From the Ground Up

A performance driven South Dakota seedstock rancher builds a legacy for the next generation.

By Emme Troendle

When he purchased his first Simmental at the age of 12, Mike Stavick of Veblen, South Dakota, knew that he wanted to be in the cattle industry. He recalls, “Anytime I got the opportunity to work cattle growing up, I would be out there AIing or branding.”

Today, he is the owner and manager of M/S Stavick Simmentals, a growing 240 head SimAngusTM ranch he established after years of building the groundwork for a successful enterprise. Stavick explains, “I always knew that I wanted to raise cattle, but it’s difficult to make that leap when you’re working for someone else, trying to put the finances and collateral together to make it on your own. It’s not like stepping into an established family operation.”

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Bulls, cows, and calves take to the trees for shade.

Located on the Coteau Hills, a plateau that butts up against the Red River Valley, the Stavick’s 2,500-acre ranch straddles the line between wild Dakota grassland and productive farmland. As a first generation rancher, Stavick tracks herd data and implements a progressive breeding program to make his operation a profitable and growing enterprise for the next generation.

Performance Driven

Meeting the needs of his customers, Stavick focuses on tracking and breeding for performance traits. He elaborates, “I hear from customers that they appreciate that we keep detailed records on our cattle. Our customers are commercial breeders that want as much performance as they can get from their calves. They want rapid growth, big calves at weaning time, and when they put them in their feedlot, they want calves that gain four plus pounds per day with frame. My customers are absolutely performance driven, and so are we.”

Since the inception of the program, M/S Stavick Simmentals has qualified as an ASA Performance Advocate (PA), recognizing breeders who consistently submit data on six different traits: calving ease, birth weight, weaning weight, yearling weight, yearling hip height, and ultrasound data.

Stavick weighs all bulls every 30 days to manage rate of gain, and to analyze how each bull fits in their contemporary group. “We are constantly crunching data, trying to put out the best genetics possible. If an animal isn’t performing to our standard, we remove it right away,” he says.

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Cow-calf pairs on summer pasture.

“Maternal qualities, average daily gain, and feed conversions are all really strong traits in the Simmental breed,” Stavick points out, recognizing trends favoring SimAngus bulls. “We breed SimAngus, a Simmental, Black Angus or Red Angus composite. We maintain a five-eighths or three-quarter blood percentage with our calves, and our customers appreciate what that percentage is offering in their own herds.”

Along with performance and EPD qualities, Stavick breeds for animal soundness and docility. He adds, “We are very involved in breeding for better EPDs, but we don’t forget about structure and convenience traits like disposition, polledness, carcass traits — the actual performance of the animal.”

To market their yearling bulls, M/S Stavick Simmentals use a five star system that reflects ASA’s docility scoring. Stavick expounds, “We are around our cattle 365 days a year — we know their personalities, we know their characteristics — if there is a bull that scores a four or five in docility, it gets banded immediately. We want our customers to be comfortable with the animals they purchase from us. They know he isn’t going to give them problems.”

For Stavick, performance starts with the cowherd. Each cow has to calve in 365-day calving interval, unassisted, and wean a large calf. He states, “Every animal has to perform, has to be profitable, or it’s gone. We sell all of our cows that end up open or give us any issue.”

He laughs as he retells the anecdote he shared with his children when they were younger, “I told my kids that all animals end up at McDonalds. I explained that if their cows came up open, she was gone. I wanted them to realize the cows purpose — if she doesn’t breed, she is gone — if she loses a calf, she is gone. No exceptions.”

 

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One of Stavick’s SimAngus females with her well-muscled bull calf.

When asked about his breeding and herd management philosophies, Stavick credits many people he has worked with over the years. He recounts, “A wise old cowboy at my first job taught me a good lesson, ‘If you keep a cow that lost a calf or came in open, she will always lose another calf before you sell her. If she loses two calves, there is no way that she ever made you any money. So take your first loss, and be done with it.’”

 

If a heifer loses her calf, Stavick pulls a calf off a mature cow and grafts it onto the heifer so she can stay in the herd. If a cow does not nurse a calf through the summer, it will not be kept. “Her option is to either adopt or go to McDonalds,” he summarizes.

Hands-on Management

Stavick and Yogo, the family blue healer, primarily handle the day-to-day ranch labor. Stavick describes his philosophy on cattle management in conjunction with teaching his children livestock management, “Over the years, I have stressed to my kids that our cows are a 365-day-a-year job. We are out looking at them every single day. If there is a problem in our herd, it has only been there for 12 hours, and it gets handled immediately. We are very intense in our management.”

