Limousins yield success for Peterson family
It wasn’t by accident that good Limousin cattle and the Peterson family of Pukwana, S.D., were united in a business partnership that has spanned decades.
In fact, as with most things “worth having,” there was a lot of persistence and elbow grease that went into the development of today’s well-respected operation.
The third generation on the place that has been in the family about 100 years, Rod started ranching and farming with his dad as soon as he was out of high school. Soon Wendy (Gilman) joined him. “We were always in the cow business,” Peterson explained. “At that time we fed everything we raised, most everybody did back then. We were having trouble getting enough yield out of the cattle. There were too many yield grade fours and fives.” Always looking to improve, Rod’s father Harold watched a short film on a breed called Limousin, ‘the carcass breed,’ and he suggested that Rod look into it further.
The time frame was around 1970. “So we started researching. At that time there were not Limousin cattle in the United States,” he explained. “So we had to AI. We scrounged around and found a whopping six units of semen that year. These days it’s hard to imagine that because it doesn’t matter what bull you want to use, they ask you how many thousands of units you want.”
Herefords, Angus and baldies comprised the original herd and by adding Limousin genetics, the Petersons were able to improve performance in the feedlot and on the rail.
“When we started with the first AI project we had no idea it would ever be a purebred business, we were just breeding to have cattle that would work well on the rail,” he explained.
When they finally introduced enough Limousin blood into the herd that it was changing the makeup of the cattle, they decided to test them out. “We sent two potloads of cattle to Black Hills Pack. A good friend was buying for them,” Peterson explained. “It was kind of a bad year, there was really a back-up of cattle and we were almost having trouble finding a place to get the cattle sold.” After Black Hills Pack, the carcasses were sent to a breaking house in Claremont, N.H. “When they got the cattle, they called back to Black Hills Pack and told them ‘go back to where you got those cattle and buy all of them that you can.’ When you are having a glut market and you get a call from across the country asking about buying more, it is a good sign,” Peterson said.
The cattle yielded 65.89 percent, Peterson remembers, with no yield grade 4s or 5s.
“I have always believed that to earn the real value of Limousin cattle, you have to own them when the hide comes off,” Peterson said. “That’s their plus; it is why the breed came to this country – their carcass traits. It’s just phenomenal what they will do.”
The Peterson family, which grew to include sons Chisum, Cade and Quin, tested their cattle for feed conversion and were always pleased with the results.
In the early years they caught some flak for some of the cattle being uppity, he admits, but he always makes it right with the buyer. “If you get a bull home and you’ve got a problem getting along with him, I tell them to get their cows bred, take him to town, and we’ll get them another one for next year. I don’t jump fence very well anymore and most of my customers have been with me for 20 or 30 years so they aren’t doing it either,” he laughs. While the majority of his bulls do not display problematic dispositions, “you miss one once in a while,” he admits, and said that he just visits with his customers and always makes things right.
It was a neighbor that inadvertently got Peterson into the registered business. “As we kept dabbling in this deal you still couldn’t buy any fullblood Limousin genetics in this country. Our neighbors were kind of looking over the fence at what we were doing and he said ‘how about you keep some of those better bull calves and we’ll buy them from you.’” Peterson said one friend and neighbor started out buying three bulls for $2,500. “I wasn’t getting rich at the deal,” he laughs. “But he’s still with me and it’s costing him a fair bit more now,” Peterson said.
The cattleman cherishes the friendships he has developed with customers and said he knows nearly everyone in the seats on sale day, and he hopes it remains that way for years to come. He makes the effort to build friendships with the “two or three” new faces in the crowd each year. “Our sale is small, we’ve never geared it to be the biggest one in the world, but we strive for customer service,” Peterson said.
Of the 50 to 60 bulls offered each year, 6 to 10 are now fall calves around 18 months of age, something his customers have requested. Peterson has also started to offer some LimFlex bulls (one-fourth to one-half Angus) as well as 6 to 10 open heifers. Additionally he generally sells several club steers and show heifers to the show crowd in the fall.
“We still feed some cattle too but nothing like we used to,” he said of the operation that now includes son Cade and his wife Erica, son Memphis – 6 and daughter Rory – 2. “We’ve got a set of commercial cows that we run and we try to get some carcass data on them so sometimes we feed some of those calves, it just depends on the year, the time and the feed situation,” he explained. The commercial herd runs in big country west of the Missouri River, about 50 miles away and even during calving, might only get checked a couple of times each week. “The calf had better be shaped right so there aren’t calving problems and he’d better be able to get up without needing a nursemaid in the barn,” Peterson said.
“We try to make all the cattle whether commercial or purebred cattle work like they were just a set of good commercial cows. If they won’t’ work for us that way, they won’t work for our customers and if they won’t work for our customers we’re never going to see them again and that’s not the way our operation is built,” explains the no-nonsense businessman.
Son Quin operates the “Southern Division” of the L7 bar ranch. “He has been developing his own herd from a lot of our genetics and he’s starting a customer base down there,” Peterson said. Quin, along with wife Kelly and boys Chrome, Cash and Colt market some of the South Dakota cattle to their southern neighbors.
Peterson and his boys showed cattle at the National Western Stock Show for 33 years in a row, finally ending the run in 2008 when time was just too precious. “Cade and I just decided we didn’t have enough hours in the day to do justice to it. I have no idea how we lasted as long as we did. I was there one year with pneumonia, once with a tore up knee, once when it was 30 below and it took three transmissions in my pickup to get me there,” he recalls.
“We also always went to the Black Hills Stock Show and state fair when we could,” he explained and said that this year they will have their smallest number in quite a few years at the BHSS, with one bull on the show list. Son Cade will take care of the showing responsibilities as Rod has developed severe allergies to the dust around a showring. “The thing I miss the most is seeing the people,” he said, explaining that he developed lasting friendships during his show years.
The purebred business is all about friendships, Peterson said. “They can buy bulls wherever they want to. But you get to be close friends with them and you want to see them back again next year.”
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the June 19, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News