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WEBO Angus Ranch focuses on fertility, form and function

The women on the WEBO Ranch know how to get the job done.  

That's good, because there are no men around to do it. 

When Buttons York was widowed in November of 2015, it was she and her daughter, Odessa Mathias, who had to make the decision: would they keep the ranch and the herd of registered Angus going, or sell? 

Both women had plenty of experience with the cattle herd. York had bought the cattle in 2006 when she married Waldon. The cattle were paid for. 

But the mechanics – and four pivots of hay– were not as easy to handle.  

Odessa, a graduate of the University of Wyoming and a member of the University's livestock judging team, knew cattle and was experienced in working with them. 

But baling hay was a problem. She had never run a baler till last summer, when she had to bale without Waldon's help. 

A dear friend and neighbor, Kevin Baars, came to help after the women called him. He's helped in a variety of ways, as has Button's son-in-law, Neal Wurdeman, who is married to York's daughter and Odessa's sister Elly.  

The women are making it, and are doing well at it. 

They have about 300 head of Angus cattle and last year had their tenth annual bull sale. York does most of the paper work and makes the financial decisions. Mathias chooses bulls and makes many of the cattle decisions. Elly Wurdeman, who owns an insurance agency in Lusk, helps on the weekends.  

Mathias is careful of "form and function" of the bulls, York said. With their bulls, the women work towards fertility and feed efficiency. They have "good country cattle," as York calls them, and select for fertility. "None of us can afford open females or females that don't breed back early and have big calves." 

They balance that with feed efficiency, using residual feed intake (RFI) data and working towards bulls who put on weight while eating less. "We think that puts money in our customers' pockets," York said. Their geographic area requires cattle to be feed-efficient. Many of their customers graze BLM ground and the cows have to "sustain themselves, get bred back, and wean an acceptable calf. And that acceptable calf has to go on to convert feed and gain three to four pounds a day when the feeder buys him."  

One of the challenges York sees in the industry is profitability. Cow herds have been repopulated, she said, and Brazilian beef will be imported again. WEBO Angus Ranch knows their beef needs to be profitable not only for the rancher but for the feeder, taste great and be tender for the end consumer. York recounts a saying Waldon told her years ago: you need to put as much performance and milk in your cows as your country will allow. 

She's a big supporter of the Certified Angus Beef program, and she believes CAB's challenge is to get a bigger and better acceptance rate. "Us seed stock producers have to do a better job on our genetics so the commercial people's calves can hit the CAB target," she said. "That's where the premiums are going to be." 

York would also like to see Country of Origin Labeling (COOL). People want to know where their food comes from, and she doesn't want the blame when someone has a less than enjoyable eating experience with American beef. "We have enough issues of our own in this country," she said. "I don't want to get a black eye from what someone else is doing in a different country."  

One thing the women will start this year is PAP testing their cattle. A test for pulmonary artery pressure, also known as PAP, helps determine cattle that are most at risk for brisket disease, a disorder that causes the right side of the heart to quit functioning at high elevations. Brisket disease is most common in heavier cattle as they get closer to finish weight and the heart must work harder. Mathias believes their customers will want to know that, and "if we can't give them that information, they'll go somewhere else." They have a vision for their cattle and what their customers want. "Our customers are who keep us running, so we need to keep them in business as well."  

There were many people who thought the WEBO ranch would fold after Waldon died. But the women kept it going. York's parents had instilled in her, in her youth, the characteristic of perseverance. She remembers her dad telling her, "Don't you ever use being a girl as an excuse. You're just as smart. You may not have as much muscle but you'll have to figure a way around it." 

Last year, the women went to change a drive shaft on a pivot, and they couldn't. They called Neal, who came to help. The women make their own decisions but are willing to listen to advice and are not scared to ask for help. "When Odessa and I went to change (the drive shaft), we did not have enough power to get it changed, and that's a fact. Was it nice to have a good strong man to change it? Yes. It didn't bother my ego one bit," York said.  

"You can't get by in this world without help," York said. "It would be foolish to say we are doing it on our own, which we are not."  

She has some advice for women who protest what they consider inequality between men and women. "Men think differently, and to me, that's a good thing. The women who want equal rights and stand on the street corners of New York City, come on out. We'll give you equal  opportunity and see how you do."  

York also has advice for ranch women who aren't involved in day to day activities. "The next time he's fixing fence or working on equipment and he needs your help, go with him, because you don't know when you're going to need to know how to do that."  

The WEBO ranch gets its name from the first initials of Waldon, Elly, Buttons and Odessa. A third daughter, Megan Franzen, lives in Sundance with her husband Josh, and their two children. Elly and Neal Wurdeman have three children.  

Miles and Miles: Sandhills family building a fifth generation ranch

Deep in the heart of the Nebraska Sandhills lies the Miles ranch near Brownlee, Nebraska. The ranch encompasses rough hills, wet meadows and some river bottom along the North Loup River. A "mom and pop outfit," run by fourth-generation ranchers Craig and Joy Miles and their son Caleb, raise Black Angus cattle in the hills and put up hay on the meadows. 

"God's been good to us by allowing us to carry on the family heritage and traditions." Craig Miles said. "My ancestors came to this country from England in 1667 and they were stockmen over there and we still are now." 

