Jeremy, Wayne, Keith and Chris Johnson

Jeremy, Wayne, Keith and Chris Johnson. Submitted photo.

For many of us, these last couple of months have been the most difficult of our lives.

So, with May being Beef Month, we decided to bring something a little bit lighter to our readers.

We know that western North Dakota has its cowboy poets, but where does that leave everyone east of the Missouri River?

That, friends, is where we find Keith Johnson, a Steele County cowman.

He shares his prose on Facebook via a column he calls, “Thoughts of a Rancher.”

“We’re among the largest cow/calf operations in this part of the state, I would say,” said Keith, who is the patriarch of Johnson Stock Farm that raises Simmental/Red Angus cross cattle.

He has worked with the cattle for 50 years.

Even though he farms just west of the Red River Valley – between Sharon, Northwood and Hatton – Keith has never seeded a kernel of grain or run a combine. Before farming with his wife, Becky, and their children, including sons, Chris and Jeremy and families, Keith farmed with his parents and two brothers. One brother, Wayne, was more interested in mechanics, and the other, Leslie “Chug,” was more interested in crops, leaving Keith to become a cowman, but they all worked together in full partnership.

There are advantages to raising cattle in northeast North Dakota, he said. Byproducts are generally available, although the selection varies from time to time. There’s distillers grains, potatoes or potato waste, beet tailings, or soybean screenings.

Calving starts around March 15. In a snowstorm, the Johnsons can put 500-600 cows, heifers and calves under roof…

Nov. 24, 2018


For those of you that are bored from being cooped up inside or not able to go anywhere, it could be worse.

This week has not been one of my favorites.

The big herd of cows, about 400 of them, are out in the pasture. They take shelter behind hillsides, but it’s next to impossible to get out of this wind and snow. They do have a spot that is bedded heavy with corn stover and hopefully they’ll spend the night there. It’s been so cold lately that they sometimes choose not to come up for water.

Yesterday, we brought the second-calf cows home to give them shelter in the pole barn where they will be kept until they calve. We discovered the two water fountains that service their pen must have a frozen line underground so we had to divert them to a different fountain so they can get water until we find the problem.

Today, I was feeding my horses hay and one of them ran by when I was picking up some hay with the loader and tore a 6-inch-tear in his hip. Luckily I was able to sew it up myself because a trip to the vet would be impossible.

So a couple of days this week, morning chores lasted until 4 p.m. If you had to be inside all day, it could have been worse. Not that I’m complaining because you know what they say, “It ain’t easy being a cowboy.”

Keith served eight years on the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association Board of Directors, and he also served eight years on the N.D. Brand Board. He served on the Central Livestock Board for many years.

“I know people from while I was part of being on the boards. You get to meet people from all over,” he said. “So I have quite an extension of friends all over the state that are in the cattle business, which is great in my opinion.”

The Johnsons run 3,500-4,000 acres of pastureland. Most of the pasture is over in the Sheyenne River Valley west of Finley and Sharon – about 21 miles away.

For the last 35 years, the Johnsons have weaned the calves and hauled them home. The cattle are driven to new pastures with horses and brought back home for the winter via cattle drives. Men, women, and children from all over have participated in the drives, and it has been an important experience for them to learn the ways of horses…

Feb. 19, 2020


People own horses for a lot of different reasons. For some they are used for working cattle or to feed hay in remote areas.

I have owned many horses for years. Some were used for working or moving cattle, but most were used for my own entertainment or for the pleasure of others.

As I get older it seems that the latter is more the case.

For the last several years, I have had three or four horses that have spent their winters in the NDSU equine program helping to teach people to ride. The horses spent their summers at the Rockin R Ranch near Hatton for my own family’s pleasure and for others to ride and enjoy.

My Belgian teams have been used to pull wagons and sleighs there also and they have been used at the Holmes Live Nativity, and in Fargo at Moos, Ewes and More at NDSU to give hundreds of people wagon rides.

I get as much pleasure seeing other people enjoy my horses as I do using them myself.

This past year one of my horses took on a new role that I would not have imagined. That being a therapy horse in Bison Strides at NDSU.

The horse is named Cutter. He came to me from Texas by way of the Sperry Quarter Horses sale a few years ago. We tried him in the equine program, but it seemed he was a little headstrong in faster gaits for beginning riders. His kind disposition gave him a chance to try out as a therapy horse in Bison Strides administered by Erika Nyhus Berg where he has found a new home. There, he is being used for therapy for kids with different afflictions, mental therapy, and some adults.

A man named Isaac is a Wounded Warrior who was injured when he stepped out of a helicopter onto a live land mine. His right arm is paralyzed, but he can pick up rings riding Cutter with his good arm. I am told that sometimes he rides with the reins in his teeth if his arm gets tired. He has a wish to someday do competitive shooting on horseback, so Erika tells me they might try to start using a nerf gun and shoot at targets to begin with.

A picture of Isaac giving Cutter a well-deserved hug says it all. It shows the therapeutic effect that the love of a horse can have on a person’s life. Maybe someday we can build a horse arena in Fargo to help kids and adults with afflictions or to help rehabilitate our Wounded Warriors. I strongly believe in the Bison Strides program.

The final “Thoughts of a Rancher” we are going to share here was written by Keith almost a year and a half ago. In light of COVID-19 and all of the sacrifices that health care workers have made, we want to add his tribute to them. The last line sort of says what we are all thinking about those in the medical field, and it’s great when it comes from a cowman. “I would offer my thanks to these people also, for without them, many of our lives could have been changed forever.”

Jan. 27, 2019


When I do chores in the morning I usually listen to talk radio on various radio stations. On Thursday and Friday of this past week, I was listening to News and Views on KFGO radio. I was pleasantly surprised instead of the talk about the childlike antics of our politicians there was a radiothon called “Cares for Kids” that would support and buy equipment for Sanford Children’s Hospital in Fargo and the helicopters and planes that transfer people there. They have patients there from the whole state of North Dakota, western Minnesota, Montana, South Dakota and a few other states. I was made aware of the amazing people that help on helicopters and airplanes to get the children there. And again, I was reminded of the special doctors and nurses that administer lifesaving care to children in neonatal care. The broadcast was full of testimonials from people from Watford City, Williston, Dickinson, Devils Lake and other distant places.

I don’t know if I’m becoming more emotional because I’m getting a little longer in the tooth or because I may be a little closer to the situation. I suspect it may be the latter.

Two of our granddaughters decided to arrive in this world too early. They both spent time in neonatal care because they were born prematurely. Our youngest grandson was diagnosed with kidney problems when he was still in the womb. He was greeted into this world with a group of doctors and nurses on standby to do emergency surgery should it be needed. Thankfully it was able to be done a couple of weeks later. Today, all three of them are alive and well and continue to bring joy to our lives. But some of the stories told didn’t have such a happy ending.

As I did chores those two mornings, several of the stories brought tears to my eyes. Several of the stories were about premature twins. The message that resonated in all of the stories was about how lucky we are to have dedicated paramedics, nurses, and doctors that give these kids a chance. I would offer my thanks to these people also, for without them many of our lives could have been changed forever.

To read more “Thoughts of a Rancher,” please visit Keith Johnson on Facebook, and be sure to leave a comment so he knows where you’re from.

And, remember, May is Beef Month, and be sure to enjoy your favorite cuts from the oven or the grill.