JB Angus carries on Tuhy tradition
BELFIELD, N.D. -- Jonathan Ficek and Bobby Kubas don't mind talking about their JB Angus cattle, but it's not really necessary. "The cows speak for themselves," Ficek says, flatly.It's a figure of speech, of course, but when you're in the cattle ...
BELFIELD, N.D. - Jonathan Ficek and Bobby Kubas don’t mind talking about their JB Angus cattle, but it’s not really necessary.
“The cows speak for themselves,” Ficek says, flatly.
It’s a figure of speech, of course, but when you’re in the cattle business, the meaning is clear: these are high-quality cattle, owned by a pair of confident young producers.
Kubas, 29, grew up in Belfield and graduated from South Heart (N.D.) High School in 2004. He started working in retail businesses while farming and ranching in partnership with his father. He bought some cows and started farming in 2005.
“I always knew I was going to farm,” he says. “I’m a fifth-generation farmer and rancher.”
In 2011, Kubas married Erika, who is involved in the bookwork, calving and other ranch tasks, while also raising their children.
Meanwhile, Ficek, 26, grew up 20 miles away in Dickinson, N.D. His parents worked in town, but since about age 10 he’d spent lots of time at his grandparents Richard and Luella Dvorak’s ranch, near Manning, N.D. After graduating from Dickinson Trinity High School, Ficek attended Dickinson State University, where he earned an associate’s degree in agricultural studies in 2010.
Ficek started ranching and building a commercial cattle herd while working as a technician with the Dunn County Soil Conservation District in Killdeer, N.D. In 2012, he moved onto his grandparents’ farmstead, and in 2013, he married Stephanie, who works full time as a nurse in Dickinson.
Five years ago, Ficek and Kubas met through mutual friends, and shortly after, were helping each other with branding, spring cattle moving and cattle-hauling work. In April 2013, the pair joined together to form JB Angus.
The two friends decided to buy an entire herd of about 150 registered Angus cows from Richard and Sandy Tuhy, neighbors to the Ficeks in Manning. They took possession of the herd that fall, about the time of Blizzard Atlas, and had their first calf crop in 2014.
Keeping with a tradition the Tuhys had for 24 years, the new JB Angus holds an annual production sale for yearling bulls on the first Saturday in March at Stockmen’s Livestock West sale barn in Dickinson. The 2015 sale was the first for JB Angus, and in 2016 they expect to sell 65 bulls on March 5.
The company also sells registered replacement heifers off the ranch in private treaty sales.
“Our herd is backed by 40 years of genetic selection,” Ficek says. “The main focus is raising seedstock for the commercial cattleman. The registered cows don’t receive any special treatment. They’re run alongside our commercial beef cows and have to maintain their place in the herd while running in North Dakota weather.”
JB Angus says they put “a lot of selection pressure” on their bulls, meaning they have structural correctness, calm disposition and “functional real-world genetics,” Ficek says. The bulls must produce calves with a high percentage of gain on grass and milk, and that heifers must have the potential to be top replacement females.
Ficek knows he and Kubas got into the business at a good time, and Ficek was able to take advantage of some Farm Service Agency programs for beginning farmers.
“The market was definitely coming up, but wasn’t at the high point it would hit later,” he says. “One of the big helps is that the customers were selling steers and making good money,” he adds. “All of the bull sales in the region have been doing well.”
Both are pleased with the Angus breed, of course. The breed is well-promoted and has become the “go-to” breed for commercial base herds throughout the region. Ficek says his grandparents used Tuhy Angus bulls for years. “It’s a good herd to buy,” he says. “When you know something works, why not?”
Kubas says the registered cattle might account for 40 percent of his income these days.
“It probably wasn’t that hard a couple of years ago when farming was real good, but farming’s kind of fell off the map,” he says.
Kubas acknowledges mixed expectations, as the industry moves ahead.
It’s aggravating to hear the persistent drumbeat from “people who think we’re cruel to animals,” he says. But it’s important to remember that only about 5 percent of the population, and U.S. beef consumed per capita, is only slightly less than the five-year average.
“Obviously, a lot of people like to eat meat,” Kubas says.
There are several reasons to be optimistic if you’re a young person getting into the cattle business, Ficek and Kubas say.
“Cattle numbers - the hooves on the ground - are going to be down from what they were 20 years ago,” Kubas says. The average age of farmers has increased to 58, and cattle continue to be a lot of work.
“There’s less and less (pasture) land for them to roam on because the farming side of it is taking more land,” he says. “I think things are going to stay decent, so we can make a living,” Kubas says, and notes the cattle business is still a legacy, passing know-how to future generations.
“Our own families have passed it on to us.” echoes Ficek. “But it’s not easy. It’s stress.”
But the production factors are looking favorable, at least in the immediate term. The warm fall weather has been easy on the JB Angus herd. They had a good hay crop and have had pretty decent precipitation in 2015. It wouldn’t hurt his feelings to get a little Christmas snow, he says.
“We’re always looking for moisture out here,” Ficek says.
At the end of the day, he says, it’s really about serving the needs and desires of customers. “We have a good healthy product, and it tastes good.”