Salers at Work in the Dakotas
Not far from Williston, North Dakota, you will find Salers cattle roaming the rolling hills in the pastures at RAO Salers, just as you have since 1980. Here, Roger Olson along with his wife Helen, son Curtis and daughter Karla, run a no-frills seedstock operation in its fourth generation. Roger, a meat cutter at the time, became interested in Salers cattle because of their ability to grade Choice and Prime with an added advantage of being Yield Grades 1 and 2. What he found shortly after importing several females from Canada was much more. “These cattle calved amazingly easy. They just didn’t require much attention at all and the females were instantly great mothers,” says Roger.
Not only did the Olson’s come to appreciate the calving ease and maternal traits of their new breed, but the performance of the progeny was an added bonus. Roger says, “they call them ‘The Balanced Breed’ and it really describes the cattle well. They just do so many things right. These traits remain the focus of our program today. We want cattle that calve easy, make great mothers and have balanced performance. We want to continue to have cattle that have the will to survive a North Dakota winter. We also want cattle with good dispositions and we make that a priority.”
The Olson’s hosted their first annual bull sale in the fall of 1983. They have continued selling registered Salers cattle and now hold their sale in the spring of the year and offer Purebred and Percentage Salers cattle to a “tremendous set of repeat customers”, adds Roger.
One of those customers is Aaron Jacobsen of Windy Prairie Ranch. Talk to Aaron for a brief time about his cow calf operation near Noonan, North Dakota, and you get the feeling he wouldn’t want to try to do it without the benefit of Salers cattle. “We started using Salers cattle back in 2006. We were looking for easier calving bulls for use on our heifers.” Aaron continues, “We are a range calving outfit and we needed to have cattle that would calve on their own. We used Salers bulls on our heifers and they calved great. Then we discovered the tremendous growth we got out of those calves. We then decided to use them on our Angus- based cows and we really liked the results. The best part came when we kept back some heifers – these Salers influence cattle make tremendous cows,” Aaron adds enthusiastically. Aaron reports the ‘will of the calves to survive’ is what sets them apart from lots of cattle. Being a range-calving outfit, he appreciates the fact the calves are up in an instant, ready to get going.
“We start calving the 1st of June and expect the cattle to calve on their own. What really sold us on the breed was the year we took 74 bred heifers to a pasture 37 miles from the house. We hauled the heifers over there the very first of April. We got busy and didn’t get by there to check on the heifers for a while. We finally got back the first of July, when we went to brand them .We gathered and branded 72 calves. At that point we were absolutely sold on the breed.”
Aaron reports additional benefits on the Salers bulls that he buys these days, “Another thing I really like is how well the bulls keep their flesh. They are easy keeping over the winter just winter grazing.” He purchases yearling bulls and is quite happy with how the bulls hold up.
Windy Prairie Ranch runs those calves over the winter on the cows and weans in April. “It has been working really well with the calves spending the winter on the cows. We won’t feed until we absolutely have to.” Aaron finds he has some really good options with those calves at weaning. “We can either sell the calves or we may run them over as yearlings depending on the market and the grass conditions. There is almost always good demand for cattle that can go to grass at that time of year. When we sell them, we take them to the Williston sale barn and they are very well received.”
Aaron is proud to be able to carry on a family tradition that started in 1902 when his family homesteaded on the ranch and now the 4th generation is involved. Aaron, his wife Shelbey, and their four children – sons, Chase, a senior; Rider, a freshman; Race, an eighth grader and daughter Windy, a fifth grader – are “a good working crew when they are around,” shares Aaron. The ranch is poised to continue its successes for more generations and Salers cattle will play an important role going forward.
Travel 525 miles south of the Olson’s at Williston to long-time, repeat customers, Hugh and Nels Miner, and you’ll see some great Salers cows. The Miner’s place is located 12 miles south of Huron, South Dakota, along the James River. The Miners have been buying Salers cattle from the Olson’s for 20 years.
“We got started in Salers when we were looking for calving ease. They worked great for that and the calves were so good, we just kept buying Salers bulls”, states Hugh.
The heifers begin calving mid-March and the cows start the first of April. The heifers will calve in a 30 acre pasture with access to a shed. “A majority of the heifers will find the shed to calve in but we don’t usually have to help anything. Last year we had 45 heifers and had one that we tugged a little by hand to help calve, but we were in a hurry and she would have had it on her own. It has been really nice calving Salers cattle. All of our cows calve outside in the pasture.”
The calves are weaned in October and backgrounded until the first part of January. The black calves and the heifers we are not keeping for replacements will sell at the sale barn. We have always topped the market with our calves and have a couple of repeat buyers that always try to get the calves bought. One buyer is in Iowa and another local feeder always try to get the calves bought. Lately, the steers have gone to the local feeder and he has had really good success with them.
In addition to the calves that sell at the local sale barn, the Miners keep back 40-50 head of steers they will finish out themselves. The meat quality discovered by the Hugh is similar to the qualities that intrigued the Olsons when they began using Salers cattle. “These cattle will be fed at our place and sent to a local butcher and sold to customers for locker beef,” explains Hugh. “We have customers from as far away as Florida who just love the Salers beef. They love the flavor and the marbling without the excess fat. Each year, we have 2 customers from Iowa that drive 500 miles to pick up beef. They say they can’t find meat like that that they get from us and it is worth the drive.”
“I recommend commercial guys use them. The cattle are great. The disposition has been worked on by all the breeders and they are much better disposition than many breeds out there. The cows are such good mothers. We have a great market for the quality meat they produce. The cattle have just worked really well for us.” Hugh complemented the Olsons as not only being a source of good bulls the last 20 years, but as being good friends. As the Miner family operation begins to turn things over to the next generation as son, Bill and nephew, Charles take over, it seems likely that relationship will continue with the Olsons and Salers cattle.