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Ag Pride: From four feet up — The story of Stub Monnens

“The difference between me and the average person is that I see my world from four feet up. The rest sees it from five feet down.”   –Stub Monnens 

Francis “Stub” Monnens was a sheepherder, horseman, and border collie trainer who resided in Ladner, South Dakota for much of his later life. 2019 marked two decades since his passing, but many residents of Buffalo hold fondly to memories of a well-known man. He survived all manner of catastrophes: rattlesnake bites, asthma attacks, runaway teams, and once was drug behind a horse for over a mile near Castle Rock, South Dakota. Most astounding, however, was achieving all that he did while standing just 4’2″ tall. Stub was a dwarf, but he never allowed his “disability” to hinder a life fully lived. 

Stub made his way through life with his animals. He used a team and wagon to build fence, herded sheep with the use of border collies and a saddle horse, traveled horseback instead of in a pickup while testing REA poles in rough country; and made a living raising chukars and pheasants during “retirement”.  

Lex Burghduff said, “Animals trusted Stub. I never remember him spooking a horse or getting kicked. His horses were really accustomed to him. And horses usually trust kids, you know. I’m sure the horses associated him with a kid and trusted him.” Perhaps this is why the pups he sold and the small horses he gave away were so suitable for children. “He gave us the best kid horse we ever had,” said Alicia (Clarkson) Burghduff.  

Stub’s saddle and gear are on display in the Buffalo One Room Schoolhouse & Museum. His chaps are shorter than the average person’s arm. His saddle was custom made for him by Ed Satler in 1946, a postman in Lemmon who made saddles to sell in the Gamble Store. It was built out of a 13 x 13” tree. The third stirrup, of course, was built so that he could mount and dismount unaided. In fact, few people can remember Stub asking for help in any task. He alone hitched up teams, saddled horses, pounded posts, and drove his 1950 Dodge pickup (and later vehicles) with the aid of homemade pedal extensions. If he was carpentering with sheets of plywood–a handful for any man–he simply used clamps to extend his grip to the edges. If he had to lift buckets over a sheep panel (chest-height for Stub) he worked it up and down by sticking his hands through.  

While working for Deschamps near Castle Rock in 1961, Stub rode bogs to ensure no ewes were stuck in the tricky Butte County soil, which gave way at times. Finding one, he tied his rope hard to the horn and dismounted. He placed the loop over the ewe’s head to gently pull her out, but he tripped in the process. His horse spooked, pulled back, and Stub stepped into the loop. Jewel drug him all the way back to the gate as fast as she could run. His shirt remained buttoned and protected his hands and face, but the bare flesh of his torso picked up one mile’s worth of greasewood splinters, cactus, and grass burns.  

Jewel waited patiently at the gate and Stub released himself from what could have been a noose around his foot. Getting back to the pickup, he realized the battery was dead. He waited a whole day for the feed truck to come, so he doctored his wounds with baking soda and unguentine. The feed man came for chores the next day and brought him into town, and the doctor in Newell picked splinters out of him for an hour before giving up and sending him to Belle Fourche. Stub laid in that hospital for five weeks.  

Stub worked at Belle Fourche Livestock in 1978 after a brief trial period with his working dogs. He so impressed the owners, Dean Strong and Bob Petra, that they hired him four days per week for sheep and cattle sales. Once when he was gathering cattle that were loose in the parking lot, he came off the side of his horse, colliding with a corner post. The concussion resulted in memory loss for weeks and left him with double vision that halted his leatherworking, a favorite pastime, forever. Years later, Mert and Sue Clarkson gave Stub a vehicle to drive. Some concerned neighbors berated them, asking, “Why would you give a blind man a car?” They defended Stub, saying, “He’s not blind. He just can’t see very well.”  

Dwarfism often comes with health problems, including arthritis and asthma, though most with the condition have a normal life expectancy. When he was a child, Stub’s parents moved back and forth from Firesteel, South Dakota and Madison, Minnesota when the western homestead would not go. When he was 19, Stub settled west of the Missouri to avoid the humidity and persistent asthma attacks he suffered as a teenager. He never said so, but he almost surely had arthritis in his aging years due to his stature and his lifestyle. Yet, he never quit. He merely began work on something else.  

When he was unable to herd sheep anymore, Stub worked as an REA pole tester in the Opal, Stoneville, and Marcus areas. In 1987, he began his mission to repopulate Harding County with Chinese Ring-Necked Pheasants. Locals used to say, “You won’t see a pheasant west of Highway 85.” Then Stub raised them by the thousands–the remnants of which still linger in the Ladner area. He told Nation’s Center News in an interview, “I feel very good about what I could be doing to help preserve a great bird and at the same time help control some of the grasshoppers.”  

A 70th birthday party was held for Stub in the Bullock Hall with 415 guests. His special friend, Stella, whom he met at a Little People of America conference, popped out of his birthday cake, herself standing just 3’10” tall. Stub passed away five years later in 1999, leaving warm memories of his love of a cup of coffee, conversation, and God’s creatures.  

Grown in Montana to Grow Montana

 

The Montana Farm Bureau Federation has announced the winners of the Montana Youth Agriculture Literacy program drawing contest. “Montana Ag in Color” was developed in recognition of National Ag Week, March 21-27, as a creative competition for elementary school children. Each grade was given a different agricultural theme ranging from “Grains of Montana” and “Cattle in Agriculture” to noxious weeds, farm safety and ag-related careers. One winner was selected from each grade with judges selecting one drawing from the winners to receive the “Farm Bureau Proud” designation.