Craig's great-grandfather Seth Miles from Goshen County, Connecticut was married in December of 1888. Almost immediately he and his new bride Anna rode the train to the end of the line, which was Alliance, Nebraska. They homesteaded 16 miles southeast of town. The land is now part of the Muleshoe Ranch and the lake nearby still bears the name Miles Lake. A "rolling stone who gathered no moss," Seth was never happy in one place very long. He liked adventure and building something, and once the hard work was done he was ready to start over somewhere else. Over the next few decades Seth and Anna moved all over the Sandhills. The couple had six children, three sons and three daughters, all of whom were sent back to the Miles family in Connecticut for their formal education. The oldest son, Austin, apprenticed to a butcher in Connecticut but decided to come back to the Sandhills. He was the only one of the six to return to the area. Austin took up land north of Stapleton, Nebraska and also played on the Stapleton men's baseball team. Austin married Mae Lester from Arnold in 1916. 

Seth and Anna were living on a place northeast of Stapleton in 1919. He sold his land to his brother and moved north to the Brownlee area. He purchased a homestead and Austin bought an adjoining one. Within a few years Seth was ready to move on, but Austin said he was ready to put down roots and bought his father out. The two homesteads became the core of the ranch as more land was purchased through the years. As the ranch grew, so did the family. Austin and Mae had six children, four boys and two girls. Austin purchased more land in 1938 from the widow of Doc Higgins for $15 dollars an acre. She had a large house filled with antiques, but she just packed a suitcase and left the rest. Austin had a hard time paying for the land and things were tight for many years. The Blizzard of 1949 was hard as was the loss of the house to a fire the following year. 

Austin's son Sam was born in 1931 and he was drafted into the service at the end of the Korean Conflict and spent two years in Germany. Upon his return he married Charlotte Cordis from Thedford and in1959 the young couple came back to the family ranch, living on the land Austin still owned near the Dismal River. In June of 1963 when his brother moved off the ranch, Sam moved back to the home place and took over full operation in 1972 upon the death of his father. Austin's death brought a split to the ranch as the estate was divided among his children, but Sam was able to keep the core of the Higgins' place which is where his son and grandson now live. The Miles family raised Hereford cattle for many years as did almost everyone else in those days. The stretch of country between Thedford and Valentine was called "Hereford Alley." In 1973 Sam brought in Angus bulls to cross on the Herefords. His son Craig Miles came back to the ranch after college and in 1985 he married Joy McCroy. Joy is a registered nurse and works part time at Cherry County Hospital in Valentine.  

They raised a daughter, Charity, and a son, Caleb, on the land. They started improving the bloodlines of the cattle through artificial insemation and have AI'ed the yearling heifers since 1989, changing the herd to Angus genetics. "Dad was usually pretty willing to let me try some new things out," Craig said. 

Sam and Charlotte retired in 2009 and Craig and Joy took over complete operation. Their daughter is a nurse and lives in Rapid City with her husband. But their son Caleb came back in 2014 after graduating from college and is becoming a partner in the ranch. At his urging they are now trying a little Simmental-Angus cross for hybrid vigor. 

Craig is committed to bettering the cattle and the land. They practice rotational grazing, and wean the calves on the meadows. The Miles' run about 600 head of mother cows, AI'ing 150 to 250 aged cows in addition to the heifers. They lease some bulls for cleanup. “AI gives us the ability to tap into the best bulls in the world and good, solid genetics show in the calves,” Craig said.  

They also believe in a short breeding cycle, 30 days for the heifers and no longer than 55 days on the cows. "We wean early, especially the first calf heifers, which gives the cows ample time to improve body condition score before winter sets in. "We like to get those calves off the two year old heifers early not only to improve BCS, but also to give them the opportunity to finish growing up. When it's cold I feed a lot of hay; thankfully we are able to raise most of it on our meadows. A good nutrition program including vaccinations and mineral helps the overall health of the herd." Craig said. 

"I feel very blessed to be ranching; it's not just a livelihood but a business that we enjoy." 

Craig feels that the cattle industry has vast potential. "We need to give the consumers what they want, quality beef and accountability. Somehow we need to get the stories of the ranchers out there to the public, so they have a personal connection to where their food comes from and to show that we are good stewards of our land and livestock. The American public deserves to know where their food is raised. I support RCALF and their commitment to Country of Origin Labeling." 

The Miles market their steers at the Valentine Livestock Market and keep the top third to half of the heifers for replacements. Bassett Livestock Auction has also been important over the years to the family. Craig said, "The future is bright for beef producers especially with the President rewriting our trade agreements, I believe that the United States produces the best and safest protein in the world and beef is the mainstay of that. We make our living off our steers but they are a byproduct of the cowherd and what we are trying to accomplish there." 

L Bar W Cattle Company: New kids on the block raising Hereford cattle

Jumping into the purebred cattle business takes fortitude, a positive attitude and keen vision. Carl and Denise Loyning formed a partnership with Mike and Jeannette Walen to do what both couples love: raising the best Hereford cattle they can.  

Denise and Carl grew up with Herefords in the shadow of the Beartooth Mountains on the gently rolling hills and river bottom trees that make up land around Red Lodge, Montana. The Loynings were leasing their current place north of Absarokee when the Walens purchased it.  The new owners asked if Carl and Denise would like to remain and start a seedstock business. 

"You could say we hopped on the Hereford bandwagon," said Denise. "We wanted to be on the cutting edge of genetics. We looked at the improvements the Hereford breed has made and felt that was the direction we needed to go."  

