is spread out between our home and the home where my parents live and I grew up."

North Dakota's grasslands have challenged each Talkington generation in some way. Ott faced the loss of the original homestead in 1942 when the drought of the 1930s exacted its final toll and he retired to Greely, CO. His son Harold, Shane's grandfather, reignited his family's ranching passion when he was able to purchase a nearby ranch in 1950, the current ranch headquarters. He held title to the portion of land the family ceded to the Federal Government when Theodore Roosevelt Park was developed.

"In 1958 my grandfather Harold also purchased land where we now have a feedlot," Shane explained. "Through the past three generations we've been able to build the ranch up."

Harold Talkington not only managed the family ranch. He was also a partner in the Dickinson livestock sale barn which was established in 1948. He relied on hired hands to complete the ranch work and focused on the business of buying cattle and operating the sale barn, remaining an active part of the ranch operation for more than 50 years. His son (Shane's father), Curt worked with Harold in the sale barn business from 1972 until Harold retired in 1980. In 2001, Curt sold his interest in the business

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"My father first came back to the family ranch after he graduated from college," Shane said. "In addition to working at the sale barn, he has managed our feedlot for many years. In 2001 he was able to purchase the original homestead that Ott lost in 1942."

Through their feedlot the Talkingtons produce about 700 head of backgrounded steers and heifers each year.

"In years past, Dad has handled as many as 1,000 cattle in the feedlot," Shane said. "Now we've scaled back a little. We also do some custom heifer development for a few producers."

When they returned to the ranch, Shane and Amanda took on responsibility for the 360 cow-calf pairs and 200 head of custom grazed cattle the ranch produces each year. Shane has retained his position as a North Dakota and Minnesota Beef Specialist sales representative for Select Sires, a bovine genetics and reproductive company based in Ohio.

"I travel both states and help producers and cattlemen find the right genetics for their herd and oversee the company's small sales force," Shane said. "Amanda handles the day-to-day activities on the ranch. She grew up helping her grandmother who operated a dairy. It didn't take Amanda long to switch from working with dairy cattle to Black Angus."

Besides the opportunity ranching gives Shane and Amanda to experience a sense of satisfaction in successfully managing their family ranch, Shane says Amanda appreciates the opportunity to raise their daughters, Abby, 7, and Hadley, 4.

"My true passion lies with raising and working with Angus cattle," Shane said. "I'm fortunate that Amanda loves working with the cattle, too. We've always believed that children raised on a ranch have opportunity to develop a strong work ethic and learn responsibility. The girls have been with Amanda in the feed truck from the time they were real little, helping with daily chores."

Diversification has been a common thread for the Talkingtons throughout the years. They have found that some of the same management challenges have followed each generation.

"When you live in an area like this you know you'll face drought every few years," Shane admitted. "We have never run as many cattle as our grass would support. That way, when drought cycles occur, we don't have to sell down our herd right away. In a drought situation we typically sell the yearlings and manage to get our cows through the cycle as long as it's not real severe."

The newest challenge for the Talkingtons is the oil drilling activity that's completely altered the face of the lifestyle they've enjoyed for decades. High volume traffic and competition for local resources and supplies are just a couple things causing the Talkingtons to review their traditional management strategies.

"We have some of the highest priced fuel you'll find anywhere," Shane said. "Drilling activities consume a lot of fuel. The relentless demand means ranchers and farmers pay the high prices too."

Drilling-related traffic also puts clouds of dust in the air every day as trucks and fleets of vehicles travel through pastureland areas.

"The dust is a concern that's always in the back of my mind," Shane said. "I wonder how hard it is on both the cattle and the grass. Once the drilling phase ends here, traffic will slow down. But that will be a couple more years."

Handing down lessons from one generation to another is often a strong part of ranch legacies. The Talkingtons are no exception to that rule.

"The Depression years really influenced how my family has done business," Shane said. "Transition has always been part of the story, too. Amanda and I are working on developing a seedstock business of our own. We recently had our second production sale. That will diversify ranch operations a little more and add value to the ranch.

"We'll probably never move completely out of the commercial beef industry," Shane added. "We see this as a great opportunity to raise our family in the best possible environment and become skilled stewards of our family's land."

This "Ranching Legacy" depicts individuals, families and businesses that have survived the ups and downs of agriculture and continue to contribute to their community. Know someone who should be featured? Drop us a line at editorial@tsln-fre.com.