Kindergarten – Rowdy Beil, Saco Elementary, Phillips County

First Grade – Colby Mulder, Ekalaka Elementary, Carter County

Second Grade – Anna Gunderson, Choteau Elementary, Teton County

Third Grade – Audrey Lobdell, Choteau Elementary, Teton County

Fourth Grade – Jed Dixon, SY School, Custer County

Fifth Grade – Andrew Major, Choteau Elementary, Teton County

Sixth Grade – Abram Martin, Choteau Elementary, Teton County

Colby Mulder received the “Farm Bureau Proud” designation.

Entries were judged by the Montana Farm Bureau Women’s Leadership Committee on agricultural content, originality, neatness and reproducibility.

“A big thank you to those on the selection committee for the Montana Ag in Color drawing contest, which welcomes kindergarten through sixth-grade students,” said MFB Women’s Leadership Committee Chair, Carla Lawrence. “It is always an enjoyable but difficult task to select winners with all the talented artists who entered the contest. We hope the students who participated had fun and learned more about agriculture.”

Winning entries will be printed and distributed on usable items and educational materials. They will be posted on the Montana Farm Bureau website and Facebook page.

Kevin Vander Wal named 98th SDSU Little International Honored Agriculturalist

No one lives and breathes Jackrabbit yellow and blue quite like the 98th Little International Honored Agriculturalist, Kevin Vander Wal.

After graduating from South Dakota State University with a bachelor’s degree in animal science in 1988, Vander Wal became the assistant manager of the SDSU Beef Unit in 1989 before transitioning to the manager role in 1990. Thirty-one years later, Vander Wal still serves as the manager of what is now known as the Cow/Calf Education and Research Facility (CCERF).

Growing up on a cattle feedlot and crops operation, 4-H initially developed his interest in pursuing a career in cow/calf management. Throughout college, Vander Wal was also active in Block and Bridle, the livestock judging team and Little “I” before graduating and starting his career at the CCERF.

Vander Wal’s involvement in the beef industry does not stop with his work at SDSU. Along with his wife, Kari, and sons, Dallis, Collin and Lane, Vander Wal maintains a registered herd of Shorthorn and Shorthorn Plus cattle near Volga, South Dakota. His commitment to the Shorthorn breed is further evidenced by his activities within the American and South Dakota Shorthorn Associations. In 2015, he and his wife were awarded the American Shorthorn Association Builder of the Breed award for their efforts in both raising quality Shorthorn cattle and serving as advisers for the South Dakota Junior Shorthorn Association.

Little “I” has consistently been a family tradition for Vander Wal. While attending SDSU, he exhibited in Little “I” for three years with Kari beating him in beef fitting during their final year. Sons Dallis and Collin were also active in the event, with Dallis winning overall showmanship in 2017 and Collin serving as the 97th manager. Furthermore, Vander Wal’s parents, Ed and Gina, were named the Honored Agriculturalists in 2008, and his brother Dave received the Pete Pritchett Award in 1994.

Every year, Vander Wal ensures the beef division at Little “I” runs smoothly. From hosting exhibitors at the CCERF to selecting trainable heifers and bulls for the event, Vander Wal lends a helping hand wherever he can. For his efforts, exhibitors at the 96th Little “I” unanimously voted him as the Beef Hardest Worker Award recipient.

During his time at the CCERF, one of the biggest milestones Vander Wal has played an active role in has included the construction of the new, state-of-the-art facility in 2016. Drawing up one of the very first blueprints of the building himself, Vander Wal, along with several faculty members, industry professionals and SDSU alumni, brought the vision for a new facility to fruition.

Vander Wal finds one of the most enjoyable aspects of his job to include helping connect students to real-world applications of their classroom experiences through programs such as the annual, student-run bull sale. His tireless commitment to the success of not only the bull sale, but of the entire 160-head Angus and SimAngus herd is proven through his long hours and dedication to the long-standing reputation of the herd’s genetics.

Sports have always played a big role in Vander Wal’s family. From T-ball in the pre-school days to present-day college football for Lane and coaching high school basketball for Collin, Vander Wal has always been enamored with good coaches. While not a sports coach himself, Vander Wal has always considered himself a “cattle coach” for his student employees. He sees a parallel between his employee team and any college sports team; the roster changes a little every year and there are wins and some losses, with the losses making his team better. Vander Wal also believes in how coaches prepare their athletes for life more so than the game, which he reflects in his coaching of student employees. Over the years, Vander Wal has been a coach to numerous student employees, noting that any student who signs up to deal with crabby cows on -20° nights while in college are a special kind of people.

“Kevin is an individual that cares so genuinely about the education and success of his employees,” said Jaycen Timm, a three-year CCERF student employee. “He sets the example of how we should strive to be as good people and is the boss that shows that you’re appreciated, making you want to work ten times harder. He is the most influential and positive role model I’ve had here at SDSU.”

From the SDSU herd to his own, Vander Wal is known for much more than his impact on the South Dakota beef industry. His commitment to SDSU and student education proves a testament to the real influence of an agriculturalist.

So grateful: Halverson family appreciates help after fire

After a wildfire in Crook County, Wyo. destroyed their home and outbuildings on Saturday, March 6, James and Jessica Halverson are beyond thankful for the generous support of their community, near and far, for keeping them and their children warm, fed and clothed.

“We’re in good spirits and we’ve got everything we could need,” James says, who is the executive director for the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association. “It’s really humbling to see the outpouring of support people have for us, we are good, very well taken care of and blessed.”

Jessica and James Halverson and their three kids. Photo courtesy Halverson family

That day though, the feeling of driving up on their home as black smoke drew near, combined with winds gusting up to 47 miles per hour, was panicking. James and Jessica had been out working on a well that morning and into the afternoon. A phone call from Jessica’s aunt, who had heard over the scanner that there was a fire nearby, had them on alert, but they didn’t see or smell smoke until they were coming out of a canyon, headed home.

