Ellingson Simmentals' sale is the high point of owner's year
While his cows now are at a stage where Terry Ellingson no longer needs to improve them through embryo transfer, he uses the technique to develop the unique traits that bull buyers are seeking.
DAHLEN, North Dakota — When Terry Ellingson was in veterinary college in the 1970s, he was struck by a revolutionary technique called embryo transfer.
Embryo transfer refers to taking an egg from a donor cow — typically an animal with superior genetics and traits — fertilizing it and implanting it into another —often genetically inferior — cow. The process allows ranchers to more quickly accelerate improvements in their herds by ensuring more of the preferred genetics make it into each generation.
Though one of his professors was skeptical about the technique, Ellingson saw its potential, and, though he never became a veterinarian, he has used it over the years to help build up the cattle herd he started on his ranch near Dahlen in 1990.
“It is an amazing technology,” Ellingson said. “It really increases your chance of enhancement quickly.”
While his cows now are at a stage where he no longer needs to improve them through embryo transfer, he uses the technique to develop the unique traits that bull buyers are seeking.
“That’s the goal of the seedstock producer; find the one that’s the “hot one,” Ellingson said.
Ellingson and his wife, DeeAnn, founded their ranch with the purchase of two foundation females and, through the use of embryo transfer and artificial insemination, have expanded it to about 160 high performance Simmental cattle.
The Ellingsons sold their bulls and females for the first decade through private treaty, then in 2000, began hosting an annual auction.The sale typically attracts in-person buyers from North Dakota, Minnesota and South Dakota and online bidders from states across the country, including West Virginia, California and Texas.
The 22nd Ellingson Simmentals performance bull and female sale this year will be held Friday, Jan. 28, beginning with an 11 a.m. catered meal. The ranch will auction 59 bulls, 26 open heifers and four bred cows that day.
“It’s amazing, with the internet, the interest you have," Ellingson said. "The challenge is to get all of the data on the internet so they can get all of the information they want.”
Ellingson gives information that includes the cattle weights, sire and dam information and several expected progeny differences, commonly called EPDs. Ellingson also posts details such as frame scores, whether the bull is homozygous or heterozygous black and ultrasound information.
The Ellingsons hold their cattle sale in a large, heated pole barn Terry calls the “Ellingson Event Center.” They expect about 100 buyers to attend the auction and another several hundred to watch it online.
Interest in the sale appears high, despite the drought that hit the northern Plains in 2021 and resulted in ranchers culling their herds, Ellingson said.
The bulls and heifers that will be sold at the Jan. 28 auction were born in January and February 2021. Calving in winter requires hardy cattle, a trait Ellingson aims for in his Simmental breeding, noting in his 2022 bull auction catalog that one of his goals was to raise Simmentals “that had enough vigor to get up in the nastiest North Dakota winter in January and find its meal.”
Calving in the winter, of course, means that Ellingson and his three employees spend a lot of time outside during sub-zero temperatures.
“We just like to work really hard when it’s cold,” Ellingson joked on a blustery late January morning.
Of course, the real reason Ellingson calves early in the year is so the commercial cattle ranchers who buy the bulls at the sale the following year can turn them out with their cows that summer. He believes that gives him a marketing edge over producers who calve later in the year.
As of Jan. 18, 2022, the Ellingsons had six calves on the ground that will be sold on the fourth Friday of January 2023. He expected about 100 more will be born in the next few weeks and another 60 by mid-March.
Ellingson strives to raise vigorous, high performance cattle that have mild dispositions and the aesthetics their buyers desire. Some buyers prefer red bulls, some solid black and others black bulls with white faces.
“There are a lot of people who like each,” Ellingson said. “In the Simmental breed, we try to have a little bit for everybody,” he said. “It makes for a more diverse customer when you’re having different genetics.”
Although the sale adds more work to an already busy month of calving, feeding and bedding cattle and cleaning out the ranch yard after several storms and blizzards, Ellingson is looking forward to it.The sale is the culmination of the work he’s been doing this month and the previous 11, he said.
“It’s the highlight of one year’s work,” Ellingson said.