Arntzen Angus: Raising Quality purebred Angus cattle for modern times
The land north of Lewistown, Montana features rolling hills and abundant grass—a perfect place to establish a ranch, which is what the Arntzen family did in the mid-1940s. Alm Arntzen and his son, Ken, moved to the area in the 1940s, purchasing 700 acres, building and adding to it over the next several decades.
“My grandpa bought the first Angus cows in 1955; before that, they raised Herefords,” said 35-year-old Kevin Arntzen who grew up on the ranch. “He started our purebred herd by purchasing Angus cows from well-known breeders such as Stevenson Angus, the Lost Lake Ranch in Fort Benton and the Green Valley Ranch in Hobson.”
Through the 1960s, the family kept building the cow herd, selling a few bulls private treaty and finally holding their first bull sale in 1977. Sadly, Ken passed away before their first bull sale. Ken’s wife, Sherry, played a large role in developing the Arntzen breeding stock with her sons, Keith and Doug. The ranch woman was heavily involved in registering cattle and keeping close track of pedigrees.
After graduating from Montana State University, Keith’s son Kevin returned home to take his place in the legacy of the purebred Angus ranch.
Kevin mused about the changes from a simple pedigree his grandpa used to develop and sell bulls until today. “In the mid-1960s, the registered breeders started to conduct performance testing. Then EPDs came along including birthweight, yearling weight and weaning weight. Today, we have 30-40 EPDs including carcass backfat, rib eye, carcass weight. The big change recently was having to do foot scores, udder scores and condition scores, as well as reporting all of the heifer breeding. In the last 10 years, the technology has been developed that bulls can be scored based on their DNA–a piece of tail hair, an ear notch or blood. DNA enhances EPD predictability. There is a lot of data to digest.”
Spring is an exceptionally busy time for the Arntzens. The cows begin calving the first of February with 70 percent calved out by March 1. As calving slows down, the family prepares for the annual bull sale the first Thursday of April. Starting May 1, they spend three weeks synchronizing cows as the intensive AI/embryo transfer program commences. They have emphasized their AI in the past 12 years to get more cows bred and tighten the calving window, which helps in the consistency of the bulls on sale day. In addition, AI allows them to offer larger sire groups.
“For years Dad and my uncle, Doug, have emphasized the maternal side, looking at a cow with calving ease that is low maintenance, to help the cow/calf producer get ahead,” said Kevin.
To continually improve their herd, members of the Arntzen family travel all over the country, looking at outcross bulls from other ranches to find one that will improve their genetics. The trips prove extremely educational, as the Arntzen can see the bulls firsthand and look at the calves from certain bulls; if they like the calves and the sire’s corresponding data, they purchase semen.
“The real fun is trying to get your own bull proven to sell semen around the country,” Kevin said. “It’s challenging yet exciting to try find a breeding that will result in a bull that will change the breed. We did raise AAR TEN X 7008, who was a leading bull across the country in 2015 and 2016. New Trend was the first bull who got popularity around the country in the 1980s and Really Wind was a leading bull in the mid to late 1990s.”
The Arntzen Angus Bull Sale, which will be in its 45th year in 2021, continues to grow, seeing about 350 people moving through pens to examine bulls, enjoying a delicious lunch and, most importantly, raising their bidding cards when the auction begins.
“Generally, at our bull sale we sell 220 bulls and we sell another 50 private treaty. This year due to COVID and bad weather, our attendee numbers were really down. We had about 40 people in the stands, and 85 pre-registered online buyers,” Kevin said. “You can’t beat a live auction, though. Bull sales are a community event and there is the exciting atmosphere of the buyers when a bull walks into the ring. I think it’s important to have a live sale, not solely a video sale.”
Environmentally, with the rolling hills and open country, the area can be snowy; Arntzens start feeding hay the first of January or a little earlier if the weather doesn’t cooperate. However, they don’t creep feed or baby the cows and calves; the livestock need to prove themselves hardy enough to handle winter weather.
One of the greatest challenges in the area is competition for land. They have the contentious American Prairie Reserve gobbling up ag land in the area (APR has bought a building in Lewistown and is working to set up in that area as well their ranch headquarters in Malta, Montana). Out-of-state people with more money than local ranchers have to spend are buying large tracts, limiting the ability of ranchers to be able to expand. In addition, the continued assault from anti-livestock organizations makes it essential to communicate directly to the consumer.
Arntzen Angus has a Facebook page and a website (www.arntzenangus.com) with the family reaching out to a non-agricultural audience to explain what ranching is really like and how it’s critical to the food supply.
It’s rewarding to work with family: Kevin and Keith work together and Doug has his sons Brad, Derick and Eric. Although their ranches are run separately, the families collaborate on the bull sale and genetics. In addition, three employees, including Todd Foran, who has worked with the Arntzens for 42 years keep the ranch running smoothly.
Kevin credits his grandmother, Sherry, for doing an excellent job to get the ranch transitioned to the next generation. “Dad and I learned a lot from her regarding transitioning to the next generation. Dad is still the ultimate boss, but he’s really good at letting me make decisions. I’m thankful that we all get along very well. I’ve been working with my uncles and cousins since junior high.”
Arntzen Angus continues to stay current and family operated as the families of both Keith and Doug remain dedicated to raising quality purebred cattle for modern times.
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