Winter Cattle Journal 2020: Reich Ranch raises reputation Charolais cattle
The flour is out by 4 a.m. at the Reich household on bull sale day. That’s when Ree Reich starts the homemade yeast doughnuts that have become the stuff of dreams and legends for sale ringmen. But the Reichs of Belle Fourche, South Dakota, started getting ready for their annual Charolais sale long before that—1957 to be exact.
That’s the year Tim Reich says his dad and a neighbor left North Dakota for Missouri and Texas, bringing home some 15/32 cows that were crossed with Brahma, and purebred Charolais bulls.
They brought these foreign cattle home to their Angus, Hereford and baldie cowherd with a pretty good idea of what the neighbors would say.
“At that time crossbreeding was almost a four-letter word,” Tim said. “We starting using some Charolais bulls on some of the cows and the first four years we averaged 74 pounds more per Charolais calf than we did with the Hereford and Angus bulls. We kept getting increased weaning weights with higher crosses of Charolais, but not as dramatic as at first.”
When they crossed their purebred Charolais bulls onto half-Charolais cows, their weaning weights jumped 37 pounds. The next cross, with three-quarter Charolais cows, saw an added 25 pounds.
“We kept upgrading our cattle until we got a purebred herd,” Tim said.
These numbers roll off Tim’s tongue as readily as his phone number—never mind the 60 years in between.
At the time, Tim and his brother were in 4-H, showing calves. “It was very difficult because the politics was not to be crossbreeding in the first place, and certainly not with something as exotic as Charolais.
“We had some pretty set minds to change,” Tim said. “A number of commercial people were watching us and were seeing how much difference they could make just adding the Charolais blood in their commercial herds.”
The Reichs knew they would have to introduce the new blood gradually, and for quite some time they sold half- and three-quarter Charolais bulls. “That was a pretty significant increase for those folks and they were getting along without calving problems.”
In the 1960s Canada imported a new challenge for breeders of the pale cattle, disguised as expensive, high-quality French bulls.
“Those bulls were really expensive, were bought by AI studs and were marketed hard,” Tim said. “Those bulls were never allowed to come into the U.S., but their semen was. With them a lot people got into some serious problems with calving. Those of us who didn’t buy into the full French influence were able to maintain a good bull-customer relationship and be successful, but generally speaking, it was hard to pick up new customers at that time because there was a perception about calving problems that was well-founded with the French cattle.”
Tim estimates it took about 10 years to get over that hump, and by then the Angus breeders were starting to breed some of their popular bloodlines to Chianina and Holsteins to get a bigger frame on their cattle, trying to compete with the Charolais. “They did so relatively successfully. Frame scores changed dramatically with one or two generations,” Tim said.
Tim represented the Charolais breed at a lot of shows, but rarely in the show ring—not since his 4-H days when short, blocky Herefords and petite Angus cattle took home the rosettes.
“Our concentration has been on producing Charolais cattle that will go on commercial herds—Hereford, Angus, baldie—and calve easily and produce a heavier calf at weaning. It’s hard to put together something that lasts very long if you’re constantly chasing showring stuff. Those cattle are all designed to be extreme. They don’t produce consistently because they’re up and down. They’re the tallest or the longest or the shortest.”
Reichs also don’t breed with seedstock producers in mind. “That’s a different focus. We’ve sold bulls occasionally to a breeder, but that’s not our concentration. If we would be producing bulls for other breeders we’d be chasing EPDs, showing cattle at major shows or encouraging others who use our bloodlines to show at major shows, giving them incentives to do so. We’d be doing a whole different ballgame in terms of advertising. I think the top bulls we raise would be very competitive phenotypically and with numbers as bulls that some of the top breeders in the country are selling. But we’re not chasing that market.”
He saw what that looks like behind the scenes early on when he visited a premier Charolais breeder in Missouri. “I don’t know how much his feed bill was. He was feeding his cows and calves full feed, getting 850-pound weaning weights. He was selling bulls for huge amounts of money. It was a really high-gloss program that he was doing.”
Since that’s not their market, that’s not how they operate. “We try to raise cattle the same way our commercial customers do. We want the bulls we sell to go into those herds and do well under the conditions that those fellas are raising cattle,” Tim said.
Their females don’t go through the sale ring. They sell them private treaty, and they’ve gone to Canada, Mexico and all over the United States.
“When we started selling females into Canada, some of these guys would come down and want just the top animals,” Tim said. “Dad said he’d sell them the top 5 percent of the heifer crop. I argued with him pretty hard about that for a number of years. When we did have a sale and we kept track of them, those animals were not as productive as the middle bunch on a consistent basis because they were a little more extreme. They were bigger, probably didn’t show as much femininity. They certainly didn’t produce the same percentage of bodyweight of calf as the more moderate animals do.”
When Reichs start looking for an infusion of new blood, they look for breeders who are operating the same way they are, and have the same priorities. “I try to find people who are raising cattle in same kind of environment we are. Some people don’t think anything of trimming their bulls’ feet every year. When we trim a bull’s feet it’s right behind his ears,” Tim said. “To be fair, we’re on hard and rocky ground, so a bull is going to wear his feet down some. Back east it’s soggy, smaller pastures that are more conducive to foot problems.”
They’ve had ample opportunity to see the diverse conditions under which people raise Charolais. Their Charolais cattle have been the ticket for the Reichs to travel around the world, and meet people from around the world.
They were involved in the North Dakota Charolais Association until they moved to South Dakota, when Tim was elected to the national board, eventually serving as the president of the American International Charolais Association.
They traveled to Canada, England, Scotland, France, Denmark, Hungary and Brazil and hosted an international tour in 1995. They hosted 273 people from 21 countries who marveled at everything from the auctioneer’s patter to the wide-open spaces that allow a tour bus to travel for hours without ever stopping to check passports.
In their own travels Ree said the biggest shock was Belgium, where the cattle were so extreme that everything had to be bred via AI and all calves were caesarian deliveries.
“The concept is different there because they’re not trying to maximize meat production. They want these big, bulging, muscled animals so they have a lot of meat in an animal. But they don’t have enough of a market to wait to raise a calf every year out of an animal, or keep an animal for a long period of time,” Tim said.
While it’s interesting to see how others operate, Tim and Ree are content with the ranch that winds from the Bear Lodge Mountains, to along the Belle Fourche River, which belonged to Ree’s family. Ree wasn’t raised on the ranch—her father owned a service station and she was raised in the house in Belle Fourche they still live in, which her father built, and where they welcome the grandkids after school several days a week.
The next generations are helping out on the ranch now. Their daughter, Angela, is on the ranch full-time, helping with the cows and haying. Their youngest daughter, Holly, lives on their ranch in Wyoming with her husband and three kids, who are old enough to be some good help. Holly also hosts the hunters and guests at her bed and breakfast, which works with Tim’s hunting guide service. Tim and Ree also have a son who makes knives professionally, and a daughter who lives in Minnesota.
Ree is very involved in 4-H and helps organize the Family and Consumer Sciences part of Western Junior Livestock Show in Rapid City every fall, plus helps with the youth at church. Tim has served on local, state and national conservation district boards, the local church board and teaches adult Sunday School classes.