The couple leapt into action once it was decided to go into the registered business. Although they had dabbled in the commercial cow/calf operation for about 10 years, it was only four years ago they decided to make the big transition into becoming seedstock producers. They spent months researching the kind of genetics for the foundation of their program.  They have selected the very best genetics from top Hereford breeders in Montana.  Now with the foundation in place they are starting to put a type and kind together. 

The Loynings both agree that they have been fortunate with their cows and their friendship with other breeders. Quality cows with good dispositions come from Cooper, Holden and Pedretti's Breeders who have been generous with their time to help out these new faces in the purebred business. 

The improvements they saw the Hereford breed striving for were a reduction in birth weights, and an increase in weaning and yearling weights which they felt were wise. "The Hereford breed is not making changes detrimental to the breed, but they are implementing gradual changes rather than rushing forward," Carl said. 

The couple especially praises a Hereford's disposition and predictability. Their commercial herd allows them to integrate their genetics into the commercial cow/calf operation. This helps them make decisions regarding the kind and type of genetics that will work in a commercial setting. Most of their bulls will go into a commercial setting, and they need to know that those bulls are going to cover ground and get the cows bred.  Mediocrity is not tolerated. 

"We know that there are certain bulls we want to pair with certain cows, and it's the same with our embryo work." 

Denise chuckles that their first round of getting ready for the sale started with clipping the bulls to get ready for the photo session. They had their clip date set and it was sunny and 20 degrees, which quickly deteriorated to being dark and 10 below zero. Photo day was equally challenging. The winds were blowing 40 mph so the crew set up a straw windbreak. This resulted in straw constantly blowing across the camera lens—not so good for photos. 

"At least our video day was sunny and nice," Denise said. "Through Christmas and all through the National Western Stock Show in Denver, all we did was work on the catalogue. Until you design a catalogue, you don't realize how hard it is. However, we agreed it was worth it. We offered 32 yearling bulls and eight two-year-olds along with some bred heifers." 

They spent a day at the Cowtown Beef Breeders Show in Miles City and the Bull Pen at the MATE in Billings, promoting their 1st production sale.  They are both active in the Montana Hereford Association. 

"After having our first production sale last year, I have a whole new respect for the people who put on these sales," Denise says. "Actually, you start planning the next sale the day after your sale is over. Our sale was the first Wednesday in March and we already started thinking about matings and breedings for future sales and what calves might be great candidates for the sales. Our first sale was a great learning experience for all of us to move our program in the right direction." 

She adds that one has to let go of the most nerve-wracking of it all—things you can't control like the weather. "We can control our genetics, but we can't keep a snowstorm away." 

The new L Bar W sale barn has a large kitchen and seating for the lunch, as well as video screens for the auction. Even though potential buyers could stroll in and out of the pens to inspect bulls and sit in the bleachers for bidding, the sale itself is all video—a method that the Loynings feels keep the animals and handlers safer than running them in the ring. Plus, less behind-the-scenes help is needed. 

Buyers numbering about 150 came from Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas and the Dakotas. "Our production sale was the right fit for our resources. We paired with another Hereford breeder and we couldn't be happier." 

Denise explains that although she and Carl are not blood relatives to Mike and Jeannette, they feel like family. She adds that Emily Shilling, a young woman they've hired as herdsman, does a great job with feeding, working on the rations and cattle health, including helping with calving. The herdsman praises the L Bar W cattle, admitting that when you go in to their pens, even if they have a calf, you are not worried for your safety. "Our cows are so easy to work with," Emily said. 

Carl admitted his favorite part of ranching is the cattle. "You're always striving to have the best of the best. What one cow might be lacking, we can achieve by breeding. In addition, the people you meet are great. Whether we visited with a rancher with a herd of five or 500, we've made many good friendships." 

Their 2nd annual production sale is March 7, 2018 at the ranch in Absarokee.   

Kraye Angus makes the most of Sandhills ranching

Kraye Angus has had a long history in the Sandhills of Nebraska. 

It all started when Ernst Kraye, who was an adventurer, came from Germany to Nuckolls Co., Nebraska. But farming wasn't what he wanted to do, so he made plans to go to South America. 

He jumped a train that headed through Hooker County, Neb., fell in love with the Sandhills, and never left.  

Ernst, who was an aggressive businessman, put together about 5,500 acres in the 1930s and 40s. He married Helen in 1933, and they had three children: a son, Fred, and daughters Betty and Nancy.  

Ernst was on the edge of technology, always seeking to improve the ranch. He was the first in the area to put in an irrigation well, in 1953, the same year they got a telephone and REA electricity. And twenty years later, Ernst put in two more irrigation wells and pivots, hoping to raise 100 bushel/acre corn, which he did, in the early 1970s. 

Fred joined his dad on the ranch after running an equipment and tractor business east of Mullen, and then Fred's son, John, came back to the ranch after college. Ernst was ill, a hired man had left, and there was an opening at the ranch, so John took it.  

John bought his first registered Angus cattle in 1979, the same year he graduated from Mullen High School. Ernst had had Herefords, but Fred had some Angus, and they sold them by private treaty and through the Sandhills Cattle Association's sale in Mullen. 

John married Julie in 1984. Julie, a farmer's daughter from Wheat Ridge, Colo., came to Nebraska and helps on the ranch with nearly everything there is to do around the place.  

Kraye Angus Ranch runs about 600 mother cows with an annual bull sale the first Saturday in April. They sell a pot load of steers in the fall, along with a few heifers during the bull sale.  

