Behind the scenes
The Mt. Rushmore state had the honor of hosting a group of tall blondes with a keen interest in animals this past weekend.
No, not fur-wearing supermodels, these Norwegian livestock producers were interested in learning more about the “old west” as well as current production methods in the South Dakota area.
Helge and Candace By, the owners and publishers of the Charolais Banner and the Charolais Connection, based out of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, planned the eight-day trip for 46 Norwegian men, women and teenagers that included stops at a number of well-known and a couple of obscure locations across western South Dakota.
By had made friends with some of the ranchers and dairymen from Norway in 2006 during a World Charolais Conference in Canada. Since then, he has helped plan several trips for the group who travels to North American about every other year to learn more about a certain region. He has led them around different parts of Canada and in 2010 he planned a Texas trip for the group that included horseback riding and more. By said November is an opportune time for the producers to get away for a few days, because their fall work has generally slowed down, and winter has not yet settled in.
“This year they wanted to do the old west, the Black Hills, and such,” said By. The group flew into Minneapolis and then set out for Polzin Embryo Center in Darwin, Minnesota.
The producers enjoyed seeing the embryo cows of four different breeds and learning more about embryo transplant and in-vitro fertilization protocols.
Next up was the Lindskov-Thiel Ranch near Isabel, South Dakota, where the group enjoyed seeing Charolais cows in the pasture, the sale facility, and learning about the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, which is home to the ranch.
One of the thrills for the group was the chance to drive a full-size pickup around the pasture, said By. “Brent Thiel had four or five half-tons sitting, waiting for us. He told us to fill them up and follow him around. Some of those guys don’t have big vehicles like that, so besides seeing the excellent quality of cattle, they were impressed with the pickups. It was a treat to be able to drive them.”
Next, the bunch spent a couple of nights in Deadwood. Thursday morning they traveled to Belle Fourche Livestock to see the fall calf run in full swing.
“They were enthralled with how many calves go through in such a short period of time,” said By. He overheard two of the Norwegians, who work at abattoirs, commenting that he bought for a slaughter facility back home and might buy 3,000 or 4,000 head of cattle per year, and they saw that many calves go through the ring in Belle Fourche in a matter of a couple of hours.
“They were watching them unload pots, move the cattle around the pens on horseback. They found it so different from what they are doing back in Norway.”
By, who has known Lynn Weishaar for about 35 years, visited with the Belle Fourche Livestock auctioneer during his break in the sale. “It was good to get caught up with him,” he said.
On Friday, the Scandinavians were on to the Kadoka Feedlot managed by Mark Selting. The tidy, well-managed backgrounding lot can handle 3,000 to 4,000 head at a time, and turns cattle through the pens about three times per year. The group was interested in learning about the feed utilized, which consists of silage, distiller’s grain and other roughage. The Norwegians grow mainly Timothy and Ryegrass, which they cut two to three times per year, and often make into haylage, said By. Their cattle graze throughout the summer on pasture or in forests. For the winter months, they are required by law to have a shelter with at least three sides and a roof for the cattle.
The group experienced Wall Drug and traveled through the Badlands on their way back to Rapid City on Saturday. The travelers were treated with the opportunity to see a rattlesnake. “That snake was the most photographed animal in South Dakota that day,” said By.
Saturday evening entertainment was the Northwest Cowboy’s Rodeo Association rodeo finals, another highlight for the Norwegians. While some had seen a rodeo before, others had not, and had questions about the purpose of the flank strap on rough stock, and many other rodeo customs, said By.
Beef cattle producers in Norway do not typically castrate their bulls, said By, and if they do, they must do it at a young age and use pain control methods. Only veterinarians can castrate bulls beyond a certain age, he said. Because the Norwegians don’t employ a grading system based on marbling like the U.S. system, bulls are considered favorable because they grow faster and are more efficient. Norway is not a member of the European Union, but the country’s animal management laws are similar.
Three of the most popular breeds of cattle are Charolais, Simmental and Limousin, By said. Herefords, Angus, and just recently Red Angus can be found in smaller numbers. The country doesn’t produce enough beef to meet demand, so they import some beef from Ireland and other European countries, and lean meat from Brazil, said By.
By said one of the tour members operates a 100-cow dairy, which is the maximum number of milk cows the country allows. “They are regulated quite heavily by the government,” By said.
Because the oil in Norway is state-owned, the country is wealthy and provides support to its farmers. “They are trying to keep farmers on the land. They are trying to keep them from getting too big so there is more population in the rural areas, to keep the stores and schools alive,” he said.
“If they didn’t have subsidies, it would probably go back to forest and people wouldn’t live out there.” Initially, the system ensured that a 16-cow dairy would provide a comfortable living for a family, he said.
Norway is a “beautiful country” known for long summer days and short winter days. In the summertime, the sun still shines at midnight, explained By.
“It’s a beautiful country,” he said.
By says he has gotten no hint as to where the group hopes to travel next.