“We raced home and tried to gather some valuables, I would say we had maybe fifteen minutes to gather up some stuff before we felt and could really see the flames coming up over the ridge,” Jessica says. “It was a ways from our house but with that wind blowing so hard, it was hard to know what was going to happen and we just wanted to get our kids to safety.”

The fire was started by a slash pile being left unattended in a nearby canyon. As winds picked up, the fire quickly spread, climbing the canyon, the wind pushing the fire directly towards the Halversons’ home.

In the few minutes they had to save precious belongings, the Halversons were able to grab family heirlooms, some guns and a few guitars, but James wishes that he had been more intentional, creating an emergency plan, because in the moment, it was hard to think of the most important things.

“If we could go back and spend two more minutes and save ten more items that really mean a lot to us, we would do that and we could have so easily if we just had a little bit of a plan,” he says. “There are things that money just can’t replace and I would encourage people to have a plan, if just a brief list of those things and where they’re at to get them in a hurry because when you’re in that situation, its really hard to keep your wits about you and to think straight and be calm.”

Jessica says she had a folder with important documents and certificates in it, but when James asked her if she needed any files, she glanced at the file cabinet and could only think, “no, there’s just owner’s manuals in there.”

“I had thought if an emergency happened, that folder was something I wanted to grab, but I’ll be danged if I could remember it,” Jessica says.

Having experience working as a forester in South Dakota before moving to Wyoming, Jessica says that even though their home was set back from the ridge and was not directly surrounded by trees, something that factors into a lot of forest fires and losing structures, there was nothing that could have been done in this situation.

“It was just the wind pushing that fire hard as it came up that slope, it just created a chimney and a lot of heat,” she says. “I always think about how we preach to people what they should do and Firewise is such an important thing, cut trees in your yard and give yourself a defensible space but boy, when you’re put in that situation, you take your own advice a little bit more seriously.”

Thankfully, their livestock and horses are on a nearby lease and were safe from the fire that ended up burning around 100 acres, and most of the chickens returned to their non-existent coop that evening.

“We all came out unharmed and safe so we feel really fortunate for that,” Jessica says. “Most things can be replacedm but lives cannot.”

For the time being, the family has plenty of clothes, warm layers and shoes, as well as a roof over their heads thanks to the generosity of a neighbor’s empty guest house. Others have organized fundraisers, benefit auctions, a GoFundMe account, a Pampered Chef party to set up a new home, as well an account for donations at Sundance State Bank.

“People have blessed us so much,” James says, adding that the outpouring of support has shown him what it means to be a better friend, neighbor and Christian, although he doesn’t feel deserving of it. “I encourage people, when they see others going through things, maybe its not this severe, maybe it’s more severe, that they reach out to them and find creative ways to help them because that’s really what has meant the most to us. Just learning that lesson to try to be a better friend and reach out to people more often is something I am going to take away from this and carry pretty closely for a long time.”

Choosing to see blessings everywhere, the Halversons are thankful to the firefighters who worked so hard to attempt to save their home, fighting literally until the very last moment, and they are happy that the firefighters were able to successfully save another home down in the canyon, adding that they stayed after for days, monitoring the area and continuing to put out hot spots.

“We’re just so grateful for the firefighters, for this community, so grateful for the good Lord that he has provided for us and we’re really hoping in the future that we’re able to give back,” Jessica says. “We just feel so incredibly blessed and its really given us perspective on how we can be better Christians, better family, better friends to others and just to be the hands and feet of Jesus.”

Taking the helm: Shipwheel Cattle Company guides Angus breed

Shipwheel Cattle Company near Chinook, Montana, owned by Klint and Lori Swanson, has helped steer the Angus industry forward over the past 12 years. But their history of good genetics goes back more than 100 years.  

Black cows run deep in the Swanson family. Klint’s great-grandfather homesteaded near Valier and Dupuyer, Mont., in 1896. “Then my grandfather was one of the first to bring Black Angus cows to Montana, in 1945. That was back when everything was Hereford in this area,” says Klint. 

His parents started in the registered business in the 1960s as Apex Angus. “That’s where our herd today originated from. My first two heifers came from my parents in 1984 when I was 9 years old, and we’ve built from there,” he says. 

While students at Montana State University-Northern, Klint met Lori, who also grew up on a ranch in northern Montana, near Chinook. They were married shortly after college, and returned to Klint’s place in Valier. In 2000 they had the opportunity to lease Lori’s parents’ ranch, and they – and their cows – moved to Chinook.  Children Austin, now a high school senior, and Bree, a sophomore, were born in 2003 and 2004. For several years they continued to market their bulls at Klint’s family’s sale, but in 2008 they formed Shipwheel Cattle Company – named after the brand given to Klint by his grandmother – and made the transition to their own sale.  

“That first year we sold 23 bulls by silent auction in a little scale house at the feedlot,” says Klint. “Since then we’ve grown to offering 100 registered bulls in our annual sale and 50 private treaty commercial bulls a year. Many of our original customers are still with us, and we sure appreciate them.” Every Shipwheel bull is bred, born and raised on the ranch – they don’t outsource to any sector. Their bulls are all range-raised with no creep feed and an emphasis put on structure. They don’t trim bulls’ feet, and are one of very few breeders that maintain a score for feet soundness.  

The Swansons run 1,100 mama cows, with 500 of those being registered Angus. Their ranch base includes the home place, Clear Creek Ranch, 15 miles south of Chinook, and Snake Creek Ranch, which they bought in 2010, another 20 miles south. “We had the opportunity buy this ranch and triple our acres and our cow herd – it’s a beautiful ranch and a dream we never imagined could come true,” says Klint. “We rely on our cows for a living and we rely on them to pay for that ranch.” 