The Krayes have six pivots of hay, three of alfalfa, two of millet, which is planted to rye in the fall, and one of native cool season grasses. The pivot of native cool seasons is mowed by the first of July, then 100 pairs are put on it for a month. They are taken off of it, allowing for regrowth, then the weaned calves are kicked out on it by Sept. 15 and left for thirty days.  

Now the fourth generation, John and Julie's son, David, is on the ranch. David, who is 31 years old, always knew he wanted to come back. He has taken over the task of choosing the bulls, perusing bull books and the internet. "He has quite an eye for cattle," John said. "He's got quite a breeding program going."  

When David looks for bulls, he looks for bigger frames, with length and rib shape. "These cattle nowadays are getting too moderate and not big enough," he said. "I try to pick what works for us." David has gained a reputation from other breeders who ask his opinion on cattle, John said. David has been able to see what's coming around the bend, what's in the future. He "hit a home run on a bull we used a couple years ago," John said. The Krayes got 25 sons from PA Valor, who was the talk of the Angus breed that spring. "We had a lot of interest that year, on that bull," John said.  

John and Julie are glad that David has taken over choosing the bulls for the operation. "Our passion for it has been waning the past few years," Julie said. "Thank God he's been here helping out." 

Last year, David decided to take two bred heifers and two heifer calves to the National Western Stock Show in Denver, for the Angus female sale. They sold from $5,500 to $11,000, and went to homes in Illinois, California, Missouri and South Dakota. It was a good experience, he said, but something he probably won't do again. "I wanted to go out there, just to prove to myself that we belonged (in the Angus industry). Our cattle are just as good as some of these other people's." It was fun, but it's not a good fit for Kraye Angus Ranch, he decided.   

The area where the Krayes ranch, in Hooker County, in the heart of the Sandhills, is a unique place, not because of the stabilized sand dunes, but because of the water table in the county. The Sandhills are on top of the Oglala Aquifer, with the water table sometimes as close as ten feet below the surface. But in Hooker County, there is no sub-irrigation, so hay ground must be irrigated. That makes for grass that is soft and "washy," and cattle must eat more. "Cattle feeders like our cattle," John said, "because their paunch is already stretched, so cattle go on feed faster, compared to cattle on hard grass where they don't require so much grass." Feeder cattle coming out of Hooker Co. will bring $5 to $10 more than cattle in hard grass country. Cattle from hard grass country may weigh the same, but their bellies aren't as stretched and ready for a feedlot.  

The Sandhills are fragile; overgrazing happens more quickly and is harder to repair than in heavier soil. The drought of 2012, when the area experienced exceptional and extreme drought, left barren spots. But with some rain the next spring, the bare spots were covered with sunflowers. It was "solid yellow," David said. "Every spot was covered with sunflowers." The sunflowers protected the ground from getting too hot and shaded the young grass growing, and the land has made a full comeback.  

The Krayes are careful not to abuse the fragile grassland. They graze a pasture for six months then let it rest till the following fall. "We split (pastures) into half-sections, and run fifty to sixty head in a bunch, so we only have to kick out one bull with them," David said. Cattle are left on grass as long as possible, and are brought in about ten days before calving starts. Cows are supplemented with cake in the fall, and once snow falls, they'll be fed processed hay every other or every third day.  

"We figure twenty acres to run a cow, year round," David said. "You have to know the land, and you have to take care of her. If you don't, you won't have anything."  

Every cow gets one chance to get artificially inseminated, which Julie and David do, and they do more synchronizations than they used to. If the cow doesn't settle, it is turned out with the bull and bull bred.  

About eight years ago, the Krayes started pasture weaning calves instead of putting them in a lot after weaning. After calves are separated from cows, the calves are turned right back into the pasture they came from. "They go out to the last place they sucked, and they hardly miss their moms," John said. The calves rarely wander or walk the fences. The cows are dry lotted, and "are better equipped to stand in a dusty old corral than the calves are," Julie said. The calves don't have near as much weight loss and are less likely to get sick. "It's one of the smarter things we've done," Julie said.  

Another challenge is the costs that are being proposed by the American Angus Association. The association is suggesting that Angus breeders do a DNA test on bulls, to provide more accurate EPDs. David isn't against the idea, but with the DNA diagnostic test, also called the HD 50K, costing $37 per head, it can get pricey. He hopes the little breeder isn't pushed out of the business.  

But he and his parents love what they do. A sale bill summary written about them called them low key people who let their cattle do the talking for themselves. "That's us in a nutshell," David said. "I've got no complaints. It's where I want to be, it's a way of life I've always wanted to do. It's what I'm good at. It's not really work if you love what you're doing."  

The Krayes also have a daughter, Helen, who is a chemist in Blair, Neb., and a hired hand, Brad Wright, who is employed on the ranch as well.  

Green Mountain Red Angus builds strong herd on good mother cows

Generations of outstanding bulls and females produced at Green Mountain Red Angus in Three Forks, Montana have made the operation one of the nation's premier sources for top quality cattle. Nestled in the heart of the Bridger Mountain Range, Bob and Julie Morton understand that success does not happen overnight and attribute the ranch's reputation to a vision that was first conceived when Bob's father Jim had ahold of the reins. "Dad always had a pull through approach and I have the same mentality regarding long term goals," said Morton. To reach those goals, the Morton's put in place a strategic plan that helps them recognize where they are and keeps them headed in the right direction. 

