2019 Winter Cattle Journal: Barenthsen-Bullinger Red Angus
Mark Barenthsen recognizes the part his wife and daughters have played in making their cattle business what it is today—a recognition that's reflected in the name, which is now hyphenated to include his daughter and son-in-law.
"It's not an 'I' operation, it's a 'we' operation," said Mark about Barenthsen-Bullinger Red Angus. "My wife and I have developed this together and our girls have worked hard on this too."
Mark and his wife, Kathy, are fourth generation cattle producers near Powers Lake in northwest North Dakota. Together with their son-in-law and daughter, Jeremy and Jessica Bullinger, the family farms small grains and raises purebred Red Angus cattle.
"We were always a commercial operation," Barenthsen said of the family's ranch when his father and grandfather were in charge.
In 1976, Barenthsen came back to the ranch and after their marriage, he and Kathy began trying out different breeds of cattle including Herefords, black baldies, Charolais, and some Simmental before deciding to focus on Red Angus.
To make a go of it in the early years, Mark sold insurance and Kathy worked as a part-time registered nurse.
"We wanted to make our living off the farming and ranching, so [working as a nurse] was supplemental income," Kathy says.
In 1993, the couple decided to go into the seedstock business and began selling purebred registered Red Angus. This February, they'll be hosting their 20th annual sale at the ranch.
Around ten years ago, the Bullingers joined Jessica's parents back on the ranch.
"I always had that desire to be back on our place," Jessica, the oldest of the four Barenthsen girls says. "It kind of just really played out. We knew we wanted to be back here and my parents were willing to work with us."
The Bullingers have three children, Jaden, Avah, and Adalyn, who are also involved on the ranch and with their 4-H projects.
Jessica isn't the only daughter who works in agriculture; each of the Barenthsen's daughters married farmers or ranchers and work along side their husbands at their operations.
"Kathy and I have watched our other daughters develop their own operations and to see the kids do the same thing is the most rewarding thing to us," Mark said.
Together, the two families have been able to improve upon the business and expand as well.
Barenthsen explained that they decided to stick with Red Angus because they "cover all of the bases."
"They have a lot of maternal value and are a little more docile—that's a big plus for us. They clean up a lot of udder problems other breeds face as well," he said. "One big thing that helped us decide to be in Red Angus too was the demand from other breeds. It's a non-diluter breed so you don't get gray colored calves and that's a big advantage for selling bulls."
When the Barenthsens began raising Red Angus, the demand for the breed wasn't that high; however, over the years they've seen an increase.
"Red Angus has really been becoming more in demand," Mark said. "We never knew it would be this strong, but it is one of the things we've benefited from."
Variations in demand for different breeds isn't the only change they've witnessed.
"There have definitely been a bunch of changes since the time that we started," Mark said. "Earlier in our career a 500-pound calf was a good weaning weight."
Along with the progression and focus on a heavy weaning weight, Mark has noticed differences in what has been considered the desired frames in cattle.
"We've gone through times where cows were short and thick, then in the '80s the focus was on larger-framed cattle that were harder to keep," he explained.
The family's ranch is located twenty miles south of the Canadian border, which means a harsh winter climate. "The weather can be unpredictable, so we raise cattle that are going to stay in our herd because of where we live especially," said Jessica Bullinger.
"We're trying to raise cattle that can get by on less feed—less hay and grain—than we used to," Mark said.
Another change that has impacted the cattle industry is the increase in available technology and various tests.
"One big change for sure was the use of EPDs and technologies. We've been able to develop cattle that are much more functional," said Mark. "We've developed cattle that can calve on their own without any assistance where, back a few years, you'd have people hauling cattle to town to get assistance or a cesarean.”
Jeremy Bullinger explained that their purebred operation pays special attention to developing their females. "We focus mainly on the female side of it. The maternal value in the Red Angus is what has kept us with this breed."
Besides developing quality cattle, Barenthsen-Bullinger Red Angus strongly focuses on serving their customers. This past June, the ranch organized and hosted a "Red Angus Feeder Calf Marketing Meeting and Supper" for producers to meet with feedlot owners from Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, and South Dakota.
At the meeting, feedlot owners discussed different natural (growth hormone-free and antibiotic-free) programs that can add value to cattle, along with talking about different areas or ways to market conventional cattle for increased profit.
"I think these are really exciting times—there's a lot of changes, but there's a lot of really good avenues that we as producers can take these days to add premiums to our calves," Jessica said.
Mark said he feels as though they are removed from "bigger markets," so the meeting was a way for producers in northwest North Dakota to make connections with those larger markets that are farther away.
"They [the feed lot owners] looked at [the meeting] as an opportunity to visit an area that is overlooked and provided a place for them to develop relationships," he said.
Around 150 producers attended the meeting and Barenthsen says they are still receiving positive feedback about the event. "It was good to open up new opportunities for marketing for our customers—we totally enjoyed it."
"Customer relationships are important," Jeremy said. Which is also why the Bullingers have began Bullinger Family Meats.
The couple saw an opportunity for a niche market and now offer 100 percent All-Natural Red Angus Beef sold directly off of the ranch.
"We have to be really in tune to what our customers are asking for," Jessica said.
The two families have also built their own feedlot, which can hold 450 head. For right now the facility is used to develop their own bulls and heifers, but Jeremy said that it could be a way to expand in the future.
Working in agriculture is a lifestyle that both the Barenthsens and Bullingers said that they enjoy.
"It is really fun having Jessica and Jeremy part of the operation," Mark said. "It's very rewarding to have family members become involved and gratifying for Kathy and I."
Likewise, Jeremy appreciates having his children a part of the ranch as well: "It's just a great way of life to have our kids with us and grow and work with us. It's a way for them to learn hard work and dedication."
"Cattle are important, along with caring for the land, but above and beyond all of that it's all about seeing our family developing their lifestyle and continue in the tradition that we've been able to be a part of," Mark said.