Winter Cattle Journal 2020: Spickler Ranch North Registered Angus
Family, efficiency, and faith are central to Spickler Ranch North Registered Angus near Glenfield, North Dakota. Justin and Sara Spickler, along with their four children, combine passion and technology to produce the best possible cattle for their customers.
Angus seedstock production is the main focus as Spicklers carefully refine their herd to produce top-of-the-line bulls. The production of quality Angus females naturally follows suit. Justin has several goals in mind with each generation. He says, “It’s to try to make these cows as good as we can: keeping track of hoof and foot quality, tightening up udders, shortening up teats, making these cows so that when they raise bulls those bulls will make daughters that will last till they are 10, 12, 14.”
“We’ve always gravitated towards cattle that were middle-of-the-road as far as frame size but had extra depth and muscle. I feel like we’ve always wanted to have cattle that were really easy keeping. The cow herd represents that. They can handle changes and adapt,” he says. From 30 below to 90 degrees and humidity, the branded S Moon cattle maintain weight and function in all weather, much to the satisfaction of customers, according to Justin.
The family’s year-round work culminates at the Spickler Ranch North Annual Production Sale, which heavily emphasizes their bull crop. As the catalog says, “Our business is coming two-year-old Angus bulls!” The sale was historically held in December but this year has been moved to Wednesday, November 20th due to weekend conflicts.
In preparation for this year’s production sale, they dealt with distressing weather conditions. Spickler said, “We’ve had like 45 days of rain. I think we’ve had somewhere around 12 inches. Conditions in the feedlot just deteriorated.” The ranch sits on the James River, which flooded in 2009 and 2011 and caused evacuations. A dyke has since been installed, but the excess moisture still raised concern. Sale bulls were turned out in hopes that they might find drier ground and had to be trailed home on flooded roads. Yet, Justin remains upbeat. “It’s really humorous. We have cow pictures that were taken at the end of September where it’s green and our bull and heifer pictures are snowy. Part of the allure of the fall sale was no snow, but I’ve worn my ear flapper plenty already.”
The October snow and rain were challenging, but the family persevered in their Christian faith. “We wouldn’t be able to do what we’re doing without God’s blessing in what we do. His hand is in everything. There’s been countless things throughout life that our faith in Him, and what Jesus did on the cross, it’s kept us going. We’re in the midst of one of those things right now. We’re trying to have a bull sale with a flooded ranch and yet have peace and know that it’s going to work,” he said.
On the female side of things, Spickler Ranch North partners with McCumber Angus and Spickler Ranch South for the Angus Partners Female Sale in January. Their customer base is roughly 95% local. “It’s a sale that has been established as having quality replacements,” said Spickler. Nearing its 14th year, the Annual Female Sale was born with the customer in mind. “Our thought was and still is to add value to our customer’s females. We feel like Angus steers sell well. And what we wanted to do was for the heifers that our customers had to market, we wanted them to get steer price. When we go into that sale and people are wondering what they’ll bring, the open heifers almost always bring steer price. Of course, on the bred heifer side, we wanted people to get a little extra premium for the bred heifers.”
The desire to succeed inspired careful decisions and big moves along the way. “Shortly after we split off on our own […] within 15 months, we had doubled the cow herd. I was in partnership with my brother until 2014.” After the peaceful split, Spickler Ranch North redoubled their efforts toward their vision. “2017 would’ve been our first real fall sale where it was our full calf crop.”
Opportunities and timing have allowed Spickler Ranch North to grow quickly. In 2011, Justin spoke to a rancher nearing retirement: “I saw him at a bull sale and said, ‘If you ever retire and sell your cows, let me know.’ What I meant was I wanted to buy one or two.” Three years later, the same gentleman called Justin: “He said ‘Were you serious?’ I said, ‘Well, yeah.’ He said, ‘Do you want them all?’ Two weeks later, we had all his cows. You have to really be careful what you say. I meant two and we got 180.”
Sara has been fundamental from the beginning. From July 1999 to May 2001, Justin was the herdsman in the Beef Unit at North Dakota State University as his father’s ranch was not large enough to support three men at the time. Justin was working toward his own cow herd, however. “Sara and I got married in 2001. We leased 100 cows when we were engaged. That was how I made sure she came to the wedding,” he jokes.
As their operation grew along with the work demands, Sara retired as a nurse and took on an essential role on the ranch. “Sara is fully in charge of all data. I used to be heavily involved in that. I bet she takes 500 of the birthweights. The calving is organized almost entirely by Sara. Sara does everything from being a mom, housewife, accountant, calves all the cows, does all the record-keeping, she trained herself to make the catalog by watching YouTube videos of InDesign and she now makes all the ads,” Spickler said.
Their children, Wyatt, Will, Jessa, and Watson, aged from 15 to nine years old, also play a major role. The two oldest boys are skilled in running haying equipment and recognizing numbers while working cattle. Jessa and Watson also enjoy ranch work, especially that which can be done horseback. Though their registered are not specifically bred for showing, the Spickler kids began showing on the 4H level and last year showed at Junior Nationals successfully. “They’re getting to where they have some bred-and-owned heifers. Next time we go to Junior Nationals, we’ll be able to compete in that,” Justin says.
Justin pauses to look back at the progress in the last eight years. He says, “We went through a business change, a bull sale timing change, and doubled our cow herd and renovated the entire cow herd. We are just getting to where we are seeing the benefits of that. I’m not saying that out of arrogance. It was part of the plan. We wanted to try to make these cows as good as we possibly could as quickly as we possibly could. We dove right in and kept heifers and culled cows.” Though he is satisfied with the achievements thus far, he continues to strive. “It’s my personal challenge to make it as good as it can possibly be. I’m still 15 years from that.”
While the quality and growth of his herd is important, even more meaningful is the future of Spickler’s children. “It’s really hard and I think it gets harder and harder. That’s one of the reasons we have the number of cows we do, to create opportunity for the kids that want to be involved.” Spickler Ranch North looks ahead to create an effective Angus program and positive future in the industry.