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Hereford tradition: Killdeer’s Stroh family has spent 65 years and 2 generations cattle ranching

KILLDEER -- A newly married couple in Killdeer bought a piece of land in 1950. They had a family and built a life together. And it was all centered around one thing: a rust-colored breed of cow with a white face. Tony Stroh has been in the Herefo...

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Tony Stroh proudly shows a photo of him on his farm, years ago, that his granddaughter made him with his brand logo, while standing in front of an aerial photo of his ranch. (Press Photo by Kalsey Stults)

KILLDEER - A newly married couple in Killdeer bought a piece of land in 1950. They had a family and built a life together. And it was all centered around one thing: a rust-colored breed of cow with a white face.
Tony Stroh has been in the Hereford cattle industry for 65 years, along with his wife, Leona.
“I always wanted to be a rancher when I was a kid,” he said. “I started in 1950, we bought that wheat farm and I had a few head of cattle, and I mostly grew into it.
“It’s been interesting for 65 years. It’s been good years and bad years. I’ve had some real good years and then some that you barely make it.”
The determination and love for the business is what built a wheat farm with a few cattle into a legacy that his children and grandchildren can now inherit.
“There was nothing there when we started,” Tony Stroh said.
Today, his son, Mike, is taking on the Stroh Hereford business along with his family, his wife, Dawn, and their children, Luke and Matthew.
The respect Tony’s family has for his accomplishments is palpable.
“What grandpa has built, I sit here now at my age, and I don’t think I could ever do that - grow so much, with literally nothing,” said 22-year-old Luke. “It was all fields.”
Dawn said she heard stories from Mike’s brothers and sisters of them going out and putting trees in the ground as part of their daily chores. Now trees line the ranch.
She recalls when she first met Mike’s sister, Jackie, at her grandparents’ house.
“I remember when I was little, she was the Hereford Queen, and she came out to my grandma and grandpa’s, and I’ll never forget she was beautiful; she’s still pretty, but she was so pretty, I thought,” Dawn remembers. “My Grandma Adams, she had her dish towel over her shoulder and her full-length apron, and she looked at me and said, ‘That girl is Tony’s right-hand man.’”
“I was my dad’s daughter, yes,” Jackie said with a laugh.
Jackie Lamach, formerly Stroh, has fond memories of growing up on the ranch, and her favorite aspect was working alongside her father.
“I was really fond of my father when I was young, I still am,” she said while her eyes brimmed with emotion.
She made the trip from Montana to the Stroh Hereford Ranch earlier this week for their 26th annual production sale because, she said, it’s important for her.
“It’s special because I don’t know how many more of these my dad will be here for.” she said while trying to push the emotions down. “And you know he built this business, and he made a mark on the Hereford industry in the state. So it means a lot for me to be here today just in case dad won’t be here in the years to come.”
‘He still loves it’
This is Tony’s first year not living on the ranch during the sale. His new residence is at Hilltop Home of Comfort in Killdeer, but his cattle are never far away.
Pictures of Herefords hang throughout his room. An iron sign with a farm silhouette and his brand - a sideways T and S - hang next to an aerial photo of his ranch and land.
“Hereford cattle was a popular cattle here back 60 years ago, and I liked them,” Tony said. “I still like them. The old saying was that more Hereford cattle paid for more ranches than any other breed.”
Jackie knows her dad’s passion for the breed.
“This cattle, Hereford thing, that came before anything, because that’s been his love his whole life,” she said. “He just kind of brought his kids in that circle too. He still loves it.”
Tony loves cattle and makes sure to include his family in on that love.
Grandsons Luke and Matthew were always helping their grandfather on the ranch, and Dawn said she knows those ranch chores have given her sons a gift.
“Both Lucas and Matt have been blessed with a close relationship with their grandfather, I think because of that,” she said.
Tony bought Luke and Matthew their own Hereford heifer for 4-H when they turned 9 years old.
“He always promoted and helped the kids with that, and when we had Achievement Days, grandpa was always in the stands,” Dawn said. “This is the first year, this year, that he wasn’t in the stands since the kids have been in 4-H.”
Luke can recall that first heifer.
“The first heifer he gave me was Lady Domino 167, she was a pet,” he said. “You could come up to her and pet her.”
‘They always come back’
The docile nature of the breed is what attracted Tony to them in the first place, that and their popularity.
Though their popularity started waning when the favorability for Angus increased, Herefords are now used by a number of farmers for crossbreeding.
Scott Weishaar with the Weisharr Auction Service has been the auctioneer with the Stroh family for 15 years and he sees familiar faces in the crowd every year.
“A lot of your ranchers that you see come to Tony’s sale, they are really loyal to Tony’s program,” he said Thursday. “They use Angus or maybe other breeds for crossbreeding, but they always come back to Tony (for Hereford).”
Two of those farmers were at the production sale again this year.
