Winter Cattle Journal 2020: Amdahls bring forward thinking to Angus and Hereford cattle
For the last several years the Amdahl Angus and Hereford bull sale has been noted for its sub-zero temperatures. This year, in an effort to avoid that dubious distinction, Tim and Marcia Amdahl and family moved their bull sale to November. While early snowstorms made them wonder if the frigid weather was going to follow them, their Nov. 23 sale date saw temperatures in the 60s.
“The sale went well, especially for the first year we’d moved it from February to November. We averaged $3,756 on the Angus bulls and about $4,200 on the Herefords. We still have some to sell private treaty,” Tim said. They attracted some new customers this year, and some of their previous customers said they planned to come back and buy bulls private treaty later on.
“That’s part of where the markets are at today. We want to be optimistic, but there’s some uncertainty about where the markets will be and how the loaning institutions will respond,” Tim said.
To adjust for the early sale, Amdahls offered to keep the bulls until spring, semen-test, then deliver them. They’ve offered that before, but never for this length of time.
Tim said they plan to stick with the November sale date. “It was enjoyable preparing for this sale when we aren’t calving cows. We got to enjoy Thanksgiving, Christmas and now we can look forward to calving in January.”
Tim said his family has been involved in the cattle business since 1884, raised registered Angus cattle since 1972 and added Herefords five years ago when they bought Baker Hereford Ranch near Rapid City, South Dakota.
“We enjoy good cattle of all breeds,” Tim said. “We have a special spot for Angus and we’re enjoying the Herefords.”
Tim is the fourth generation of Amdahls to raise cattle. He grew up in eastern South Dakota on a feedlot and cow/calf and farming operation, adding the purebred Angus when Tim was a junior in high school.
“The advantage of coming to the purebred business from a beef cattle feedlot is that you’re always thinking of the end product, both in gain and look and carcass quality,” Tim said.
“We incorporate the most important things, starting with a live calf. We want a calf that comes easy and has a lot of vigor. It’s been rewarding to have our customers come back and talk about how those calves out of first-calf heifers get up and chase mama down.”
They’ve embraced the purebred business wholeheartedly, DNA testing and offering enhanced EPDs. “We have one of the most DNA-tested herds in the Angus business,” Tim said. “If you DNA test one of our yearling bulls you’ll get accurate calving information as if he’d had 13 calves already.”
Tim said they have the top proven EPD cow in the Angus breed. “Anytime you search three or more EPDs, she always comes up the top cow. We do a lot of embryo work with her.” Nine of her progeny were in the November sale.
The DNA testing and genomic-enhanced EPDs are just a couple ways they focus on creating a valuable product for their customers. “Our goal is to help our customers be more profitable in the cattle business,” Tim said. “We do that by helping them have more live calves and heavier calves, and we help market some of their animals.”
Marketing is something they’ve learned to diversify over the years. In addition to their annual bull sale and female sale, they also keep several freezers in their on-the-ranch sale barn stocked with beef to sell to by the quarter and half, via word-of-mouth.
“I believe it’s an advantage to feed out and market some of your own beef. We know the kind of quality of product we’re raising,” Tim said.
It’s a concept his family has been embracing for nearly 50 years. “When people started losing a lot of money feeding cattle, my dad started marketing his own processed beef throughout South Dakota, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin.” Oliver Amdahl took orders ahead of time from grocery stores, restaurants and individuals in 22 cities and delivered via reefer truck.
That idea might be timely now, Tim says. “Never have I heard so many of our ranchers and feedlot operators saying we need to be processing and marketing our own beef, because of the huge difference in profits of cattle producers and packers.”
The Amdahl family has lived on both sides of the Missouri River, near New Underwood, South Dakota, near Mitchell, South Dakota, and now on the place formerly owned by Baker Herefords. They bought quite a few of the cows at Bakers’ dispersion sale, and now are applying their Angus methodology to the Hereford herd.
“We’ve been doing embryo work with those. Our goal is to breed them like we do our Angus, for calving ease, performance, fleshing ability, easy keeping, longevity, strong maternal traits and carcass,” Tim said.
Amdahls have been using artificial insemination since 1975. The first embryo transplants ever done in South Dakota were in Amdahl cattle in 1978, which was very expensive at the time.
They still do a lot of embryo work, most of it on the ranch, preparing the donor and recip cows themselves. An embryologist flushes the cows and puts in fresh or frozen embryos. They do some in-vitro fertilization as well, but that is done off the ranch.
“We focus on maternal values as a whole,” said JD, their youngest son, who works with them on the ranch. “Especially breedback and predictability. We blend in calving ease and performance. Our goal is that they will accelerate to a year, then moderate out. We want enough of the good carcass value so you can get the premiums and yields that are needed to make it more profitable.”
Though their marketing and location has changed over the years, they’ve remained committed to their principles, including service to others, faith in God and civic and social responsibility. Tim served as the state land commissioner and in 2002 ran for the U.S. House of Representatives.
Tim says he values those experiences. “There are great people in all corners of the state. We really enjoy those involved in agriculture. There’s a strong bond because we’ve been through the ups and downs and challenges.”
Tim and Marcia have five kids, and all five kids carry on the values their parents shared.
JD and his wife, Annie, live on the ranch with their daughter, Coley. JD is gradually taking over some of the decision-making, like choosing new genetics and putting together the sale catalog.
Their daughter, Megan Julson ranches with her husband, Gerad and three kids east of Wall, South Dakota. Their oldest daughter, Jessica Reed and her husband, John, and three daughters have served as missionaries in Brazil and Central America, and now live in Dallas. Their oldest son, TJ, is a Navy Seal stationed in San Diego, with his wife, Alicia, and three kids. Their daughter, Heather lives with her husband, Jerry Senn and five kids on a ranch near Opal, South Dakota.
The fifth generation of Amdahls that grew up raising beef cattle are now raising the sixth generation of 15 grandkids.