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Assumption Abbey in Richardton to sell historic cattle

Press Photo By Sean M. Soehren Brother Placid Gross overlooks the pastures north of the Assumption Abbey in Richardton on Thursday afternoon.

RICHARDTON -- As Brother Placid Gross walks the grounds surrounding the historic Assumption Abbey, he knows that one of the long-time traditions will soon be history.

Officials at the monastery have decided to do away with the cattle that have been there for over 100 years.

Gross has tended to the herd for 51 years and said he can still remember the days of raking hay with a team of horses.

"It will be different," Gross said. "It is sad to see it


Abbot Brian Wangler said ranching has been part of the monastery since the beginning of the Abbey in 1893 in Devil's Lake. The ranching was necessary to remain self sufficient.

"It was a living -- all monasteries did that -- you could milk a cow and drink it, slaughter a cow and eat it," he said.

The goods provided food for monks or students of the school in the early years but milking was discontinued in 1968 and slaughtering around 2000, Wangler said.

The Abbey has about 260 head roaming on pastures near the monastery with Gross and one other monk looking after them.

Wangler and Gross said the decision to get rid of the cattle was lack of manpower.

"We just don't have the help," Gross said.

Wangler said it is hard on the individuals to do ranch work on an ongoing basis. The monk helping Gross is relatively new to ranching and doesn't have the experience needed to operate independently, Wangler said.

"There is a lot to know if you are going to raise cattle," Wangler said. "It is not a simple thing and it takes years and years of learning."

Gross is 76 years old, but jokingly said "I feel like I am 75, so I don't feel that old." He said the work can be hard and he won't miss that, but he is going to miss the animals.

"They are almost like a pet, what does a person like about a pet?" he said reflectively. He added that he has enjoyed learning about the animals over the years and has come to realize they understand more than most people think.

The monastery had pigs and chickens before specializing in beef, but the final creatures will soon be phased out.

Business Manager Odo Muggli said the Abbey has kept its cattle for 30 years more than most institutions.

"In some ways that is a source of pride," he said.

The Abbey used to have one of the larger operations in the county, Gross said, but it has been difficult to keep up with the new technologies.

The cattle will likely be sold through a sales ring and the pastures will be rented out to neighbors, Wangler said.

Gross said it might not be a terrible change, but "it was nice to look out the window and see our own cattle grazing."

The herd might not be there, but the important thing is that the monastery will be, Gross said.