Doll family building a reputation and a breeding program with Charolais and Simmentals since 1946
January 10, 2018
Success is no accident in the producer world– it comes with hard work, education, persistence and a reputation to stand on. And that's just what the Doll family, from New Salem, North Dakota, has done. This year will mark their 38th annual bull and female sale, on March 6, 2018 at Kist Livestock, in Mandan, selling 100 Charolais bulls and 55 Simmental bulls, along with six females of each breed.
Joe and Helen Doll began their career in 1946, multi-tasking, with a dairy barn full of cows, along with beef cattle, pigs, sheep, chickens and horses. Also involved in farming, there wasn't much time left in the day for focusing on much of anything but production.
Joe had heard talk of the heavy weaning weights that the Charolais breed offered, and in 1958, the couple decided to start their breeding program.
"After the first set of calves Mom and Dad weaned, they knew they were on the right track," said their son, David Doll.
A lot of razzing from friends and neighbors followed the purchase of his first "white bull."
"But he had the last laugh when an uncle who criticized him the most, purchased that same bull three years later," Doll said.
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They kept the first set of heifers, and started their purebred herd. Selling bulls came a few years later, private treaty, with just a few, as the Charolais breed was still under review in the industry, and neighbors were skeptical.
"This didn't slow their enthusiasm; they kept developing a cow herd," Doll said, pointing out that raising purebred cattle then was a different game than today's purebreds. Depending the breed association, it could take up to five generations to produce a purebred.
In 1969, Helen attended a meeting about a new breed introduced in the U.S., the Simmental. Joe was attending a Charolais sale in Montana, and wasn't able to go with her. The meeting stressed the performance, easy-going nature, and maternal strength of the breed, and Helen was sold, convincing Joe to take a chance, and see if it would complement what they were seeing with the Charolais. Using artificial insemination, the couple found the demand was there.
"For the first three years all the heifers were sold to Bob Gordon in Canada. He would breed them and sell them as breds the following year," Doll said.
In 1973, they bought their first Simmental herd bull, an import out of Munter, from Monte Boren of Bismarck. The early 1980s saw the introduction of the black Simmental, and Joe, along with fellow breeder Jake Larson, were some of the first to incorporate this into their programs.
Joe and Helen's persistence with both breeds has paid off. Their first production sale, in 1980, consisted of about 50 bulls and 50 females of both breeds. Today, the sale has grown to 160 bulls, but just 10-15 open females. Their private sales and friendships across all breeds have also continued to grow.
It can take a long time to build a reputation.
In 1989 the Dolls received the Pioneer Award at the North Dakota Charolais Association, and in both 1993 and 2000 they were the Seed Stock Producer of the year.
In 2015, the Dolls received the Pioneer Award from the North Dakota Simmental Association. Joe and Helen's American Simmental Association number was the seventh one issued in North Dakota, where they hold the longest active ASA membership in the state.
In 1971, Joe consigned both Charolais and Simmental bulls to the first all-breeds bull test held in Bismarck, which also marked the first annual sale for the North Dakota Simmental Association. And in 2000, the family had the top gaining bull in the North Dakota Cattlemen's Association bull test.
Raising bulls for the commercial cattle industry has always been a focus for the ranch. Over the years, the family has built a solid reputation with a strong clientele, based not only on their cattle, but also on their honesty and straightforward nature.
"Someone once told us, it is easier to tell the truth than a lie," Doll said. "And unfortunately, it can take one bad experience to tarnish a reputation."
Customer satisfaction is a top priority, and has been carried down from Joe and Helen.
"Since we deliver most of the bulls ourselves, it is always fun to hear stories of how their dad bought bulls from our dad, going back to the ’70s," Doll said.
"We are grateful for those relationships over the years. We have learned no one is just our customer, they have the right to go anywhere. With that in mind we treat customers as we would want to be treated," he said.
With new challenges in advertising, maintaining and growing the client base has changed from the early years, with social media and websites.
"Right now there is such a spread in age of producers. The papers are a must for the older generation, they want to be able to hold a sale book or read a livestock paper. The website and internet is for the younger generation, and it can reach a lot more people at a cheaper cost," Doll said.
Today the ranch is run by the three youngest sons and their families, Charles and Pam, along with their two sons, Ty and Joey; Harlan and Jodie; David and Donna. Helen still lives close by, but Joe died Oct. 3, 2016.
"We are a family-run operation. We consider it a privilege to carry on what our parents started 60 years ago. They were pioneer breeders in both breeds," Doll said.
While the family values have held true, the breeding program has evolved.
"Back when mom and dad started it was simple, raise bulls for the commercial person that would produce heavy weaning weights," Doll said. "Today you have a broader view of traits to select for."
The brothers focus on a balanced approach, with performance still at the top of the list.
"Performance is still the most important trait we work on, while still maintaining moderate birth weights and calving ease," Doll said.
Above average milk is also important, but not excessive milk, and carcass traits are included and analyzed before selecting a new herd bull, and it’s paid off.
"Over the years of ultrasound and actual carcass data our cattle produce 15-17 inch ribeyes, average a low to medium choice grade, yield grade of 2.4, and dressing percentages over 65 percent," Doll said.
Crossbreeding has worked from the onset of the Doll ranch.
Always open to new genetics that improve their client's commercial herds, the Dolls incorporate genetics from both the U.S. and Canada.
"Our customers are still performance-orientated and this combination works well for us," Doll said.
"It's always fun to hear the extra weight people add to their calves at weaning when they use Char or Simmy bulls on a set of British-based cows for the first time. Crossbreeding is still the cheapest and most effective tool in the tool box for any operation."