Cattle Journal 2023: Evenson Angus, North Dakota
They were Angus when Angus wasn’t cool.
Bill Evenson and his dad, Ernest, bought 12 registered Angus cows in 1952, before Bill was out of high school.
In the 70 years since, Bill has been through some ups and downs in the business. “For a long time, we sold 50 bulls. Then you get into that period of time where they were pushing really big animals – the Continental breeds,” said Bill Evenson. “It was hard to sell these Angus. Boy, was it tough to not go try something else. I thought really seriously about switching to a different breed, but I really liked Angus cattle. But I stuck with it, and it was one of the best choices I made. I just had confidence that Angus would come back. At the time, I thought, ‘They are offering more than most breeds if you put everything together,’ Then we sold 30 to 35 bulls for a time. Then we came back. Now we’re selling 120 or so.”
Bill says that for many years, he and his family sold 2-year-old bulls. Marketing yearling bulls was unheard-of.
For the first years, the Evenson family, “Ernest Evenson and Sons,” sold bulls private treaty from the ranch near Hettinger, North Dakota.
Bill said selling private treaty was time-consuming, but it’s what his dad wanted. “After dad died, we had too much work to do to be selling bulls off the place,” said Bill. He also said that pricing the bulls was difficult, and with the auction format, the bulls priced themselves.
In 1980, they held their first auction sale at the Hettinger Auction Market—now closed—which was owned and operated by Orville Dangerud.
In 1976, Bill and brother Wally formed a partnership and purchased the farmland from Ernest and Lillian. Three years earlier, the brothers had leased the farmland and purchased the cattle and machinery from their parents.
Since the boys partnered up, the cow herd has been essentially a closed herd. “We bought one cow – from Ed Honeyman when he quit the business,” says Bill.
“At our first sale, the top bull brought $4,200 back in 1980, and sold to Otto Howe. If you think about what a dollar was worth, that seems like a good sale.”
Then came some tough times.
The Evenson family joined up with Orval Stadheim to host a joint sale from 1988 until 2000, the year before Orval died.
Lynn Weishaar has sold the Evenson bulls every year, except one, said Bill.
The family now sells at Lemmon Livestock, as it was not feasible to keep the Hettinger Auction Market in good enough repair.
Wally’s son Rodney became a business partner in 1985. He now oversees most of the day-to-day details of the operation.
A significant number of their cows are in a fall calving system, which Rodney appreciates mostly for the nice calving weather.
“It’s pretty easy calving in the fall, although this year it was too hot,” Rodney said. The fall calving herd starts the first of August and is done calving by the first of October. Calves born any later “don’t get big enough to make it through a tough winter,” he said. “I’d rather have an open cow than a calf born after the 5th of October.”
Bill said disposition, good udders and performance of the cow’s offspring are some of the biggest traits he keeps an eye out for.
Rodney’s priorities line up with Bill’s – “Docility. Also they have to have pretty good growth. They have to have structure, have to have a hop on them, and some thickness,” he said.
The Evensons generally don’t use a herd bull with a scrotal EPD below a +1. “When you are selling bulls, you have to pay attention to that,” says Rodney.
Rodney said it can be tough to use an older bull or semen from an older bull because the EPDs generally look less appealing, even though sometimes that’s not the case.
“You have to have newer bloodlines to make your numbers appear right,” he said. “If you use a 10-year-old cow or bull, the numbers look lower than they should.”
While some customers are purely looking at conformation, others are more concerned about EPD numbers, said Rodney.
One bull that has had a positive impact in their operation came all the way from the West Coast.
“Kesslers from Oregon bought a bull from me. I happened to look in his catalog, and I thought – this bull is pretty good. I called him and he said he was probably the best bull he’d ever raised out of the best cow he ever had. And he was a complete outcross for me.”
Wyoming-based MR Angus had bought the bull, Kessler Commodore, so Rodney contacted them for semen. “His first calf crop produced top-selling bulls. Our second year and third years we sold $20,000 bulls out of him. He’s been pretty good to us,” he said.
“He’s low birthweight, has tremendous growth, big docility number, big scrotal number, and good maternal numbers,” said Rodney.
ABS since leased the bull and is selling semen out of him, he said. Evenson Angus bulls (sons of Kessler Commodore) are featured in videos promoting the bull on the ABS website.
Most Evenson Angus cows are synchronized and AIed.
Rodney said what sets their cattle apart from other Angus breeders is “power.”
“I have to have growth, I have to have power. Even my heifer bulls, those calves have to grow,” he said.
The bull business has blessed the Evenson family. “It’s what paid the bills,” said Bill. “Sometimes you look at all the work you’ve put in and it makes you wonder why you did it. But it’s been good to us over the years.”
One thing that has helped the family remain successful is simple, but not always easy. “We always paid every bill, and paid them on time,” said Bill.
Rodney’s advice is: keep your eye on structure and pounds. “You can breed a lot of calving ease, but then you can lose your bone structure. You can have them too fined boned. They need to look like a bull,” he said.