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Campbell Red Angus: Cattle that perform for cattlemen

The 2020 Campbell Red Angus bull sale was held on the same day the nation received a stay-at-home order. Though their operation – along with all other businesses – faced some unique challenges this year, the Campbell family looks to the future with big changes in 2021 and hope in the next generation. 

Robert Campbell says, “It was the unknown, the uncertainty of everything. Everyone was stopping and taking a breath. Kind of like everyone has been for nine months now… It affected the sale. People just got very cautious all of a sudden, because they didn’t know what it meant. All the way through, not just our sale, but all the sales through April and May were affected.” 

However, the Campbell Red Angus Bull Sale, which has been held at Mobridge Livestock for four decades, will move to the ranch near McIntosh in the year 2021. “We’re looking for something bigger and better – the opportunity for people to come see some of the mama cows and the herd bulls. I think once the people see they’ll understand more about the cattle, and the development program behind the cattle. I think they’ll like it,” Campbell says. 



Moving the bull sale home might also give potential buyers a sense of the family heritage, like the five generations of Campbells that have influenced the herd operating today. “My great-grandpa came from Cork County, Ireland and he homesteaded south of McIntosh,” Campbell says. Apart from four-year hiatuses to earn college degrees, each generation has returned to the ranch to carry on the operation.  

Campbells began raising Red Angus fifty years ago, when it was a relatively unknown breed in the United States. “No one really knew what Red Angus cattle were. My dad and mom were real instrumental in the South Dakota Red Angus Association and promoting Red Angus as a breed in the 1970’s and into the ’80s, just getting the breed recognized,” he says.  



Robert’s father, Harold, and uncle, Harvey, laid the foundation of the original herd. “My dad and uncle got their red cattle in 1970, and their first purebred cattle in 1973,” he says. Twenty years ago, Harold became the sole operator when Harvey stepped away.  

In order to further the overall quality of their product, Harold began refining the heifers. “In 1990, Dad started a heifer development program, and we bred Red Angus heifers that we bought back from our customers as well as our own heifers every year since 1990. The most we did one year was right at 1,000, but we’re usually between 300 and 500,” he says.  

Robert says, “My dad coined the term, ‘Cattle that perform for the cattleman.’” Campbell Red Angus strives to uphold that maxim with every breeding decision. “I’ve always said we’re one of the best-kept secrets out there.”  

Robert continues the Red Angus breed for various reasons. “It’s a maternal breed with a lot of maternal traits. It’s a really high-value carcass breed. It’s a great base breed to go a lot of different directions for cross-breeding,” he says.  

Seven years ago, Harold passed the operation onto Robert, but remains a source of guidance. “Dad still comes out every day. We’re carrying on trying to produce honest, good cattle,” he says.  

Campbell believes the management of their commercial and purebred herd provides a unique asset: hardiness. “We’re putting cattle into a lot of different environments in a year, and we try to help the animals that we’re selling adapt to different conditions. We’ve got cattle standing in Canada, we’ve got cattle standing in the US, we’ve got cattle standing in Mexico that have all come from this operation. We feel our cattle will adapt to a lot of environments. The cattle are exposed to all four seasons and we try to let Mother Nature do part of our selection. They’ve got to be hardy cattle,” Campbell says.  

Along with adaptability, Campbells strive to produce fertility. “Our purebred herds run under range conditions. There’s not a lot of pampering. They get one chance: if they don’t bring a calf in, they don’t get to stay here. If they don’t breed back, they don’t stay,” he says.  

“Some operations get a cow line and pamper it and it becomes unrealistic, the way they’re performing, because they’ve got every opportunity. They’re fed hard, in other words. They don’t have any adverse conditions which happen under ranch conditions,” he says. Exposing his cow herd to all of South Dakota’s four seasons (sometimes all in one week) instills the ability to adapt to any conditions throughout North America. 

The fifth generation Campbell and the third generation of Campbell Red Angus, Robby, came home after graduating college a year ago. “My son and I and my dad are here full time. My wife (Kara) is a teacher in town and she works at home when she’s not working in town, helping to do books and the full realm of things. I’ve got three other children – my daughters – they’ve graduated and moved on, but they come back and help, also.”  

Campbell’s youngest, Jennifer, graduates from the pre-veterinary program at SDSU this fall, and will be applying to veterinary schools, gaining her interest in animal health from the family’s ranch.  

Looking to the future, Campbell says they will continue to maintain the integrity of the Red Angus, breeding cattle with good feet, good udders, and good production, with the ultimate goal of producing “cattle that perform for the cattleman.”  


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