The ranch originally ran commercial cows and Bob learned early on from his dad Jim the necessary emphasis a successful cattleman should place on performance records. "Even though they were commercial cattle, we were still very in to performance data, taking detailed records and even created our own weaning index," said Morton. Those ideals still play a strong role today in the selection criteria for each female and bull used on the ranch. "EPD's might not be perfect, but they are certainly the best tool we have at our disposal and I believe in them 100 percent," said Morton.  

From the very beginning, the Morton's have used their "perfect mother cow" philosophy to build a strong cow herd. Green Mountain Red Angus has never deviated from their approach in making cows that are good uddered and sound on their feet and legs with plenty of growth. "My ideal cow would weigh about 1300 pounds and measure about a 5.6 frame, I have never been one to sacrifice growth, with a level udder, ample milk and good feet and legs," said Morton. And it just so happened that Dave Cawlfield had a small group of registered Red Angus cows in the early 1980's that fit the Morton's mold for a good mother cow. "Dave had put together a nice group of cows that were running with us already on the Green Mountain Range and so when the opportunity to buy some fell in our lap, we purchased them," said Morton.  

With such a strong prevalence of Angus cattle in the region, the Morton's saw the Red Angus market as unsaturated and thought they would have a chance to competitively market these cattle. As time would pass, purchases from Leachman Cattle, Rapid Canyon Ranch, Bootjack and the NILE grew the Red Angus numbers at Green Mountain. In 1990, the ranch sold the entirety of the commercial cow base and became exclusively Red Angus. "Since then we have seen rapid growth in Red Angus registration and membership with high demand for females and bulls," said Morton. Even with the production change at the ranch, the Morton's recognized not to stray from their goal of producing tremendous females who can raise sought after bulls and keep that as the focus of their program. "Our philosophy is to make a strong mother cow and as a result we pull DNA on every female and utilize genomics heavily," said Morton. 

Relationships are often what makes or breaks the success of a ranch and Green Mountain works very closely with their customer base to insure their buyers get the cattle they need and then turn around and help market the calves from those same customers. "Cattle have to be profitable for all stages of the market, we are all in this together," said Morton. With that mindset, Morton has maintained a focus on cattle with good growth, carcass, and maternal characteristics. "I would like for my cattle to be in the top 50% of the breed for all epd's across the board and so I will look closely at comparatively mating a certain bull to a cow but, typically I only tweak things here and there, never anything too drastic," said Morton. 

With such a detailed long-term goal, the Morton's have been fortunate enough to breed some truly outstanding cattle that have created them a very strong customer base among seedstock and commercial cattleman. "Our outlook has always stayed steady though and a bunch of our better cows still trace back to the original Lakota cow family purchased from Dave in the 80's. The Cawlfield lineage is still prominent within our herd," said Morton.  

Each spring Green Mountain Red Angus offers a set of elite bulls in their annual sale that have gone through a rigorous selection process. These bulls are a collection of the very best and must come from a cow the Morton's feel like they can stand behind. "These bulls must come from a mother with a good udder and be structurally sound so that they can be athletes, I don't want any couch potatoes," said Morton. The bulls at Green Mountain are developed on a high roughage diet without being pushed too hard so that they can offer plenty of longevity well in to the breeding season. In fact, Green Mountain has been feeding a similar ration to their bulls since their program began in the early 90's. "Because we have kept our feeding program so steady over the years, I know exactly what the bulls will look like in a month, on sale day, and next year too," said Morton.  

The future looks about the same for Green Mountain Red Angus as it did 20 years ago too. Emphasis on making the cows good, and staying true in their breeding principals, will continue to guide the Morton's in Three Forks. Morton said, "We must create demand for the end user. No doubt the cattle business is a competition, but we are in this together to feed the world." 

 

All photos by Jim Morton 

 

 

Gates Limousin: Back to the country for the Gates family

When Gary Gates graduated from high school, he swore he didn't want to ranch for a living, having grown up on his parent's ranch in the 1970s and 1980s. An engineering degree led to a career that took him to Washington state, Idaho and Colorado.  In that time, Gary got married and started a family. During trips to take the kids to see the grandparents, something interesting happened. The Gates kids decided that life on the ranch had more appeal than life in the Denver suburbs. 

"Our children (now 23 and 12) wanted to stay in Montana more than back home, and my parents could use a little more help, so in 2007 we moved back to Montana," said Gates, who now runs Gates Limousin Ranch with his mother.  

Gates' wife, Brandi, explains that since neither she nor Gary were city kids, moving back to Montana didn't take much convincing. "It was something we wanted to do. What's in your blood is tough to get away from and our kids loved it. As the next generation you want to carry on that tradition. In the city everything seems convenient and you think it's easier. But when we moved back to Montana, we realized how stressful life had been in Denver." 

Ranching is certainly in Gary's blood as his parents started ranching around 1960. He and his five siblings all helped on the ranch, which originally ran Hereford cattle. In the early 1970s one of their neighbors had some Limousin cattle, which were first introduced in the United States in 1969.  

"He bragged about the Limousin breed so the parents decided to try a bull and liked the results," Gary said. "At that time my parents were still strictly a commercial cow-calf operation and every 3-5 years they had to rotate bulls. We had also used Simmental, Angus and Herefords, working to get a good crossbred cow. I think they tried about every combination there was. About 20 years ago they started using almost exclusively Limousin bulls on their commercial herd and were pleased with the results." 

