Near the Kadoka, South Dakota, Kelly and Amy Erickson run a seedstock operation that prides themselves on “Raising the Cowboy Kind,” on the edge of the Badlands.
Kelly Erickson has been in the cattle industry for nearly forty years, remembering his first heifer, obtained at age 8. It was Kelly’s dad who got him started in black-hided cattle, a switch that many cattlemen made as the years went on.
“He was really one of the first guys who had the foresight to do so,” said Kelly, “back when most of the guys around us were keeping traditional colored cattle.”
The 1980s and 1990s era was an easy time to market black cattle in North Dakota as Kelly recalls. The mission of CK Bar Ranch then: produce cows that look good. The philosophy has changed a little since then, as the goal now is to produce cattle that have good maternal traits and carcass traits.
“About 10 years ago the lightbulb just went off,” said Erickson, “we weren’t doing the industry any good to just sell pounds.”
Erickson started looking at calf vigor of his cattle, calving ease, and how they would marble in the end. He set out to create cattle that were great mothers, calved well, maybe a little more moderate in size, but could go out and survive a Dakota winter on their own and then perform well on the terminal side.
Many things have changed over the years, but Erickson has decided to keep the black hide. While there certainly is a market for Red Simmentals, CK Bar Ranch wasn’t producing enough of them to draw a crowd, so they phased that out of their operation and offer homozygous black cattle to their customers.
The Erickson family focuses on a few herd bulls, but also do some embryo transfer work and artificial insemination as well. Kelly places extra emphasis on the disposition of his bulls, calling them “quiet and easy to handle.”
Producers can find CK Bar Ranch genetic opportunities every year in April during the Annual CK Bar Ranch bull sale. CK Bar Ranch will celebrate the 20th Annual Sale in April of 2021, it will also mark the 6th sale held in conjunction with Kammerer Livestock at St. Onge Livestock.
It’s no secret 2020 was a rough year on cattlemen across the nation, and it showed in the Kammerer and CK Bar Ranch bull sale this year. Kelly recalls there was a non-existent crowd.
“Without buyers on the internet and a few phone sales, there would have been nothing,” said Erickson.
While the internet played a major part in moving cattle for CK Bar Ranch this year, Kelly says the internet has been a great place for him to market cattle. In years past, he guesses that about 50-percent of his cattle are selling over the internet via online bidding. In fact, the first sale CK Bar Ranch held in 2001 was marketed online even then.
“We could see where that was an asset,” said Erickson, “We gained many customers in eastern Montana because of it (being accessible online).”
Erickson says internet marketing has played a major role in all of their past sales. He believes buyers are bidding confidently from the comfort of their homes because they have all of the data right in front of them. Buyers can view cattle, watch videos of them, and have all genetic data at their fingertips. CK Bar Ranch continues to have a good presence on social media, showing day-to-day ranch work as well as promoting their sale cattle.
“If nothing else, it (social media) is generating a buzz,” said Erickson, noting that it drives messages and phone calls about offerings.
While online bidding seems to be a way of the future, Erickson says selling in the annual sale with Kammerers has brought him new customers the traditional way — in person. When Erickson moved to South Dakota six years ago, Matt and April Kammerer invited Kelly to join their annual sale. Erickson says this opportunity introduced him to local people who could use the Simmental genetics in West River country.
As Kelly looks ahead to 2021 he stays optimistic, commenting on how he would like to increase his herd size, although this might not be the year to do it. The market is keeping cattlemen on their toes and thinking fast, Erickson is holding onto calves late in the year hoping to see a swing in prices. He also showed some reservations in the new leadership of our nation and how it may play a pivotal role in cattle production.
Beyond the economic state of affairs in 2021, Erickson says finding affordable grass is limiting the increase of his herd as well. While finding grass in the Dakotas has always been somewhat of a struggle, Erickson says it is more now than in the past. Nonetheless, Erickson is charging forward and looking at forging alliances with other cattlemen to market feeder cattle.
“I would like to build on that, I think it could take off,” said Erickson, “Controlling the quality (of feeder calves) rather than having to push out the big numbers.”
Changing and adapting to new marketing techniques is nothing new for CK Bar Ranch. From show cattle to seed stock bulls, to the next new ideas, Kelly is always looking for the best way to improve the breed and continue “Raising the Cowboy Kind.”
“If you want to retain your own replacements and add a little milk; this is a great option,” said Erickson of the Simmental breed. “You are going to get that hybrid figure and consistency without sacrificing calving ease.”
To keep up with what CK Bar Ranch will be offering in their 2021 sale, keep an eye on Facebook and stay tuned for the catalog for their 2021 sale.