With the goal of continuing to increase their registered herd, they AI all their registered cows, retain all registered females, and also flush some of their females and use their commercial cows as recip cows. From their commercial herd they will sell a semi load or two of replacement heifer calves, then develop the rest and sell 50-100 bred heifers in their sale.  

The Swansons run their registered and commercial cows as one. “Our registered herd doesn’t get any pampering or anything more special than the commercial,” says Lori. The registered cows are only separated during breeding season for AI.  

“Ninety percent of our customer base is the commercial cow man,” says Klint. “Our cows have to do the job the commercial cow man wants. If a registered cow is supposed to be a role model for a commercial one, she needs to be treated like one.” 

Unlike many registered outfits, Shipwheel doesn’t calve early, but instead enjoys the more moderate temperatures of April, May and June, then sell their bulls as coming 2-year-olds. “We try to raise cows that excel in many traits in northern Montana,” says Klint. “We like hearty cows that are moderately framed and last a long time. Those are the kind that keep our customers in business.” 

The climate they live in, just 60 miles from the Canadian border, is extreme. Temperatures range from -60 to 110 degrees. “Our cows have to work for a living here,” says Klint. “We range calve, and like most everyone in our business, we don’t have enough help or enough feed. A cow can do a lot of it on her own if you need her to.”  

In open winters they strive to not feed any hay and just graze all season long. “By calving later, we’re able to not feed and are also able to identify cows that perform on their own,” says Klint. 

One cow of notable performance was simply called “9004” – a granddaughter of one of Klint’s two original heifers from his parents. She raised 16 calves and lived to be just under 20 years old. They used her extensively as a donor cow, and a good percentage of their herd genetics are based off her progeny. 

A particular bull that helped launch their program forward was Mytty In Focus, a 2001 calf purchased from Midland Bull Test as a yearling. The Swansons leased him to ABS and he was the top registered bull in the Angus breed for three years straight in 2008, 2009 and 2010. “We bought him originally as a clean-up bull,” says Lori. “He was kind of a pet, we didn’t have any idea he’d do the things he did.”  

The lower birthweight, and calves with good growth rate and performance of In Focus caught a lot of people’s attention. “He had a lot of good traits that were very friendly to producers,” says Klint. 

In Focus lived at the ABS stud in Wisconsin for over 10 years, but when his production run was over, the stud asked if they would like him back. He lived out his last few years on pasture at the home ranch. “It was a pretty humbling experience to have him home after all he did for us,” says Lori. In Focus has genetic influence on a large portion of the Shipwheel herd – and also the industry. “A lot of times when I’m looking at other bulls I see something I like, and I’ll look at the pedigree and there he is,” says Klint. 

Other influential sires from their operation include Chisum 255, leased to Select Sires; Shipwheel Chinook, leased to ABS; and Shipwheel Montana, purchased by Genex.  

In 2018 Shipwheel was selected among just 40 operations nationwide – and the only one in Montana – to have the Certified Angus Beef® logo painted on their barn as part of CAB’s 40th anniversary celebration. “The contacts we have made through CAB because of that opportunity, and also through the Angus Association in general, have been incredible,” says Lori. 

Right now the Shipwheel work force consists of just the four of them, and they do all their cattle work horseback on young horses they start themselves, with the help of some good cattle dogs. They also grow the majority of their own feed, including dryland hay, corn silage and hay barley and oats. They do their own AI, but hire an ET specialist for flushing and embryo transfer. They have hosted the Montana Angus Association tour three times since they moved to Chinook. The kids have been involved in 4-H and are now active in FFA as well as sports at Chinook High School. Lori says the benefit of the kids working side by side with their parents their whole lives means they know and interact with people in the industry just like the adults.  

Kyle Shobe is an auctioneer, musician, rodeo announcer and sale barn owner from Lewistown, Mont. The Swanson family was one of his first purebred sale clients, and he considers them not only customers but close friends and supreme cattle breeders. 

“The Swanson family are tremendous people to work with from all aspects,” says Shobe. “They are one of the hardest working families I know, they have a vision for not only their herd and their ranch, but for the Angus breed in general. They know how to build a great mama cow as well as listen to their customers and stay the course.” 

Shobe says he values all his purebred sale patrons, but the relationship with the Swansons is even deeper. “They took a chance on me when I was just a young guy starting out as an auctioneer, and I sold their first sale when they were basically just getting going, so we’ve had the opportunity to grow in this business together.” 

He noted that the involvement of their kids is especially neat to see in the industry.  

“It’s inspiring to see the next generation take an interest like their kids do – they truly love being a part of it. Austin and Bree can speak to those mama cows and pedigrees and bulls as good as their parents can. That’s something our industry really needs, is that next generation to take that interest and carry on the legacy.” 

The Swansons say their goals are to continue to grow their registered herd and to provide opportunities for Austin and Bree to return to the operation after college, if they choose to do so. “Our family has been at this a long time on both sides, and hope there is a future for them in this business,” says Klint. “There are a lot of things against us, but we have hope in the future, people still have to eat, people love beef. We hope there is a future for them and generations to come.” 

Campbell Red Angus: Cattle that perform for cattlemen

The 2020 Campbell Red Angus bull sale was held on the same day the nation received a stay-at-home order. Though their operation – along with all other businesses – faced some unique challenges this year, the Campbell family looks to the future with big changes in 2021 and hope in the next generation. 

Robert Campbell says, “It was the unknown, the uncertainty of everything. Everyone was stopping and taking a breath. Kind of like everyone has been for nine months now… It affected the sale. People just got very cautious all of a sudden, because they didn’t know what it meant. All the way through, not just our sale, but all the sales through April and May were affected.” 