The Roscoe-area rancher says that although their ranch still primarily raises commercial cattle, they also are seedstock breeders with a registered Limousin herd. They find their Limousin sired calves outperform other crosses, and believe the breed complements Angus and other British breeds. The Limousin breed is known for its natural muscling and leanness.  

In the 1980s, this Continental breed was also known for its less-than-easy disposition, as were many breeds at that time, but that has changed dramatically. The breed now promotes docility along with growth, which has become a major desired trait in cattle, especially as farmers and ranchers are aging. 

"You can't afford to have mean cattle. In the past, bad dispositions in cattle were tolerated more than they should have been," said Gary. "Even the best looking, best performing bull needs a good disposition. If you say your breeding program focuses on docility, you need to live up to that promise." 

Brandi said their 12-year-old daughter often says, "You won't let me jump on the trampoline but you will let me go in with a pen of bulls."  

The 140 commercial cows and 60 registered cows calve in February and March. Ten to 20 yearling bulls are sold private treaty in the spring. Most Limousin breeders and cattlemen hail from Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas. The Gates are one of a small handful of Limousin seedstock breeders in Montana. Instead of being discouraged by this, Gates sees this an opportunity to promote and grow the breed. 

"I can't imagine not being in the cattle business. I really enjoy seedstock production and being involved in the beef industry," said Gary. "I like the relationship building with other cattle operations to provide them bulls with the intent of bettering their bottom line. Since I can't get away from my nerdy engineer roots, I love the data involved with the EPDs and genomics that are at the forefront of the seedstock industry today." 

Gary has served on the board of directors for the North American Limousin Foundation and is still chair of Breed Improvement Committee which works to decipher some of the national challenges of the breed. "We talk about how to grow the breed. The nation's cow herd is experiencing little to no growth, so as a breed to compliment Angus how do we break in? If you want to sell one more bull than last year, how do you build up that program to put you above other breeds? Even locally, when we sell bulls, commercial guys have numerous choices. You need to get them invested in the breed you have and then build relationships and trust." 

Having quality bulls that stand out is essential to attracting buyers, as is educating livestock producers on the Limousin breed. "I explain why Limousin cattle are a good cross on British-based cowherds. The fullblood French Limousin was red and horned. But today, Limousin are polled and can be red or black. So today's Limousin can work on the black cattle or red cattle without giving up their desired color base." 

Recently the Gates family purchased a new ranch headquarters. The Gates had always leased their place, but leasing has become extremely competitive. When the leased land is sold, often the new owners want to go in a new direction. Trying to find new leases is one of the biggest challenges the ranch faces today. The family, including Gary's mother, who is still running the business, is thankful to have their own place to raise cattle and a family. 

"Being an engineer, you think you do important work," Gary mused. "However, sometimes you can't see what you've accomplished. With ranching, you get to see the product you create. In addition, every year provides a new set of challenges and new bars to raise. We're never done trying to improve our product." 

Doll family building a reputation and a breeding program with Charolais and Simmentals since 1946

Success is no accident in the producer world– it comes with hard work, education, persistence and a reputation to stand on. And that's just what the Doll family, from New Salem, North Dakota, has done. This year will mark their 38th annual bull and female sale, on March 6, 2018 at Kist Livestock, in Mandan, selling 100 Charolais bulls and 55 Simmental bulls, along with six females of each breed.  

Joe and Helen Doll began their career in 1946, multi-tasking, with a dairy barn full of cows, along with beef cattle, pigs, sheep, chickens and horses. Also involved in farming, there wasn't much time left in the day for focusing on much of anything but production. 

Joe had heard talk of the heavy weaning weights that the Charolais breed offered, and in 1958, the couple decided to start their breeding program.  

"After the first set of calves Mom and Dad weaned, they knew they were on the right track," said their son, David Doll.  

A lot of razzing from friends and neighbors followed the purchase of his first "white bull."  

"But he had the last laugh when an uncle who criticized him the most, purchased that same bull three years later," Doll said.  

They kept the first set of heifers, and started their purebred herd. Selling bulls came a few years later, private treaty, with just a few, as the Charolais breed was still under review in the industry, and neighbors were skeptical.  

"This didn't slow their enthusiasm; they kept developing a cow herd," Doll said, pointing out that raising purebred cattle then was a different game than today's purebreds. Depending the breed association, it could take up to five generations to produce a purebred.  

In 1969, Helen attended a meeting about a new breed introduced in the U.S., the Simmental. Joe was attending a Charolais sale in Montana, and wasn't able to go with her. The meeting stressed the performance, easy-going nature, and maternal strength of the breed, and Helen was sold, convincing Joe to take a chance, and see if it would complement what they were seeing with the Charolais. Using artificial insemination, the couple found the demand was there.    

"For the first three years all the heifers were sold to Bob Gordon in Canada. He would breed them and sell them as breds the following year," Doll said.   

In 1973, they bought their first Simmental herd bull, an import out of Munter, from Monte Boren of Bismarck. The early 1980s saw the introduction of the black Simmental, and Joe, along with fellow breeder Jake Larson, were some of the first to incorporate this into their programs.  

Joe and Helen's persistence with both breeds has paid off.  Their first production sale, in 1980, consisted of about 50 bulls and 50 females of both breeds. Today, the sale has grown to 160 bulls, but just 10-15 open females. Their private sales and friendships across all breeds have also continued to grow.   

