Cattle Journal 2023: A&B Cattle, Angus, Nebraska
“We’ve got to get better.”
“If you’re doing what you love, then you will never work a day in your life.”
These phrases were just two of the many that Becky Sawyer and her son, Adam Sawyer, of A & B Cattle near Bassett, Nebraska, remember from husband and father, Arlen Sawyer, before he passed away in 2019.
“Arlen truly enjoyed what he did every day,” Becky said. “He took great pride in continuing the legacy of raising Angus cattle for 100 years.”
A & B Cattle received the Century Award from the American Angus Association in 2020 — marking its 100th year of operation — shortly after Arlen’s passing. Becky and the late Arlen were also one of the 2022 inductees into the American Angus Association Heritage Foundation, announced at their convention in November 2022, which celebrates the innovators and visionaries of the Angus breed.
Becky, along with Adam and his wife, Jenessa, and Becky’s daughter, Jessica (Sawyer) Slingsby, own and operate A & B Cattle. Adam and Jenessa’s two sons, Augustus (4) and Truett (1), make up the fifth generation.
The Sawyer family’s 100+ year history and first generation began near Howard, South Dakota, in October 1887 when Arlen’s great-grandfather, Richard Cyrus Sawyer, and brother, Clyde, started the homestead. In 1917, when Howard Washington Sawyer, Richard’s son, took over the family farm, it was producing corn and oats successfully, so he decided to buy a few grade Angus cows, adding to the few pigs and milk cows already on the farm.
By 1930, “Sawyer’s Angus Farm” was well-known in cattle breeding. Howard’s son, Richard James Sawyer, also started showing their cattle, locally at first, but by age 18 was showing across the U.S. sometimes away for six months at a time. It was these show earnings that helped supplement the farm income during the depression. Richard had five children, one being Arlen, who pursued a lifetime passion raising registered Angus cattle. In college at South Dakota State University, he met his wife Becky (Schumacher), who also came from an Angus family in Iowa, and they were married in 1975. After working for several purebred Angus operations, Arlen and Becky established A & B Cattle in 1990 near Bassett, Nebraska. The farm in South Dakota is still owned by family members today.
“Family has always been a very important part of this operation,” Becky said. “It’s very rewarding. Our kids have always loved the Angus business and have always been really involved. Adam has a great background in finance, which is a huge asset now that he’s back at the ranch full time — ensuring the numbers work with the resources we have.”
Adam was already balancing the operation part-time starting in 2017 and transitioned to full-time starting in 2019.
“We lost a big part of our lives in 2019 with my dad’s passing that you never want to have to go through, but it’s kept us going as a family,” Adam said.
For the family and operation, the goal has never really shifted over the years.
“Our goal has always been to select for cattle that really do well in this environment and do well for our customers,” Adam said. “Our family’s been pretty goal-oriented that way for a long time and continuing on what we’ve always done.”
Each spring, on the first Thursday in April, the top bulls are marketed at the Sawyer family’s annual bull sale. Next year, April 6, 2023, this marks its 33rd year, which after last year, now includes some females as well.
“Sometimes I look back and wonder how we got here, but I think the biggest measure of success has always been if our customers are happy — if they’re satisfied and they’re prospering because of something we have done to our program,” Becky said. “We’re sitting here in one of the great livestock markets in the country. A lot of times we can see our customers’ success when the feeder cattle come through the sale barn. We take what we see and use it to help improve things all the time. What’s important to our customers is important to us.”
Becky continued, “We’re still always thinking about what tomorrow is going to bring and what we’ve got to do to get better. We still try to live this mantra Arlen said nearly every day.”
“Some of this is trial and error, but a big part of this is we rely on a large network of people,” Adam said. “My dad did, too. We have views of our own, but we rely on other people — breeders, nutritionists, veterinarians and agronomists. It’s important to have a strong network and surround ourselves with people who are very good at what they do, and we have the pleasure of being able to do business with them as we continue ours.”