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Brooks keeps ranching in the family

DICKINSON - Steve Brooks has traveled all over the country, even the world, but he still calls the farm that he grew up on home.

The Brooks family has been farming and ranching in the area near Bowman for over a century, and Steve continues that tradition with his Angus cattle ranch.

"It's kind of a feel-good feeling and we hope that some of our kids want to take it over someday," Brooks said.

The operation was started by Brooks' great-great-grandfather, William Sheets, who homesteaded near Bowman in the early 1900s.

Sheets sent word to his son-in-law that things looked like they were going to work out. Steve's great-grandfather, Claude Brooks, also homesteaded in the area.

Brooks is still amazed at how successful those first crops out of the virgin southwest North Dakota soil were.

"It was quite a deal," Brooks said. "It was amazing the kind of crops they had in those first years."

Harold Brooks, Steve's grandfather, purchased the ranch that Brooks currently lives on in 1939. Along with the ranch, he purchased the certified Angus herd of the rancher.

Following that, Steve's father, Wayne, and uncle, Howard, took over and formed a partnership and ran the ranch for several years. Wayne and his brother didn't put to much stock in having the herd certified.

That changed in 1974, when Wayne allowed Steve to run 10 cattle on the ranch. Steve made a point of certifying the animals.

"He kind of thought that if I was going to be doing all this paperwork then their herd should be certified to," Brooks said.

Steve had returned to the farm after attending college for two and a half years at North Dakota State University. The hired hand broke his leg and it became necessary for Steve to stay and help out on the ranch.

That didn't necessarily bother Brooks all that much.

"I knew this is what I wanted to do since I was really little," Brooks said.

Brooks enjoys what he does, but he said that things have changed a lot during his lifetime, from new technology, to how they manage their herd.

"It's gotten a lot easier," Brooks said. "We spent a lot of time in the haystacks, stacking hay, and now we put it all in round bales."

Brooks, like his father before him, is also in a partnership with his brother.

Ryan Brooks lives a couple miles to the east of Steve's place and handles the majority of the farming operation, while Steve takes care of the ranch operation.

"I hate farming, I like ranching," Brooks said with a laugh. "My brother does the farming, and he's good at it and I do the ranching."

Brooks keeps himself busy enough with the ranch operation.

The Brooks Chalky Butte Angus Ranch utilizes ultrasound technology as well as DNA technology to analyze its herd on a regular basis.

Analyzing their herd so closely allows the Brooks to be competitive in a national and world-wide market.

They artificially inseminate all of their cattle as well as perform several embryo transfers each year.

"Our main goal is to get a lot of daughters out of the good cows in our herds," Brooks said. "DNA is becoming huge in this business."

Brooks, who had always been interested in the genetics of his business, seized the opportunity when his time with the American Angus Association and the Certified Angus Beef Board opened the doors to participating in studies regarding DNA.

His time with both boards proved to be very educational to Brooks, who served as president for both and traveled around the world promoting his breed.

"After about eight years I felt like I had my master's degree in it," Brooks said.

The Brooks family has become something of an institution in the Bowman County and Slope County area, especially with their annual bull sale held in Bowman each year, but Brooks is quick to point out that they aren't the only successful farm and ranch operation in the area.

There are several other farms and ranches that have eclipsed the century mark or nearing it.

"It's kind of interesting," Brooks said. "We've got a lot of neighbors that their roots go back a long time...The Popes, Stubers, Burkes...There's a lot of old families here."