3C Christensen Ranch brings value to Simmental breed
January 10, 2018
"I've been in these Wessington hills all my life," said John Christensen, owner of 3C Christensen Ranch.
Christensen has dedicated his life to raising high-quality, functional Simmental cattle, and the reputable 3C brand is recognized around the country. With popular genetics such as Meyer 734, 3C Macho, 3C Pasque 8773 and 3C Full Figures in his bull battery, Christensen has attracted customers from coast-to-coast to Mexico and several provinces in Canada. Looking back on his successful career in the cattle business, he says times are changing and producers must change with it.
"When consumers go to the grocery store, they have the choice between the ribeye steak at $12/lb. or the pork chop at $1.79/lb.," said the rancher. "Beef must be a highly desirable eating experience every single time. Marbling, no doubt, brings so much flavor to beef, and that's why producers must focus on raising a high-quality beef carcass."
Christensen has been tracking carcass data since the 1970s, and over the years, he's owned some of the highest marbling Simmental bulls in the breed. Because so many of his bull customers feed out their calves, he understands the kind of performance they are looking for in the feedlot, and he's made breeding decisions that reflect his customers' needs.
With a focus on producing high-quality beef for consumers to enjoy, Christensen says a strong demand for beef is critical for offsetting the increasing costs of the cattle business.
"Beef production inputs continue to rise," he said. "In the last decade, South Dakota has plowed more than 2 million acres of pasture land to be used for crops. For cattlemen relying on grass and hay, this has added major costs as we try to find alternative feedstuffs. This change in the environment certainly makes things more challenging, and if ranchers are going to continue to raise cattle, we must figure out economical ways to do it."
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Despite his best efforts to source economical feedstuffs such as wheat straw, distillers and even haying cattail sloughs, the summer drought of 2017 hit 3C hard. For the first time in his ranching history, Christensen offered females for sale out of the heart of his herd, a move that would help adjust his herd numbers to available resources. The sale, which was held just after Thanksgiving, attracted customers who wanted to take advantage of this rare opportunity to purchase elite 3C females.
"I've always been strict on the cow herd," he said. "I've bred for maternal values consistently for generations on these cows, and I'm not just talking about milk, I'm talking about good mothering ability, udder quality and especially maternal calving ease EPD. These cows calve out here in the open, and they've got to do it on their own. My knowledge is if that calf is born easily, he'll be healthy for the rest of his life, and the cow will breed back quicker and will make her last longer in the herd. I've been breeding them for generations to do that, along with focusing on functional traits like feet and legs."
Christensen first became interested in the Simmental breed as a teenager, introducing the cattle to his father, Jens M. Christensen's ranch, in 1968. Back then, the diversified farm/ranch was typical of the time, but when Christensen graduated from high school in 1971, he started focusing on the Simmental seedstock businesses and soon partnered with his brother Chris, growing the herd to approximately 1,500 mama cows at one time. With two growing families, the pair later split in 2003 to focus on their own pursuits, and Chris and his wife Sheila now own and operate Christensen Simmental.
In 1983, John and his late wife Peggy were married and went on to have three children, NaLani, Cam and Carly. The two eldest daughters are still involved in the Simmental breed today. Peggy's untimely passing from pancreatic cancer in 2012 left big shoes for her daughters to fill, and her absence is keenly missed by everyone in the family.
"Mom was very intelligent and had a strong grasp on the finances," said NaLani Dunsmore. "She handled everything from the investing to accounting to budgeting to paying the bills. This allowed dad to focus on his passion, the cows."
"Mom's passing left us with a huge hole in our family as well as our operation," added Cam Fagerhaug. "Mom was the 'director of finance' and 'doer of all paperwork,' as so many ranch wives are for their husbands."
The girls credit both of their parents for instilling in them values of honesty and integrity, as well as a strong understanding of the cattle business and choosing cattle that are functional and maternal. In their young careers, these values have helped them develop a loyal customer base and solid Simmental herds of their own.
NaLani, and her husband Rick Dunsmore own NLC Simmental Ranch, which neighbors 3C. Already, the young operators have established a strong reputation in their own right and own several popular bulls including "Olie,” TNT Tanker, MR NLC Superior, MR NLC Buddy and MR NLC Upgrade. The couple hasthree children, NaLea, Chase and Swayzee.
Twenty miles away, daughter Cam, and her husband Tyler Fagerhaug, own Fagerhaug Cattle, with the help of their three-year old son, Lawson. The millennial couple co-own MR NLC Avenue with NLC and Parker Cattle Co. Tyler works as a crop adjuster for Great American and also trains and markets calf horses. Meanwhile, Cam works as a graphic designer for the True Dakotan and freelances for ranches needing bull sale catalogs and advertisements. Together, the couple also works at Kimball Livestock Exchange once a week.
"Our registered herd's objective is to raise bulls like my dad's," said Fagerhaug. "We want a strong maternal base with performance capabilities. Today, there are so many technological advances available to us. We have always used data in our operation, but because of past generation's efforts in trial and error, we reap the benefits of measuring that data."
Together, the three families calve out nearly 900 mama cows and merchandise 200+ Simmental and SimAngus bulls at their annual bull sale. The upcoming sale is slated for March 16, 2018. Given their proximity, they trade labor and resources as needed, along with promoting and supporting each other's programs.
As John looks back on his 46 years in the Simmental business, retirement isn't in the works yet, but he's confident in his daughters' abilities to take over the reins.
"My girls grew up in this business, and they understand cattle well," said Christensen. "I see my girls taking on the responsibilities of this operation just as quick as I can get them rolling. Losing my wife has given me a different view of the future. In our 30 years together, she took care of so much, so I could work with the cattle and put up hay. Without her, I have twice the workload and less time. With my daughters taking over the responsibilities and decision-making, I could help with the chores and have time off to go visit with old customers and friends and enjoy some time off."