Four of Allen Earsley’s five Hereford bulls come from the Strohs. Earsley, a Reeder rancher who lives about 50 miles south of Dickinson, has done business with the Strohs for 10 years. He keeps coming back because “they tell it like it is” and Tony “stands behind his bulls.” He breeds his bulls with Angus cows, which result in black-white face cattle, or what are commonly known as baldies.
Paul Smokov, the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association 2013 Rancher of the Year from Steele, is also a longtime supporter of the Strohs.
“These people are some of the best (people) to do business with,” he said. “They are honest and they stand behind their word. Bought seven or eight bulls from them, some heifers, never had a bit of trouble.”
Smokov knows the hard work and dedication Tony has given to build up his legacy.
“He’s worked hard all of these years,” Smokov said. “You don’t do this overnight. It’s a lifetime.”
From father to sons
Tony’s legacy is now in the hands’s of his sons, Mike and David.
“I’ve got two sons. One of them (David) is north of Killdeer - he runs all commercial Hereford cattle, and he uses Angus bulls on half of them to get that crossbred vigor. He’s doing good,” Tony said. “My other son (Mike) is supposed to take over this purebred herd and land. I want my land to go to my boys, to my sons, and it to stay in the family.”
Thankfully for Mike, he isn’t doing it alone.
“My brother and his wife are taking it over. It’s their goal to keep this going and do what they need to do to keep things modernized and updated to keep going in the business,” Jackie said.
Mike’s wife stopped working as a teacher two years ago to help out more on the ranch.
Mike grew up with ranching in his blood, and said he always knew this was the path he wanted to take.
“I knew I always wanted to ranch; I knew that,” he said. “I didn’t necessarily know if I wanted to do the registered thing or not, but I knew I wanted to ranch.”
He was a little hesitant to get into registered cattle because of the nature of the business.
“The registered thing is very competitive and a very demanding business, so that was the thing that made me a little apprehensive about doing it,” he said.
Though, he looked to his left at Dawn and said with a laugh, “We’re doing.”
Deep roots
Mike’s agricultural roots go back to when his great-grandfather immigrated to Dunn County from present-day Ukraine. They homesteaded in the county and made up a chunk of the agricultural community in the area.
“I don’t know the exact number, but there were around 12 or 13 kids in the family. And all of his sons all farmed. All of them,” he said.
Now, Mike and David are the only Strohs who remain ranchers or farmers in Dunn County.
“At one time, it was probably safe to say, there was probably as many as 30 or 40 Strohs in Dunn County that were in agriculture,” he said.
Mike and Dawn’s family have been connected by Herefords longer than they originally knew.
Dawn said her great-grandfather was listed as having the first registered Herefords in the state of North Dakota in the late 1800s to early 1900s. She said she found pedigree papers of some of those cattle that Tony had bought from her family.
“Sometime, if our lives ever slow down - and I don’t know if it’ll ever happen - I’d like to have them framed,” she said.
The next generation
The Strohs are running around 260 head of brood cows on about 5,000 acres.
With that many heifers, calving season is one of their busiest times of year.
The family takes shifts checking the heifers throughout the night.
Luke loves that part.
“Calving is my thing,” he said. “It makes all of this worthwhile to see that new calf hit the ground, healthy.”
Matthew, 18, doesn’t seem to mind the chaos on the ranch either. He is sure he wants to be a rancher, like his father and his grandfather.
Mike and Dawn aren’t against that, but they want their youngest son to know what he’s getting himself into if he goes down that path.
“I want them to get out and experience the world. I want them to go to college. I want them to do things,” Dawn said. “I want them to make very sure that this is what they want to do. It’s Christmas Day, you don’t get to have your Christmas Day. You have to go feed your animals before you can go have Christmas.”
“We know this,” Luke said with an exasperated sigh.
‘It all comes down to today’
The Strohs know the importance of their annual production sale.
With half of their income coming from this sale, Dawn knows what it means for them going into the next year.
“I was thinking this morning, ‘It all comes down today,’” she said.
Friends, supporters and clients congregated in the shed that usually houses the Stroh’s equipment and machinery, that now sits benches and screens with film rolling of their cattle in the sale.
“We couldn’t do this without the help from our friends,” she said.
And friends they have in abundance.
“I like people,” Tony said. “I’ve met a lot of good and interesting people.”
Tony and Leona sat front and center, the same as they always have.
Tony’s sale brochure was in his lap as he made notes and marks after every sale. The cattle businessman in him couldn’t sit back and relax.
“I built it up and it took that many years,” Tony said. “You’ve got to be a pretty good businessman now to farm and ranch. For you to be successful, you have to enjoy what you do.”
Stults is a reporter and page designer for The Press. Call her at 701-456-1207 and tweet her at KalseyStults.

Related Topics: CATTLEKILLDEERAGRICULTURE
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