South Dakota ranchers gift beef jerky to troops overseas

Josh DeHaai, Lee DeHaai, Charles Totton and Amos Isburg pose with the 251 lbs. of jerky from Vindicator, the Hereford bull. Photo courtesy of Totton Angus.

As Easter fast approaches, families will be looking forward to attending Sunday church services, egg hunting with their kids and grandkids and gathering around the dinner table to enjoy a meal together.

For the men and women serving our nation overseas, Easter will look a little bit different. With their loved ones and the comforts of home halfway around the globe, the days can look a little bit brighter thanks to people like Charles and Tanya Totton.

The Tottons own and operate Totton Angus in Chamberlain, S.D., and in their spare time when they aren’t busy on the ranch, they are busy promoting beef and thanking the troops.

Their daughter, Courtney Totton Tyrrell of Box Elder, S.D. is a member of the South Dakota Army National Guard’s Company C, 1st Battalion, 189th Aviation Regiment. She, along with 90 other soldiers from her unit, were mobilized for a year-long deployment to Kuwait in October 2017.

Now, about halfway through her tour of duty, Courtney’s parents wanted to send a care package to her unit, and the perfect opportunity came along with a bull named Vindicator.

“Vindicator was four years old working in our Hereford herd when we ran into an issue registering one of his daughters,” said Charles Totton. “We sent in a DNA sample and to our surprise, his results didn’t match his registration papers.”

Totton joked that they had a bull with an “identity crisis,” so they made the decision to send him to the local meat locker, Dehaii Processing of Chamberlain, S.D.

“Vindicator weighed 1,890 lbs. live and had a 1,134 lb. hanging weight,” said Totton. “Debone and trimmed, we still had 680 lbs. of meat. We decided we wanted to make him entirely into jerky, and considering raw meat is 64 percent moisture and jerky is only 1 percent moisture, that left us with 251 lbs. of jerky.”

With Courtney and at least four other soldiers from her unit having connections to the Chamberlain area, Charles and Tanya decided to send the 251 lbs. of jerky to the 189th unit in the Middle East.

In the processing process, they worked with the South Dakota State University meat lab to develop a jerky seasoning that would lengthen the shelf-life of the beef as it would travel 3-4 weeks in the mail before arriving in the hot Middle East.

“We thought that maybe some South Dakota jerky would brighten their day and let them know that people at home are thinking about them,” said Totton. “We contacted the State Family Readiness Group Coordinator for help with the logistics. They agreed it was a good idea, but they could only accept up to $1,000 donations from one single entity.”

Vindicator’s jerky far exceeded that limit. Granted, at the sale barn, he would have sold for $.85 lb., totaling $1,606.50. However, a quick comparison to a bag of South Dakota-made beef jerky selling at the local gas station cost $11.49 for a 4.5 oz package. At that price ($40.80/lb.), the 251 lbs. of jerky is worth a whopping $10,240.80.

“Since we were limited to how much we could donate, we got more entities involved with the project,” said Totton. “In addition to Totton Angus, the bull was actually registered under our secondary herd, Hoing Herefords. We also received a 50 percent discount on making the jerky from DeHaai Processing when they found out we were donating it to a National Guard unit. Adamson Angus also pitched in with the costs, as well as Kore Cares of Sioux Falls, Thrivent Financial and Hoing Racing Team.”

With several entities involved, the Tottons were cleared to ship the jerky. The beef ended up in 45 boxes and cost $17.40/box to ship in a flat rate box overseas.

“We were a little surprised at the shipping costs,” said Tanya Totton. “We sent the first batch of boxes on Feb. 20 and the remaining on March 2. So far, several boxes have been received by the troops, but much of it is still waiting in customs.”

The Tottons sent business cards with their donation, and the response from the Middle East was immediate.

“Our daughter’s unit is spread out to six different locations right now, but she told us that her group has received the beef and really enjoyed it,” said Tanya. “We have received several emails from soldiers who shared that everyone was ecstatic with the gift and that the jerky was delicious taste of home. It feels good to receive the positive feedback, and with their tour of duty about halfway over now, we thought it would be the perfect time to send a pick-me-up to the troops.”

Back at home, the Tottons are strong supporters of the troops in other ways. They help host the annual Chamberlain Beef Cook-off and Veteran’s Appreciation Day, which includes a brisket and prime rib cooking contest and is free to veterans and their spouses. It is scheduled for Sept. 8, 2018 at the American Creek Campground in Chamberlain.

“If anyone would like to co-sponsor this effort, contact us at 605-234-0349,” said Charles. “Thanks to sponsorship from the Beef industry Council we had Beef Bundle Bingo last year and gave away coolers of frozen beef as prizes. It was a big hit. It’s hard to go wrong promoting beef and saying thanks to the veterans at the same time!

In addition, the Tottons are sponsors at the Black Hills Veterans March, scheduled this year for Sept. 15. Anyone interested in this event can look up ways to volunteer, donate or participate at

“We worked to make sure the event served beef at the finish line, so we helped line up a volunteer to cook brisket for the teams,” said Charles. “We also sponsor a rest stop along the trail and serve beef chislic and mountain oysters to runners. It’s at mile 20, so by then, people are hungry and tired and ready to rest for a bit. It’s a fun way to thank the troops and promote beef at the same time.”

While the Tottons await news that the remaining boxes of jerky have made it to the Middle East, they are busy calving and preparing for their Fifth Annual Totton Angus Bull Sale at the ranch at 1:30 p.m. on May 5, 2018. With brisket on the meu and 50-plus Angus bulls offering exceptional calving ease traits, the Tottons welcome customers, friends and beef lovers to join them on sale day.