It can take a long time to build a reputation.  

In 1989 the Dolls received the Pioneer Award at the North Dakota Charolais Association, and in both 1993 and 2000 they were the Seed Stock Producer of the year.  

In 2015, the Dolls received the Pioneer Award from the North Dakota Simmental Association. Joe and Helen's American Simmental Association number was the seventh one issued in North Dakota, where they hold the longest active ASA membership in the state. 

In 1971, Joe consigned both Charolais and Simmental bulls to the first all-breeds bull test held in Bismarck, which also marked the first annual sale for the North Dakota Simmental Association.  And in 2000, the family had the top gaining bull in the North Dakota Cattlemen's Association bull test. 

Raising bulls for the commercial cattle industry has always been a focus for the ranch. Over the years, the family has built a solid reputation with a strong clientele, based not only on their cattle, but also on their honesty and straightforward nature.  

"Someone once told us, it is easier to tell the truth than a lie," Doll said. "And unfortunately, it can take one bad experience to tarnish a reputation."    

Customer satisfaction is a top priority, and has been carried down from Joe and Helen.  

"Since we deliver most of the bulls ourselves, it is always fun to hear stories of how their dad bought bulls from our dad, going back to the ’70s," Doll said.  

"We are grateful for those relationships over the years. We have learned no one is just our customer, they have the right to go anywhere. With that in mind we treat customers as we would want to be treated," he said. 

With new challenges in advertising, maintaining and growing the client base has changed from the early years, with social media and websites.  

"Right now there is such a spread in age of producers. The papers are a must for the older generation, they want to be able to hold a sale book or read a livestock paper. The website and internet is for the younger generation, and it can reach a lot more people at a cheaper cost," Doll said.  

Today the ranch is run by the three youngest sons and their families, Charles and Pam, along with their two sons, Ty and Joey; Harlan and Jodie; David and Donna. Helen still lives close by, but Joe died Oct. 3, 2016. 

"We are a family-run operation. We consider it a privilege to carry on what our parents started 60 years ago. They were pioneer breeders in both breeds," Doll said.  

While the family values have held true, the breeding program has evolved.  

"Back when mom and dad started it was simple, raise bulls for the commercial person that would produce heavy weaning weights," Doll said. "Today you have a broader view of traits to select for." 

The brothers focus on a balanced approach, with performance still at the top of the list.  

"Performance is still the most important trait we work on, while still maintaining moderate birth weights and calving ease," Doll said. 

Above average milk is also important, but not excessive milk, and carcass traits are included and analyzed before selecting a new herd bull, and it’s paid off.  

"Over the years of ultrasound and actual carcass data our cattle produce 15-17 inch ribeyes, average a low to medium choice grade, yield grade of 2.4, and dressing percentages over 65 percent," Doll said. 

Crossbreeding has worked from the onset of the Doll ranch.   

Always open to new genetics that improve their client's commercial herds, the Dolls incorporate genetics from both the U.S. and Canada.  

"Our customers are still performance-orientated and this combination works well for us," Doll said.  

"It's always fun to hear the extra weight people add to their calves at weaning when they use Char or Simmy bulls on a set of British-based cows for the first time. Crossbreeding is still the cheapest and most effective tool in the tool box for any operation."  

3C Christensen Ranch brings value to Simmental breed

"I've been in these Wessington hills all my life," said John Christensen, owner of 3C Christensen Ranch. 

Christensen has dedicated his life to raising high-quality, functional Simmental cattle, and the reputable 3C brand is recognized around the country. With popular genetics such as Meyer 734, 3C Macho, 3C Pasque 8773 and 3C Full Figures in his bull battery, Christensen has attracted customers from coast-to-coast to Mexico and several provinces in Canada. Looking back on his successful career in the cattle business, he says times are changing and producers must change with it. 

"When consumers go to the grocery store, they have the choice between the ribeye steak at $12/lb. or the pork chop at $1.79/lb.," said the rancher. "Beef must be a highly desirable eating experience every single time. Marbling, no doubt, brings so much flavor to beef, and that's why producers must focus on raising a high-quality beef carcass." 

Christensen has been tracking carcass data since the 1970s, and over the years, he's owned some of the highest marbling Simmental bulls in the breed. Because so many of his bull customers feed out their calves, he understands the kind of performance they are looking for in the feedlot, and he's made breeding decisions that reflect his customers' needs. 

With a focus on producing high-quality beef for consumers to enjoy, Christensen says a strong demand for beef is critical for offsetting the increasing costs of the cattle business. 

"Beef production inputs continue to rise," he said. "In the last decade, South Dakota has plowed more than 2 million acres of pasture land to be used for crops. For cattlemen relying on grass and hay, this has added major costs as we try to find alternative feedstuffs. This change in the environment certainly makes things more challenging, and if ranchers are going to continue to raise cattle, we must figure out economical ways to do it." 

Despite his best efforts to source economical feedstuffs such as wheat straw, distillers and even haying cattail sloughs, the summer drought of 2017 hit 3C hard. For the first time in his ranching history, Christensen offered females for sale out of the heart of his herd, a move that would help adjust his herd numbers to available resources. The sale, which was held just after Thanksgiving, attracted customers who wanted to take advantage of this rare opportunity to purchase elite 3C females. 

