CLIFFORD, N.D. – Making their home in southwestern Traill County, the Elliott Family of Tri E Simmentals run a diversified grain, cow-calf and feedlot operation, with several family members involved in the operation.
Mike Elliott and his semi-retired brother Al, own the feedlot, and Mike’s son, Kurt, does quite a bit of work at the feeding facility.
“The feedlot is permitted for 3,000 head and the population in the feedlot varies from as few as 800 to as many as 2,600 head, depending on the circumstances,” Kurt said. “It was 2004 or 2005 when we built the lagoon and poured a lot of cement to build the feedlot.”
It is a "closed feedlot," which means they don’t feed for anyone but themselves. They purchase calves from some of the sale barns throughout the area. Al attends a sale in West Fargo every week and they have an order buyer that buys calves from the sale facilities out west. They also run some of their own calves through the feedlot and many of the purchased calves are from their bull customers.
“We actually buy some calves from the guys who buy bulls from us. If they buy a bull, we will go back and buy their calves or make sure they sell for a fair price,” Kurt explained. “We don’t always get the calves, since we aren’t always the highest bidder, but we make sure they are treated right. It is a service that we do for our bull customers.”
They maintain two separate herds of cows in the operation. The purebred herd is Simmental and they have a herd of a SimAngus, where Simmental bulls or cows and crossbred with Red Angus cattle.
“We could register them when they reach half-blood, if we wanted, but we have not done any of that yet,” Kurt said.
The purebred and commercial cows are maintained separately throughout the year. They are kept in separate pens during the winter months and go to different pasture areas during the summer for grazing.
As far as breeding the herd, they attempt to breed half of the registered herd by AI and rely on the bulls to complete the job.
“We try to get bulls that are good enough genetically so I don’t have to worry if the bulls end up breeding a cow,” he explained. “Sometimes they are better than the AI sires, so that is kind of fun to watch and follow it along.”
The commercial herd is bull-bred and the commercial cow/calf operation is owned by Kurt’s oldest son, Chase, who has done some embryo transplant work on some of the commercial cows.
Both herds are spring-calving, with the purebreds starting to calve around the first of February and the commercial herd staring a couple months after that.
“If it wasn’t for the purebred business and wanting to sell bulls that are ready to work, I would be a lot more in favor of backing up the purebred calving date,” he noted.
Initially the herd started out with Hereford cattle, but around 45 years ago Mike and Al decided to start a transition to Simmental cattle.
“We like the Simmental – they finish a little better and we just kind of fell in love with them,” Mike said. “Some of our neighbors think we are kind of odd-balls since we still work with the cattle, but working with cattle spreads out our labor and we can do more than just count on the weather for a crop. You seem be have a little better control over your destiny.”
Most years the harvesting would be done by now, but that certainly isn’t the case this year. The Elliotts were combining soybeans on Nov. 16 and they still have to make some corn silage and combine their grain corn. Until the ground froze, it was just too wet to chop the corn for silage.
“We wouldn’t be where we are right now if it wasn't for the freezing temperatures and the frozen ground,” Kurt said. “The frozen ground is punishment for the sugarbeet and potato guys, but for those of us raising soybeans, we are driving on top of the frozen ground now and we're are lucky to be in the situation we're in."
The family members involved in Elliott operation include: Mike and his wife Patty; his brother Al and wife Betty; and Kurt, his wife Cheryl, and their children Chase, Jason, Levi and Dani. Kurt also has a young grandson Bridger, who is too young to do any work yet, but certainly likes being around on the farm.
Kurt also has three siblings who are not a part of the farming enterprise, but grew up working with the Simmental herd and were active in other activities – sisters Brenda and Marcia, and a brother Kevin.
Farm & Ranch Guide would like to thank the Elliott family for opening up their doors and give us and our readers a look inside their operation. We look forward to following them throughout the winter.