Olson Hereford Ranch touts Red Power — polled Herefords and Red Angus
The Olsons have been in the purebred business since 1936 and are the longest-running Hereford seedstock producer in North Dakota.
ARGUSVILLE, N.D. — Meet Carl Edward Olson II — the fourth generation farming and raising purebred cattle in Cass County, North Dakota.
Carl, 53, and his wife, Lindsay, and his parents, Carl “Ed” and Jeanne, of Fargo, together do business as Olson Hereford Ranch , a beef purebred seedstock business that dates back to 1936. The family farms about 2,900 acres west of Argusville, raising corn, soybeans, wheat and oats, primarily on silty loam land.
The Olsons are something of a rarity — a purebred livestock enterprise in the rich, Red River Valley soil, where most farms dropped livestock in the 1970s and 1980s in favor of crop farming. In fact, the Olsons hold the distinction of being the longest operating Hereford seedstock producers in North Dakota, where they also produce purebred Red Angus cattle.
The Olsons have held February production sales on the farm. This year they ran their “Red Power Sale” in a brand new Foltz building. DVAuction Inc . of Norfork, Nebraska, did the auctioneering chores in a live-streamed auction. Otherwise, it was a homegrown affair, with Carl doing all of the cattle preparation himself, all of the sale book preparation, the print advertising, the recording. The family hosted the noon meal.
Beef, and side dishes.
“This year we had the most buyers we’ve ever had, online,” Carl said, afterward. “We had animals sell to Texas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Wisconsin, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska."
They have about 200 bred females, about three quarters Red Angus. The top Hereford bull in the sale brought $13,500, and went to a Wisconsin buyer. The average Hereford bull sold for $5,000. They sold 30 red Angus bulls, averaging about $4,000. The heifers brought more than $2,000 on average from both breeds.
It was a good sale.
A string of ‘Carls’
The Olson clan has been in the area since 1908 — always fronted by a “Carl” Olson, although some have gone by middle names.
- 1908: Great-grandfather, “Carl” Edward Olson, came to the area.
- 1936: Grandfather, Carl “Albin” Olson, and his wife, Ruth, started in purebred horned Herefords. Angus, Shorthorn and Herefords were the dominant breeds. Son Carl Edward “Ed” Olson was born in 1940. Herefords were known for their hardiness and adaptability. They were heavier-hided.
1965: Father Carl Edward “Ed” Olson, born in 1940, and his wife, Jeanne, brought hornless “polled Herefords” into the operation while Albin continued with horned Herefords. Besides no horns to fight with or remove, polled Herefords were touted for milk and had more “growth and stretch” and size. It was a trend, and the Olsons had a market niche.
Ed and Jeanne (West), from Casselton, North Dakota, had three children: Carl, 1968; Craig, 1971; and Karyn Olson, 1982. The Olsons phased out of the horned Herefords in the 1980s and focused on expanding their polled Herefords into the 1990s.
- In 1991, “Carl” Edward Olson II, came into the operation.Carl started showing cattle at age 7 in 4-H shows. He and his younger brother, Craig, showed at the North Dakota Winter Show in Valley City, and at the former Red River Valley Winter Shows in Crookston, Minnesota. (At age 16, Carl remembers driving with his 13-year-old brother, into St. Paul, Minnesota, to show cattle at the Minnesota State Fair.)
Ed would pay the show entries fees for the boys, and then deduct that from any premium money. The boys camped in the trailer.
Carl went on to study animal science and agricultural economics at North Dakota State University, joining judging teams, Saddle and Sirloin Club and winning beef and dairy showmanship titles in the Little International.
Carl recalls that all of the talk at college was about Black Angus, and its “marbling: better for cooking and tasting. (Contemporaries at NDSU were Kelly Shaff, of St. Anthony, North Dakota, one of the biggest name in Angus in the country, and Will MacDonald, of Bismarck, a family originally in Herefords and later a major name in Saler cattle.)
About the time Carl came alongside, Ed and Jeanne added Red Angus into the mix.
“Red Angus was a breed that was maternal-based,” Carl said. “You have your Angus, your Hereford, and your shorthorn, and Red Angus — the maternal breeds, to base your cow herd on. There weren’t very many of those Red Angus in this area.”
He credits Ed and Jeanne for traveling and finding excellent Red Angus from around the country. In 2000, the Olsons’ “OHR Dakota Copper 29K” sold to American Breeder Services. For two years they had the World Beef Export Champion.
(Craig Olson also studied at NDSU, and after a brief stint with the Farm Service Agency, joined West Funeral Home in West Fargo, and worked with their uncle, Bill West. Grandpa Wayne West owned West Funeral Home in Casselton and the furniture store and ambulance service, and opened a West Fargo location. Today, Craig owns the funeral business.)
The Olsons have expanded in crop farming but they’ve made livestock work with “value-add” opportunities, serving premium or niche markets.
They have had to be creative with grazing.
“We do a lot of rotate-grazing,” Carl said. “We do some farm yards — pasture in some farm yards, 10 acres here, 15 acres there. We have two we rent, close to the farm here.”
Some of the land is in Minnesota.They can run a cow on 1.5 acres, while in the western part of North Dakota it might take 20 acres.
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They put up cattle on corn acres after they put up corn. They put a hot-wire electric fence strand around quarter-sections. They produce wheat and bale the straw.
“We raise oats for feed and take the straw from the oats,” Carl said. “We’re salvaging that, which is value-added. After we harvest our oats, we’ll dig it up and later in the year it’ll green back up or we’ll seed down a cover crop, have something for them to graze in late August and September. A second crop comes back for added grazing."
The crop side has gotten stronger, with some value-added markets. They supply corn for NDSU’s Northern Crops Institute feed mill, which provides spec-specific feed rations for beef, dairy and sheep research units. They also produce food grade soybeans for SB&B at Casselton, and raise some seed production soybeans.
Of course the cattle manure supplies crop nutrients.
A bright, red future
In 2012, Carl married Lindsay Parsley, who grew up on a grain farm at Warroad, Minnesota. Lindsay said she’s happy the children — daughter, Dru, 9, and Stetson, 8 — are growing up and starting to show animals.
They’ve already made a splash at the Red River Valley Fair and are looking ahead to the 85th North Dakota Winter Show , which runs March 9 to 13, 2022, at Valley City.
“It’s pretty special that it’s long-standing,” Lindsay said. (Carl’s daughter, Casey, by an earlier marriage, studies at Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota.)
Carl said he is happy to give the next generation an opportunity with the animals.
“I wouldn’t be in the cattle business right now, if it wasn’t for dad and what we did in 4-H,” he said. “Now, my kids are just starting. If this deal is going to continue — if they want to continue it — you have to get them active. If they like it, they’ll continue it."
Carl is optimistic about beef in general and Herefords in particular.
Hereford meat is showing well in taste tests.
“There’s marbling, texture and flavor, and the Hereford beef right now has good flavor,” he said.
The breed has improved in “whole herd reporting.” The association incentivizes producers to turn in data on calf crop and do more testing for carcass traits.
“That makes the data the association puts out more reliable,” Carl said.
Some producer-customers are coming back to the breed because of the dominance of “black” cattle — the Angus breed and crosses.“They need something a little different.”
They should think Herefords, he said.
The Olsons can help you with that.