However, the Campbell Red Angus Bull Sale, which has been held at Mobridge Livestock for four decades, will move to the ranch near McIntosh in the year 2021. “We’re looking for something bigger and better – the opportunity for people to come see some of the mama cows and the herd bulls. I think once the people see they’ll understand more about the cattle, and the development program behind the cattle. I think they’ll like it,” Campbell says. 

Moving the bull sale home might also give potential buyers a sense of the family heritage, like the five generations of Campbells that have influenced the herd operating today. “My great-grandpa came from Cork County, Ireland and he homesteaded south of McIntosh,” Campbell says. Apart from four-year hiatuses to earn college degrees, each generation has returned to the ranch to carry on the operation.  

Campbells began raising Red Angus fifty years ago, when it was a relatively unknown breed in the United States. “No one really knew what Red Angus cattle were. My dad and mom were real instrumental in the South Dakota Red Angus Association and promoting Red Angus as a breed in the 1970’s and into the ’80s, just getting the breed recognized,” he says.  

Robert’s father, Harold, and uncle, Harvey, laid the foundation of the original herd. “My dad and uncle got their red cattle in 1970, and their first purebred cattle in 1973,” he says. Twenty years ago, Harold became the sole operator when Harvey stepped away.  

In order to further the overall quality of their product, Harold began refining the heifers. “In 1990, Dad started a heifer development program, and we bred Red Angus heifers that we bought back from our customers as well as our own heifers every year since 1990. The most we did one year was right at 1,000, but we’re usually between 300 and 500,” he says.  

Robert says, “My dad coined the term, ‘Cattle that perform for the cattleman.’” Campbell Red Angus strives to uphold that maxim with every breeding decision. “I’ve always said we’re one of the best-kept secrets out there.”  

Robert continues the Red Angus breed for various reasons. “It’s a maternal breed with a lot of maternal traits. It’s a really high-value carcass breed. It’s a great base breed to go a lot of different directions for cross-breeding,” he says.  

Seven years ago, Harold passed the operation onto Robert, but remains a source of guidance. “Dad still comes out every day. We’re carrying on trying to produce honest, good cattle,” he says.  

Campbell believes the management of their commercial and purebred herd provides a unique asset: hardiness. “We’re putting cattle into a lot of different environments in a year, and we try to help the animals that we’re selling adapt to different conditions. We’ve got cattle standing in Canada, we’ve got cattle standing in the US, we’ve got cattle standing in Mexico that have all come from this operation. We feel our cattle will adapt to a lot of environments. The cattle are exposed to all four seasons and we try to let Mother Nature do part of our selection. They’ve got to be hardy cattle,” Campbell says.  

Along with adaptability, Campbells strive to produce fertility. “Our purebred herds run under range conditions. There’s not a lot of pampering. They get one chance: if they don’t bring a calf in, they don’t get to stay here. If they don’t breed back, they don’t stay,” he says.  

“Some operations get a cow line and pamper it and it becomes unrealistic, the way they’re performing, because they’ve got every opportunity. They’re fed hard, in other words. They don’t have any adverse conditions which happen under ranch conditions,” he says. Exposing his cow herd to all of South Dakota’s four seasons (sometimes all in one week) instills the ability to adapt to any conditions throughout North America. 

The fifth generation Campbell and the third generation of Campbell Red Angus, Robby, came home after graduating college a year ago. “My son and I and my dad are here full time. My wife (Kara) is a teacher in town and she works at home when she’s not working in town, helping to do books and the full realm of things. I’ve got three other children – my daughters – they’ve graduated and moved on, but they come back and help, also.”  

Campbell’s youngest, Jennifer, graduates from the pre-veterinary program at SDSU this fall, and will be applying to veterinary schools, gaining her interest in animal health from the family’s ranch.  

Looking to the future, Campbell says they will continue to maintain the integrity of the Red Angus, breeding cattle with good feet, good udders, and good production, with the ultimate goal of producing “cattle that perform for the cattleman.”  

Rafter T Angus: Moving forward

By Kaycee Monnens 

Kale and Kim Kretschman of Rafter T Angus, near Gillette, Wyoming, turned their pairs out on summer grass in May. A week later, six inches of hail ruined the pasture. “They just had to tough it out. It was a rough summer. We didn’t creep feed. We didn’t do anything different,” Kim says.  

Despite drought and nutrition challenges, the cattle thrived: weaning weights were within 25 pounds of 2019 (an exceptional year), and pregnancy checks yielded between just 2 and 3 percent open. The numbers prove once again to the owners why they are loyal to the breed, believing in passing on traits of longevity, fertility, calving ease, and rapid gain.  

“They’re tough to beat for the birthweight versus weaning weight. There’s not really anything out there, in my opinion, that will compete with that,” Kale says. His family has always been in the cattle business, most recently Black Angus. His grandfather raised Herefords, but his father made the switch to black cattle.  

For a short time, Kale’s father used Gelbvieh bulls on Black Angus cows. “I just got tired of too much birth weight and we didn’t gain much weaning weight. We switched to Angus bulls and our weaning weights went up, and all our calving difficulties went away,” he says.  

Over time, Kretschman was able to refine the vision he had for his own herd, through experience and opportunity. In 2008, Kale and Kim purchased a dispersal herd from Big Timber, Montana and fully committed to raising registered Black Angus. “It was too good of an opportunity not to try it,” Kim says.  

They were strictly a commercial producer until that purchase, over a decade ago, but it was an easy transition. Kretschmans kept precise records of their commercial cattle, used artificial insemination, used registered Angus bulls, and occasionally sold bulls private treaty. Switching to a registered herd was a natural next step.  

