To Everything A Season: Ingalls Centennial Angus Cow Dispersal Sale
To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.
So said the wisest man who ever lived.
Ranchers might paraphrase Solomon’s following words thus: a time for calving and a time for synchronizing heifers; a time for heat detecting and a time to AI; a time to sort pairs and a time to turn out bulls; a time for haying and a time for fixing machinery; a time for fall shots and a time for pregnancy testing; a time to haul hay and a time to feed hay; a time to sell calves and a time to bangs vaccinate; a time to freeze brand replacement heifers and a time to sell bulls.
Winter, spring, summer, fall. The seasons roll on, each with their work and their worry; each with their joys and their beauty.
There is a time to keep heifers, and a time to sell cows.
Hugh Ingalls has owned registered Angus cattle for nearly eighty years. His father, Lawrence Ingalls, gave him a heifer calf when he was eleven; a cute, black calf that stood out among the Herefords and won him a blue ribbon at the Western Junior Livestock Show in Rapid City that year. She was the first Angus calf entered in that show and she was the foundation of Hugh’s herd, raising a calf for him every year until 1957.
“She had heifer calves for quite a few years in a row,” Hugh recalled. “That was how I got my start. It would take a pretty good computer person to figure out how many of the cows in my herd trace back to her.”
The Ingalls family had already been in the Angus business for almost fifty years and three generations. Hugh’s great-grandfather, James Ingalls, purchased a registered Angus bull in 1895. 2020 marks a century and a quarter that the family, now seven generations strong, has been raising Angus cattle. The Ingalls family holds the record with the American Angus Association for the longest continual history of registered cattle in the breed and Hugh’s cow herd is the oldest Angus herd on record in South Dakota.
James Ingalls homesteaded in southeastern South Dakota, proving up on his claim and going on to purchase another thirteen quarters of land: one for each child. Hugh’s grandfather Albert came west to homestead at Opal, S.D. in 1908, leaving behind the land his father had deeded him at the insistence of his sister and wife.
“When he looked around and saw how bleak it was, he said, ‘If the team wasn’t tired, we’d turn around and go back,’” Hugh laughed. “I’m glad he stuck it out.”
Hugh attended South Dakota State University, received a two year agriculture degree in 1949 and came home to Meade County to ranch with his father and brother Dale. In 1950 Hugh married Eleanor Boe, and after a honeymoon trip to Yellowstone they made their home on Horse Creek in a little old house with an upstairs bedroom.
“My dad had bought the place the year before,” Hugh said. “As the years went by we added on.”
Their lives in those early days of marriage were not much different than their pioneer forebears. Electricity came to rural Meade county in 1953 after their second child was born; running water and indoor plumbing came a few years later after baby number five. Shelter for the cattle consisted of a 12’ x 16’ barn and the trees along the creek. Eleanor milked cows, sewed her children’s clothing and washed cloth diapers by hand.
“That was how everyone lived back then,” Eleanor said. “We didn’t have much but we were happy with what we had.”
Hugh and Eleanor raised their four daughters and two sons on the ranch. Marie, Peggy, Dan, Kenny, Beth and Laila all grew up horseback and helping with the cattle. Eleanor helped with the ranch work, grew a big garden, canned fruits and vegetables, made cottage cheese and butter, raised bum lambs and calves and cooked countless meals for ‘the men’ who showed up to help work cattle—brothers, sons, grandsons, cousins, neighbors, hired help—no one left her kitchen hungry.
During the days of the joint operation with Lawrence and Dale, Hugh usually raised the bulls and managed the private treaty sales.
“I was into the records part so that dictated that I take care of that end of things,” Hugh said. “My dad sold some bulls private treaty when I was growing up. He always priced them the same and said that two guys usually didn’t want the same bull anyhow, so that’s why we always sold privately.”
Hugh’s bull customers continue to come to the ranch in late January for a ‘Cowboy Auction’ of the bulls, pitchfork fondue, and some good visiting. Any bulls remaining unsold are available private treaty throughout the spring.
For seventy years the sun has risen behind Horse Butte, traveled the skies, and then turned the Butte golden with evening light. Seventy years of seasons have passed; winter, spring, summer, fall. Calving, branding, breeding, haying, weaning, feeding, and then calving again. Change is inevitable, but some things have stayed the same.