Calving takes place in two waves. The heifers calve around January 15 each year, and they are wrapped up in early February by the bull sale. The cows begin the second wave of calving right after the sale. Describing calving season, Stavick puts emphasis on calf vigor, “Space is limited in the barn. Turn around after calving is six to 10 hours. The calf has to be able to follow that cow out to pasture and stay with her — get-up-and-go is important.”

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The new Stavick barn featuring their brand.

At the end of April and beginning of May, heifers and cows are synchronized and bred AI. Then clean up bulls are turned out for 30 days after AIing. The cows are moved to grass from May to the middle of November.

By September 1st all calves are weaned, and the heifers that aren’t being retained are sold private treaty around the middle of October. Stavick says, “People start calling for heifers around then. So they sell pretty fast. Typically, we sell about 60 heifers for breeding and 60 feeder cattle by the first of the year and our bulls continue to be developed all the way along, until the sale.”

On the first Thursday of every February for the last 17 years, M/S Stavick Simmentals have held their King of the Range bull sale. This year, they consigned 75 bulls. They also have a sale in Aberdeen, SD, with Aberdeen Livestock.

Additionally, they sell select bred and open heifers at the North Dakota and South Dakota Simmental Sale, and then sell the rest private treaty.

First Generation Rancher

Stavick was exposed to cattle as a youth by his father, Cliff, who owned a filling station in Britton, SD, and ran cattle on shares with other ranchers. His introduction to the cattle industry was fostered through helping friends manage their cattle. As a student at the University of Minnesota at Crooksten, Stavick focused his studies on Animal Science and Animal Production. After graduation, he started his career in the cattle industry by managing a cow-calf operation, a feedlot, and then working under Jim and Emmet Butcher at Gateway Simmentals along with Rob Fisher of Mountain View Simmental, in Lewistown, Montana.

It was through the Butcher family that Mike met his wife, Myra. At the time, Myra was working as a teacher in a one-room school in Maiden Canyon. Lynn Butcher set the two up on a blind date.

Similar to his father, Stavick ran cattle on shares with ranchers he had developed relationships with over the years. After Stavick’s father passed away, Mike and Myra moved back to South Dakota, and brought their Simmental cattle with them to Veblen. He clarifies, “Essentially, I had a small herd follow me over the years to where we are now.”

He accepted the position of Production Manager for Prairie Ridge Dairy, a 30,000 head dairy in Veblen, and Myra started working as a Kindergarten teacher in Britton, a 30-mile commute from their home. “When we moved, we didn’t have enough cattle to make it viable, so I took a job breeding dairy heifers on grass with Prairie Ridge. Over the years, I learned the intense nature of production agriculture and moved up in the company,” he elaborates.

For 15 years, Stavick managed the dairy, but when it switched hands six years ago he decided it was time to make the move to full-time ranching. During the transition, the herd was initially expanded by an additional 70 cows, and has grown through heifer retention to the 240 head that are run today.

Along with the growing herd, the ranch has expanded in acreage, he says, “We have been lucky enough to put together a good sized chunk of land—all the acres that we own and rent are in one location. We don’t have to haul any cattle.”

Farming is limited to 100 acres of silage. Stavick noted that many operations split their time between ranching and farming, but their operation is focused on ranching. “I have seen some people get thin in their management because they are trying to do too many things. I want to specialize in raising seedstock Simmental bulls. Our niche — our enterprise — is in cattle, and we try to focus our attention on that,” he shares.

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Left to right: Mike, Liv, Myra, and Owen Stavick

Both of Stavick’s children, Liv, 20, and Owen, 19, remain as involved in the operation as they can while attending college. Currently, Liv studies Political Science and Ag Business at Montana State University in Bozeman. She comes home to help every chance she gets, especially around the holidays, and every February for the bull sale. Owen double majors in Ranch Management and Large Animal Veterinarian Technician at Lake Area Tech in Watertown, and comes home every weekend to help his father.

Recently, a new calving and breeding barn was built in anticipation of expanding the herd to 300 or 400 cows. Stavick explains his focus on growing the herd toward Owen’s interest in taking over the ranch someday, “Both Owen and Liv are a great help with ranch work when they are home from school. Owen is no doubt the reason I am pushing the ranch forward. If he wasn’t deciding to come back to the ranch after school, I think I would be content to run 180 to 200 head — stay where I am — but he has definitely shown an interest. He loves cattle, like I do, and he wants to come back.”