Now, Kretschmans are focused on building a herd with the traits they value. Sons Galen (21) and Zane (7) are heavily involved in the family business. “We’ll probably do this our lifetime, and our kids should reap the benefits of it. That’s how long it takes. It’s a slow process,” says Kim. Using embryo transfer has helped them achieve their vision more quickly. “We’re trying to select those older cows that have been here 10 years and know their jobs. Those are the ones we are starting to flush. You can see it improving faster,” she says.  

Kale puts high value on cattle that last. “The cows that we are flushing – it’s for longevity. In our industry, that’s what is lacking: having a cow that doesn’t disappear by the time she’s four or five. You should be getting that if you have proven bulls and cows that stay here and do it in our environment.” All but one of Galen’s bulls featured in this year’s sale are embryo calves, with proven genetics from their top-producing, long-time females, Kim says.  

“We run our cows like we have always run our commercial cows. They don’t get any special treatment because they’re registered,” Kim says.  

Galen hopes to maintain this value as he makes production decisions. “The purebred guy is going to show up and buy one bull maybe every five years. But the commercial guy is going to show up every year and buy five. If you run them like a commercial cow and treat them like a commercial cow, their offspring and their genetics should always benefit the commercial guy. If we’re trying to make ours stronger in that aspect, it does nothing but make theirs stronger, too,” he says.  

Fertility is a main emphasis for Rafter T Angus, as well. Kim says, “Doctors Jay and Brandi Hudson out of Gillette are tough. Their bar is high for fertility. If the bulls aren’t right, they will not pass a fertility test. Sometimes, it’s painful. They’re so hard on them, but the end result is always worth it,” she says.  

They hold the same standard for the cows. “We breed them for 45 days, and that’s counting A.I. they get one shot at the A.I. and one cycle to the bull. And if they don’t make it, they’re gone. I can tell in the last year, that’s coming around. The fertility is coming back into the cows. It used to be that we had 10 percent open every year, and now we’re down to that 2-3 percent,” says Kale.  

Though many believe cows are either bull-producers or female-producers, Kretschmans believe a good cow should be both. “She ought to raise a good bull and you ought to be able to retain heifers out of her. That’s our goal – to raise cows that can do both,” says Kale.  

With strategic culling, careful breeding decisions, and lots of patience, Kreschmans continue to see the fruits of their labor. After selling with Powder River Angus for two years, they were able to host their own bull sale starting in 2017. January 9, 2021 will be the fourth annual Rafter T Angus Bull Sale at Buffalo Livestock Auction in Buffalo, Wyoming. A potential goal is to also sell females, but for now the focus lies in marketing bulls that pass on proven genetics, “Good-footed, low-input cows that produce a lot,” according to Kale.  

With Galen already raising his own cattle and home-schooled Zane partaking in the day-to-day operations, Kretschmans strive to set their sons up for the future. Kim says, “I hope we’re able to pass on a successful business to [our children], someday. The industry advances every single day. I hope they have the ability to keep moving forward.”

CK Bar Simmental: Marketing black hides across the Dakotas

Near the Kadoka, South Dakota, Kelly and Amy Erickson run a seedstock operation that prides themselves on “Raising the Cowboy Kind,” on the edge of the Badlands. 

Kelly Erickson has been in the cattle industry for nearly forty years, remembering his first heifer, obtained at age 8. It was Kelly’s dad who got him started in black-hided cattle, a switch that many cattlemen made as the years went on. 

“He was really one of the first guys who had the foresight to do so,” said Kelly, “back when most of the guys around us were keeping traditional colored cattle.” 

The 1980s and 1990s era was an easy time to market black cattle in North Dakota as Kelly recalls. The mission of CK Bar Ranch then: produce cows that look good. The philosophy has changed a little since then, as the goal now is to produce cattle that have good maternal traits and carcass traits. 

“About 10 years ago the lightbulb just went off,” said Erickson, “we weren’t doing the industry any good to just sell pounds.”  

Erickson started looking at calf vigor of his cattle, calving ease, and how they would marble in the end. He set out to create cattle that were great mothers, calved well, maybe a little more moderate in size, but could go out and survive a Dakota winter on their own and then perform well on the terminal side. 

Many things have changed over the years, but Erickson has decided to keep the black hide. While there certainly is a market for Red Simmentals, CK Bar Ranch wasn’t producing enough of them to draw a crowd, so they phased that out of their operation and offer homozygous black cattle to their customers.  

The Erickson family focuses on a few herd bulls, but also do some embryo transfer work and artificial insemination as well. Kelly places extra emphasis on the disposition of his bulls, calling them “quiet and easy to handle.”  

Producers can find CK Bar Ranch genetic opportunities every year in April during the Annual CK Bar Ranch bull sale. CK Bar Ranch will celebrate the 20th Annual Sale in April of 2021, it will also mark the 6th sale held in conjunction with Kammerer Livestock at St. Onge Livestock.  

It’s no secret 2020 was a rough year on cattlemen across the nation, and it showed in the Kammerer and CK Bar Ranch bull sale this year. Kelly recalls there was a non-existent crowd. 

“Without buyers on the internet and a few phone sales, there would have been nothing,” said Erickson.  

While the internet played a major part in moving cattle for CK Bar Ranch this year, Kelly says the internet has been a great place for him to market cattle. In years past, he guesses that about 50-percent of his cattle are selling over the internet via online bidding. In fact, the first sale CK Bar Ranch held in 2001 was marketed online even then. 

“We could see where that was an asset,” said Erickson, “We gained many customers in eastern Montana because of it (being accessible online).” 

Erickson says internet marketing has played a major role in all of their past sales. He believes buyers are bidding confidently from the comfort of their homes because they have all of the data right in front of them. Buyers can view cattle, watch videos of them, and have all genetic data at their fingertips. CK Bar Ranch continues to have a good presence on social media, showing day-to-day ranch work as well as promoting their sale cattle.  

