Cattle Journal 2023: Triangle J Ranch, Simmentals, Nebraska |

Cattle Journal 2023: Triangle J Ranch, Simmentals, Nebraska

Azale Line and Doug Line raised a lot of Hereford cattle before introducing Angus into the mix. This photo dates back to 1968, long before Simmental cattle were even a thought for the operation. Photo courtesy of the Line family.
Triangle J

When the land Triangle J Ranch was first purchased from the railroad in 1887, that name was more than 100 years away. The shorthorn cattle speckling the landscape back then were deep in body, short in leg and loud in red, roan color.  

Roy Judy started the operation near Miller, Nebraska, and then his daughter, Irma, and her husband, Azale Line, took over. They added Herefords to the mix and were known as Judy and Line Ranch.  

When Doug and Dixie Line took over, they added Angus to the herd. The black baldie F1 crosses built a commercial herd that Doug’s son, Darby Line, would eventually use a Simmental bull on.  

“I bought a few Simmental heifers in high school and started AI-ing them and buying others off dispersals when I could afford them,” Darby said. “My dad said that if I wanted to raise a few bulls for him, he would buy them from me.”  

That was back in the early ’90s, when Darby was still in college and his dreams of a purebred Simmental operation were still brewing. It didn’t take long for Darby to understand that raising cattle is mostly about people.  

Door Knocker  

“It’s tough to get started in the commercial business, but even harder to get into purebreds,” Darby said. “I was a door-to-door salesman for a while, just trying to get customers by shaking their hands and building relationships with them. I’ve always said commercial customers are really good people and they proved that when they were willing to give a young guy like me a try, and I’m really appreciative of that.”  

It certainly helps that Darby’s handshake holds a lot of weight with both the giver and taker. One of those commercial cattlemen willing to bet on Darby was Gary Ross.  

“My dad was looking for Simmental bulls and Darby was one of the closer outfits that had some,” said Vaughn Ross, Gary’s oldest son. “We were at one of their very first bull sales and we’ve been back every year since. His bulls have worked well for us over the years.”  

Even though Darby was relatively new to Simmentals, he recognized the direction they needed to take with the breed.  

“When I first started, we didn’t have any black Simmental bulls because there weren’t many available at the time,” Darby said. “My dad and I decided we needed to raise black Simmental bulls. Now that’s the majority of what’s sold.”  

A Change of Face 

It wasn’t that long ago – 10 years – that Simmental cattle still weren’t well accepted at the sale barn.  

“Commercial cattlemen used to get docked at the sale barn when they weren’t selling black Simmentals,” Darby said of the shift he’s seen in the cattle industry. “We sell cattle that are either solid black or black baldies that have lighter birthweights and better calving ease while still performing on a growth and carcass chart.”  

Raised by a commercial cattleman, Darby has never underestimated his customers. They know what they want and need, and Darby accommodates that in his breeding decisions.  

“Things were changing a lot when I was getting started and we tried to adapt to those changes as much as we could,” Darby said. “I’ve spent my whole life building a cow herd that’s homozygous polled and homozygous black. It’s taken us more than a decade to get here.”  

Darby’s customers don’t have to worry about a calf coming out red or horned, and at the same time they can count on the type of animal they’ll be raising. It all goes back to the bullpen.  

“We’ve always had real docile bulls from Darby,” Vaughn said. “And I love the frame that he’s got on his bulls – they’re always in great shape, not too fat, but ready to go to work for us when we get them.”  

The longevity of those bulls is also a testament to Darby’s program. Most bulls have a solid five years of consistent work out in the pasture, but Vaughn’s had several that lasted 6, 7, and 8 years.  

“They’re stout, but they also have good feet under them, and they’ve been easy keepers that really lasted for my family,” Vaughn said.  

Even though the Ross family clearly stands behind Simmental bulls, not everyone is of the same opinion. Some got burned back before the breed made foundational changes to the size and type of animal they wanted to raise.  

“Our biggest struggle has been convincing customers that our breed has changed as much as it has,” Darby said. “It’s not hard to prove the change, it’s hard to talk someone into trying it. Especially if it would be their second time taking a chance on Simmentals.”  

Thirty Years in the Making  

This January will mark the 33rd bull sale Darby and his wife, Annette, have put on at the ranch. It’s one of the most visible signs of their success.  

Bulls have sold as far into the Northwest as Washington and all the way down to Florida. Many also end up with local cattlemen.  

“There are good bulls from the bottom end to the top of Darby’s sale bill,” Vaughn said. “I think that goes back to the quality of his breeding program. Darby is always upfront with everyone, you truly get what you pay for, you never have to take a chance on a bull because he’s always going to be a good one.”  

Darby’s reputation in the bullpen has translated into the cow herd as well. The 325 Triangle J females that sold this fall found new zip codes all across the country. 

“Right now, we have a product that commercial cattlemen want and are proud to buy and raise,” Darby said. “Now the goal is to continue building consistency in each generation of cattle that have everything. We need to stack those bloodlines to get that consistency.” 

Both Darby and Annette spend a majority of their time keeping records up on the 1,400-head herd of females. Most of those are registered Simmentals, but some are also straight Angus.  

“We’re not trying new fads or anything that would take us backwards, that’s why we spend so much time keeping up with records, bloodlines and customers,” Darby said. “We enjoy the cattle business and definitely wish we had more time to be out there calving and doing those types of things. We’re fortunate that we have a good crew at the ranch.”  

Newly added to that crew is Darby and Annette’s oldest son, Travis. Of their five boys – Dillan, Jason, Creyton and Braxton – all love the cow business just like their parents.  

“We’re a family operation and that’s very important to us,” Darby said. “It’s nice when we’re all home, doing what we love.”