Montana: Clarence Van Dyke a visionary in the Angus industry |

Montana: Clarence Van Dyke a visionary in the Angus industry

Karin Schiley
for Tri-State Livestock News
Clarence and Keith pause for a minute with Tom Rufatto and his son. Tom worked for Clarence while attending Montana State University.

When Clarence Van Dyke bought his first Angus cows he thought they would be a hobby that would be supported by his dairy cows. Now, over 60 years later, the Van Dyke Angus Ranch is an Angus breed leader, recognized for its stringent commitment to cow quality and the VDAR prefix is known worldwide.

Each year, the American Angus Association celebrates innovators and visionaries in the Angus industry by selecting individuals for induction into the Angus Heritage Foundation. During the 2017 Angus Convention in Fort Worth, Texas, Van Dyke was among four Angus industry leaders that were added to the prestigious group.

Raised as one of twelve children on a dairy farm in the same location where Van Dyke Angus Ranch is now in the Gallatin Valley near Manhattan, Montana, Van Dyke learned that a good cow is a good cow, regardless of breed, color or type. His focus on cow quality is something that has never wavered and it has gained the Van Dyke Angus Ranch a reputation for quality maternal genetics.

Van Dyke served in the Army from 1951 to 1953 before returning home to marry his wife of 63 years, Marian, who passed in July 2016. The Van Dykes had four children: John (Elleen), Keith (Evelyn), Debra (Sid) Schutter and Lee (Shirlee). Both Keith and Lee are involved in the present day Van Dyke Angus Ranch operation.

Van Dyke’s first Angus cow purchase consisted of 35 cows in 1955. Two of those original cow families are still in production on the ranch today. His dairy cow background had taught Van Dyke the importance of keeping good cow records and he knew how to use those records to select and propagate the most productive cows. He used what he had learned raising dairy cattle on his beef cows. The results didn’t surprise him.

“It’s the mother cow that keeps you in business. You aren’t going to raise any calves out of a bull,” said Van Dyke. “When you breed a bull to a cow, the bull has to have the genetics to make that cow better, or you aren’t getting anywhere.”

In the late 1950s American Breeders Service (ABS) approached Van Dyke and a select group of other Angus breeders that had extensive cow records and used artificial insemination abundantly to be apart of a test program to prove out their young sires. Van Dyke Angus Ranch continued to be a test herd for ABS and credits this cooperation with ABS and their extensive record keeping for making their herd one of the top performance herds in America.

Presently the Van Dyke Angus Ranch calves out around 400 cows in January and February every year, with a commitment to a 45-day calving season without exception. Van Dykes’ commitment and emphasis on cow fertility over the last 60 years has led to a 95 to 97 percent conception rate on their entire herd, including heifers. Van Dyke says that around 90 percent of their cows conceive in the first 22 days of the breeding season.

“Fertility is important,” said Van Dyke. “It is one of the most important factors that affect profitability for the cow/calf man. A cow needs to calve on time and then breed back year after year.”

The focus on the mother cow is something that Van Dyke believes in so whole-heartedly that he purchased over 1,000 head of steers sired by Van Dyke Angus Ranch bulls, fed and collected carcass data on them. He believed that even though maternal genetics were the focus of their ranch, good maternal genetics would still result in good quality carcasses. The steers averaged 90 percent choice carcasses.

“When you focus on having a good cow, everything else will take care of itself,” said Van Dyke.

Structure is another factor that Van Dyke has stressed in selection over the years.

“A bull that can’t walk doesn’t do a commercial operator any good. We don’t use any hoof trimmers on this ranch,” said Van Dyke.

Van Dyke’s straightforward approach to life has been appreciated by many over the years and led to him serving on many boards. He was on the Northwest Farm Credit Services Board of Directors from 1990 to 1998 and was also a trustee for several years. He served on the GENEX Board of Directors from 2006 to 2012, as well as the AgAmerica and AgriBank boards of directors from 1999 to 2002.

He also has received numerous industry awards, including the 1985 Montana Performance Man of the Year; recognized by ABS for having bulls sell 50,000 units; 1989 Outstanding Farmer-Rancher; Gallatin County Outstanding Conservationist; 1999 Certified Angus Beef ® Commitment to Excellence; and the 1997 Wayne Stevenson Award of Excellence by the Montana Angus Association.

The Van Dyke Angus Ranch’s annual production sale will be held Feb. 22, at the ranch near Manhattan, Montana.

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