"I've always been strict on the cow herd," he said. "I've bred for maternal values consistently for generations on these cows, and I'm not just talking about milk, I'm talking about good mothering ability, udder quality and especially maternal calving ease EPD. These cows calve out here in the open, and they've got to do it on their own. My knowledge is if that calf is born easily, he'll be healthy for the rest of his life, and the cow will breed back quicker and will make her last longer in the herd. I've been breeding them for generations to do that, along with focusing on functional traits like feet and legs." 

Christensen first became interested in the Simmental breed as a teenager, introducing the cattle to his father, Jens M. Christensen's ranch, in 1968. Back then, the diversified farm/ranch was typical of the time, but when Christensen graduated from high school in 1971, he started focusing on the Simmental seedstock businesses and soon partnered with his brother Chris, growing the herd to approximately 1,500 mama cows at one time. With two growing families, the pair later split in 2003 to focus on their own pursuits, and Chris and his wife Sheila now own and operate Christensen Simmental.  

In 1983, John and his late wife Peggy were married and went on to have three children, NaLani, Cam and Carly. The two eldest daughters are still involved in the Simmental breed today. Peggy's untimely passing from pancreatic cancer in 2012 left big shoes for her daughters to fill, and her absence is keenly missed by everyone in the family. 

"Mom was very intelligent and had a strong grasp on the finances," said NaLani Dunsmore. "She handled everything from the investing to accounting to budgeting to paying the bills. This allowed dad to focus on his passion, the cows." 

"Mom's passing left us with a huge hole in our family as well as our operation," added Cam Fagerhaug. "Mom was the 'director of finance' and 'doer of all paperwork,' as so many ranch wives are for their husbands." 

The girls credit both of their parents for instilling in them values of honesty and integrity, as well as a strong understanding of the cattle business and choosing cattle that are functional and maternal. In their young careers, these values have helped them develop a loyal customer base and solid Simmental herds of their own.  

NaLani, and her husband Rick Dunsmore own NLC Simmental Ranch, which neighbors 3C. Already, the young operators have established a strong reputation in their own right and own several popular bulls including "Olie,” TNT Tanker, MR NLC Superior, MR NLC Buddy and MR NLC Upgrade. The couple hasthree children, NaLea, Chase and Swayzee.  

Twenty miles away, daughter Cam, and her husband Tyler Fagerhaug, own Fagerhaug Cattle, with the help of their three-year old son, Lawson. The millennial couple co-own MR NLC Avenue with NLC and Parker Cattle Co. Tyler works as a crop adjuster for Great American and also trains and markets calf horses. Meanwhile, Cam works as a graphic designer for the True Dakotan and freelances for ranches needing bull sale catalogs and advertisements. Together, the couple also works at Kimball Livestock Exchange once a week.  

"Our registered herd's objective is to raise bulls like my dad's," said Fagerhaug. "We want a strong maternal base with performance capabilities. Today, there are so many technological advances available to us. We have always used data in our operation, but because of past generation's efforts in trial and error, we reap the benefits of measuring that data." 

Together, the three families calve out nearly 900 mama cows and merchandise 200+ Simmental and SimAngus bulls at their annual bull sale. The upcoming sale is slated for March 16, 2018. Given their proximity, they trade labor and resources as needed, along with promoting and supporting each other's programs.  

As John looks back on his 46 years in the Simmental business, retirement isn't in the works yet, but he's confident in his daughters' abilities to take over the reins.  

"My girls grew up in this business, and they understand cattle well," said Christensen. "I see my girls taking on the responsibilities of this operation just as quick as I can get them rolling. Losing my wife has given me a different view of the future. In our 30 years together, she took care of so much, so I could work with the cattle and put up hay. Without her, I have twice the workload and less time. With my daughters taking over the responsibilities and decision-making, I could help with the chores and have time off to go visit with old customers and friends and enjoy some time off." 

 

 

South Dakota Quarter Horse Association: Legacy and 50 Year Breeders

Legacy Breeders

  • Lowell Thomas Barrett
  • Dean Hereford Farms
  • Jerry G and/or M Sue Golliher
  • Harry Kenzy
  • Ronald H Krogman
  • Lee Lopez
  • South Dakota State University
  • Don and Kathleen Strain
  • James L Sutton
  • Raymond Sutton
  • Triple U Enterprises
  • R C or J I Waldner
  • Gene Hunt

Fifty Year Breeders

  • Broken Heart Ranch
  • Dr. R M or Linda L Christensen
  • Glen W Hollenbeck
  • John G Johnson
  • John Knippling
  • Gilbert and/or Zelda Lutter
  • Arthur and/or Frankie Reeves
  • Dean Reeves

 

 

2017 SDQHA Annual Banquet

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Please consider joining us for fun and celebration with our SDQHA Social on 1/5/2018 and Banquet honoring 3 SD AQHA Hall of Fame winners, SD Legacy breeders, SD 50 year breeders, and 2018 SDQHA and SDQHYA awards.

The South Dakota Quarter Horses Association is hosting our annual banquet recognizing South Dakota's 3 AQHA Hall of Fame winners, South Dakota legacy and 50 year breeders, and annual show awards. This is a momentous occasion celebrating the diversity of the great American Quarter Horse. We are throwing a huge event starting Friday, January 5, 2018 with a social with Red Steagall and a following banquet Saturday, January 6, 2018 with Red Steagall performance closing out our celebration.

2017 SDQHA annual meeting and awards banquet in Pierre, SD at the Ramkota.

Click here for more information.