“If nothing else, it (social media) is generating a buzz,” said Erickson, noting that it drives messages and phone calls about offerings.  

While online bidding seems to be a way of the future, Erickson says selling in the annual sale with Kammerers has brought him new customers the traditional way — in person. When Erickson moved to South Dakota six years ago, Matt and April Kammerer invited Kelly to join their annual sale. Erickson says this opportunity introduced him to local people who could use the Simmental genetics in West River country.  

As Kelly looks ahead to 2021 he stays optimistic, commenting on how he would like to increase his herd size, although this might not be the year to do it. The market is keeping cattlemen on their toes and thinking fast, Erickson is holding onto calves late in the year hoping to see a swing in prices. He also showed some reservations in the new leadership of our nation and how it may play a pivotal role in cattle production. 

Beyond the economic state of affairs in 2021, Erickson says finding affordable grass is limiting the increase of his herd as well. While finding grass in the Dakotas has always been somewhat of a struggle, Erickson says it is more now than in the past. Nonetheless, Erickson is charging forward and looking at forging alliances with other cattlemen to market feeder cattle.  

“I would like to build on that, I think it could take off,” said Erickson, “Controlling the quality (of feeder calves) rather than having to push out the big numbers.” 

Changing and adapting to new marketing techniques is nothing new for CK Bar Ranch. From show cattle to seed stock bulls, to the next new ideas, Kelly is always looking for the best way to improve the breed and continue “Raising the Cowboy Kind.” 

“If you want to retain your own replacements and add a little milk; this is a great option,” said Erickson of the Simmental breed. “You are going to get that hybrid figure and consistency without sacrificing calving ease.”  

To keep up with what CK Bar Ranch will be offering in their 2021 sale, keep an eye on Facebook and stay tuned for the catalog for their 2021 sale. 

Arntzen Angus: Raising Quality purebred Angus cattle for modern times

The land north of Lewistown, Montana features rolling hills and abundant grass—a perfect place to establish a ranch, which is what the Arntzen family did in the mid-1940s. Alm Arntzen and his son, Ken, moved to the area in the 1940s, purchasing 700 acres, building and adding to it over the next several decades. 

“My grandpa bought the first Angus cows in 1955; before that, they raised Herefords,” said 35-year-old Kevin Arntzen who grew up on the ranch. “He started our purebred herd by purchasing Angus cows from well-known breeders such as Stevenson Angus, the Lost Lake Ranch in Fort Benton and the Green Valley Ranch in Hobson.” 

Through the 1960s, the family kept building the cow herd, selling a few bulls private treaty and finally holding their first bull sale in 1977. Sadly, Ken passed away before their first bull sale. Ken’s wife, Sherry, played a large role in developing the Arntzen breeding stock with her sons, Keith and Doug. The ranch woman was heavily involved in registering cattle and keeping close track of pedigrees.  

After graduating from Montana State University, Keith’s son Kevin returned home to take his place in the legacy of the purebred Angus ranch. 

Kevin mused about the changes from a simple pedigree his grandpa used to develop and sell bulls until today. “In the mid-1960s, the registered breeders started to conduct performance testing. Then EPDs came along including birthweight, yearling weight and weaning weight. Today, we have 30-40 EPDs including carcass backfat, rib eye, carcass weight. The big change recently was having to do foot scores, udder scores and condition scores, as well as reporting all of the heifer breeding. In the last 10 years, the technology has been developed that bulls can be scored based on their DNA–a piece of tail hair, an ear notch or blood. DNA enhances EPD predictability. There is a lot of data to digest.” 

Spring is an exceptionally busy time for the Arntzens. The cows begin calving the first of February with 70 percent calved out by March 1. As calving slows down, the family prepares for the annual bull sale the first Thursday of April. Starting May 1, they spend three weeks synchronizing cows as the intensive AI/embryo transfer program commences. They have emphasized their AI in the past 12 years to get more cows bred and tighten the calving window, which helps in the consistency of the bulls on sale day. In addition, AI allows them to offer larger sire groups.  

“For years Dad and my uncle, Doug, have emphasized the maternal side, looking at a cow with calving ease that is low maintenance, to help the cow/calf producer get ahead,” said Kevin. 

To continually improve their herd, members of the Arntzen family travel all over the country, looking at outcross bulls from other ranches to find one that will improve their genetics. The trips prove extremely educational, as the Arntzen can see the bulls firsthand and look at the calves from certain bulls; if they like the calves and the sire’s corresponding data, they purchase semen. 

“The real fun is trying to get your own bull proven to sell semen around the country,” Kevin said. “It’s challenging yet exciting to try find a breeding that will result in a bull that will change the breed. We did raise AAR TEN X 7008, who was a leading bull across the country in 2015 and 2016. New Trend was the first bull who got popularity around the country in the 1980s and Really Wind was a leading bull in the mid to late 1990s.” 

The Arntzen Angus Bull Sale, which will be in its 45th year in 2021, continues to grow, seeing about 350 people moving through pens to examine bulls, enjoying a delicious lunch and, most importantly, raising their bidding cards when the auction begins.  

“Generally, at our bull sale we sell 220 bulls and we sell another 50 private treaty. This year due to COVID and bad weather, our attendee numbers were really down. We had about 40 people in the stands, and 85 pre-registered online buyers,” Kevin said. “You can’t beat a live auction, though. Bull sales are a community event and there is the exciting atmosphere of the buyers when a bull walks into the ring. I think it’s important to have a live sale, not solely a video sale.”  

Environmentally, with the rolling hills and open country, the area can be snowy; Arntzens start feeding hay the first of January or a little earlier if the weather doesn’t cooperate. However, they don’t creep feed or baby the cows and calves; the livestock need to prove themselves hardy enough to handle winter weather.  