“We just took care of things one day at a time,” Hugh said. “I wasn’t looking seventy years down the road when I started, I was taken up with the day at hand.”
Changes have come over the years: Hugh now cuts hay thirty-two feet at a time with a header and a hydroswing on the same tractor—a far cry from the horsedrawn five foot mower of his childhood or the seven foot mower he used in the ‘50s. Windbreaks and barns have been built; shelterbelts planted decades ago have matured and provide protection for the cattle and the yard.
Weaning weights and mature cow size have changed dramatically as well.
“There was a time when we aimed for a four hundred pound calf and we didn’t always get it,” Hugh said. “Now we aim for a six hundred pound calf and quite often we get it.”
Through all of the changes, good Angus cows have been a constant. There’s no room for popularity contests when a new calf is born out on the prairie. His mama has to get him up and sucking or he isn’t going to make it. She has to raise him and breed back and do it all over again and again for a decade in an often harsh environment with little pampering. The more pounds she can put on her calf the better.
Hugh has kept production records since 1956. He keeps his focus broad, not following fads or single traits. His cows had to earn their living, first, then provide for his family and produce bulls that would be able to put pounds on his customers’ calves.
“We have always tried to balance selection for multiple traits,” Hugh said. “You can’t select too heavy on one trait or you will sacrifice other traits. Our cows don’t have the luxury to follow fads. The closest we’ve come to following a fad is selecting for weaning weights; that’s what pays the bills.”
Hugh says he wouldn’t change anything if he could go back.
“If I did I’d probably make a big mistake,” he said. “I wouldn’t change breeds, that’s for sure!”
South Dakota State University started purchasing Hugh’s steer calves in the late 1970’s. Dr. Robbie Pritchard says that Hugh’s cattle are the best of both worlds: range cows that thrive in the harsh, extreme environment of the short grass prairie: steers that are the envy of any feeder.
“Hugh has contributed a great deal of time, effort and resources that allowed SDSU to do impactful research we could not do without that kind of support,” Dr. Pritchard said. “Holding to principles of good character and good ranching, Hugh does this anywhere, anytime, and a whole lot of people know it. I haven’t met anyone involved in the state’s cattle industry that is more widely known and respected.”
The years have brought challenges and blessings with the changing times and revolving seasons. Many of the biggest challenges have come thanks to extreme weather.
“Sometimes it’s dry weather; sometimes it’s wet weather,” Hugh said.
Through drought years, blizzards, heat and cold, rain and wind, hard work, perseverance and faith have kept the cattle fed and kept Hugh and Eleanor on the ranch, knowing that the sun would rise on another, brighter day after the storms passed.
“We have enjoyed working together with our kids, seeing our grandkids grow up and watching the cows develop into something more than we started with,” Hugh said. “The Lord has been good to us.”
As the seasons revolve once again another change approaches: Hugh has decided that the time has come to sell the cows.
Hugh and Eleanor plan to disperse the majority of the herd at Belle Fourche Livestock on Dec. 1. Hugh said that he’d given some thought to selling the cows in recent years but did not give the idea serious consideration until recently.
“I knew they would be sold someday,” he said. “Why not do it while I’m still around and have some control over how it’s done? These cows have been good to us and I felt it was time to share that with another generation.”
Hugh is keeping back a few special cows.
“I’m going to keep my finger in the pot,” he said.
“Hugh loves his cows,” Eleanor said. “I think they are a big reason we are still here on the ranch at our age. Hugh got up every morning and went out to take care of his cows; it’s been one of the biggest joys in his life.”
There may be moments come Tuesday when emotions run strong and words are hard to come by, but Hugh is no stranger to making tough decisions and going forward.
“You just have to believe you did the right thing and live with it,” he said. “It’ll be alright.
“I’ve been blessed to live here in the heart of the Midwest. We all know there’s a heaven, but this must be as close as you can get on earth. God is good and I’ve been blessed. Through fad and fashion, good years and bad, the Angus cow has been, is today, and will be tomorrow the pattern of excellence for others to follow and attempt to attain.”
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