One of the greatest challenges in the area is competition for land. They have the contentious American Prairie Reserve gobbling up ag land in the area (APR has bought a building in Lewistown and is working to set up in that area as well their ranch headquarters in Malta, Montana). Out-of-state people with more money than local ranchers have to spend are buying large tracts, limiting the ability of ranchers to be able to expand.  In addition, the continued assault from anti-livestock organizations makes it essential to communicate directly to the consumer. 

Arntzen Angus has a Facebook page and a website (www.arntzenangus.com) with the family reaching out to a non-agricultural audience to explain what ranching is really like and how it’s critical to the food supply. 

It’s rewarding to work with family: Kevin and Keith work together and Doug has his sons Brad, Derick and Eric. Although their ranches are run separately, the families collaborate on the bull sale and genetics. In addition, three employees, including Todd Foran, who has worked with the Arntzens for 42 years keep the ranch running smoothly. 

Kevin credits his grandmother, Sherry, for doing an excellent job to get the ranch transitioned to the next generation. “Dad and I learned a lot from her regarding transitioning to the next generation. Dad is still the ultimate boss, but he’s really good at letting me make decisions. I’m thankful that we all get along very well. I’ve been working with my uncles and cousins since junior high.” 

Arntzen Angus continues to stay current and family operated as the families of both Keith and Doug remain dedicated to raising quality purebred cattle for modern times. 

Upstream Hereford Ranch: They come from a long line of Herefords

In the Nebraska Sandhills seventeen miles north of the rural community of Taylor along highway 183, Brent and Robin Meeks raise high-quality Hereford cattle. Upstream Ranch is owned and operated by Brent and Robin Meeks and their daughter Carlee.  

Herefords have been in the family for over a hundred years. Brent’s grandfather Alfred was born on December 30, 1914 on his father J.D. Meeks’ small commercial and registered Hereford ranch near Logan, New Mexico. Following his high school graduation in 1933, Alfred went to work in agriculture and married a local ranch girl, Mildred Brown, the following year. Things were hard during the Depression but the couple started out with 14 head of commercial Herefords and working for a local ranch for $30 a month. Their oldest son, Ferrell, was born in July 1935. That fall, a local banker loaned them enough money to buy 160 good heifer calves at $20 apiece. In 1937 Alfred purchased some registered heifers from his father and Alfred Meeks and Sons came into being. In 1940 they leased a small ranch near Dalhart, Texas and, a second son, Warren arrived. In 1945, Alfred was able to purchase this ranch, during these years he was a member of the PRCA and roped calves in his spare time.  

The Meeks family worked hard to improve their land and cattle but years of drought in Texas took their toll. The cattle country of Nebraska had always interested Alfred, so at the invitation of a good friend, Homer Buell of Rose, Nebraska, he came north to look for a ranch. He fell for the more predicable rainfall and the Sandhills grass. So Alfred and Mildred, along with son Ferrell and his wife Gloria, sold their Texas ranch and purchased the Thompson ranch north of Taylor, Nebraska in 1955. Included in the deal were all the horses, haying equipment and the commercial Hereford herd. Upstream Herefords held their first bull sale at the ranch in 1978, having sold bulls private treaty for some years before that. The sale is held annually on the first Saturday in February at the ranch, auctioning off around 300 Hereford bulls and 45 bred heifers with another 40 to 50 bulls sold private treaty.  

Ferrell and Gloria’s son Brent met Robin Sellman while in college, her family was also in the Hereford business. They married in 1983, and have worked hard to grow the operation, and raised two children, Marshall and Carlee on the ranch. Marshall is married to Katie, a kindergarten teacher and he is a third-year resident at St Louis University studying radiology. Carlee graduated from Kansas State in 2017 with a degree in ag communication, and along with helping on the ranch, she works part-time for Purple Visions Productions, taking videos and photos. 

From the humble beginnings of fourteen cows, the Upstream Ranch now calves out a thousand, split between spring and fall calving herds. They implant about 175 to 200 IVF embryos a year and have an extensive AI program. The Meeks time-breed all of their heifers and about 70 percent of the cow herd with a seven-day CIDR synchronization program. 

“We raise both polled and horned Herefords and our bulls are born, raised and developed here. They never leave the operation until they are sold,” Brent Meeks said. “Most of our bulls go on black cows in a crossbreeding program. We sell a lot local and in the state but we cover a pretty big area, like 15 different states.” 

Upstream Ranch has had great success in the show ring with their cattle and in 2016 the ranch ranked third in top breeders of Dams of Distinction, an honor bestowed on outstanding Hereford females by the American Hereford Association. Meeks feels that Herefords are a good breeding tool for ranchers. Offering cattlemen bulls with good dispositions, heterosis, hybrid vigor, increased performance and hardiness. “Herefords can adapt to a lot of different environments, temperatures, regions and feed. I believe in Hereford cattle, they have been good to my family.”  

The main focus of Upstream Ranch is the production of bulls for the commercial cattleman.  
Around two-thirds of their bull crop will reach the sale; the family rigidly culls for performance, soundness, fertility and disposition. The cow herd is also culled very aggressively for problem-free production. Good feet, eyes and especially sound udders are essential. Genetically, Upstream Ranch is trying to produce cattle with balanced trait selection. Their breeding goals are constantly striving for the proper balance of calving ease, growth, maternal, fertility and carcass traits. “We are strong advocates of using EPDs and ultrasound, but we must remember, they are just another selection tool. We still like our cattle to look good phenotypically, be sound on their feet and legs, and docile in their temperament. We raise good productive cattle and stand behind our product,” Meeks said.