Dunn County ranchers place at challenge

Two local ranches have more in common than they think. Besides living in Dunn County, Gene Harris, Killdeer, and Manning's Derrick Dukart are working on their family's ranches and doing well. Harris placed second in the 2007 North Dakota Angus As...

Two local ranches have more in common than they think.

Besides living in Dunn County, Gene Harris, Killdeer, and Manning's Derrick Dukart are working on their family's ranches and doing well.

Harris placed second in the 2007 North Dakota Angus Association Carcass Challenge, while Dukart was close behind in third place. The two placed out of 22 commercial and registered producers who entered the challenge.

The men's two groups of 10 steers competed among 115 total Angus-sired steer calves in the challenge, which is in its second year by the Angus association.

"It's an educational contest that people can sign up for with a group of steers," association Chairman Pete Best said. "Participants get all the carcass information on those steers from the feedlot in Kansas and see the rate of gain and how the carcass performs."


The results are to be presented at a Carcass Kindergarten during its annual convention and banquet at 4 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 16, at the Seven Seas Inn in Mandan. Both participants look forward to attending a session which features a panel discussion of the carcass challenge results, including a group by group analysis and overall breakdown of this year's contest steers.

The contest not only compares the cattle, but also uses the industry's benchmarks to find out how cattle at home compares to others around the world, Best said.

"You see how you measure up and see if you need to make any changes," he added. "We thought this would be a good way to reach out to commercial breeders in the state and educate them on the value of their cattle, whether they are getting paid too much or not enough at market."

You don't risk your whole operation with just entering five to 10 steers, he added.

"Producers are interested in seeing how and what they do with their herd," Best said. "We want to expose them to the other side of the industry they don't always get to see."

The cattle are entered by Dec. 1 and are brought to a feedlot in Kansas, where they are given ultrasounds and weighed at intervals for the six to eight months the animals are at the feedlot.

Cattle go from the feedlot to a slaughterhouse in Kansas. Results are then sent to the participants.

"Some calves are sold in May and others in August, depending on their growth and how fat they are," Best said.


This is Dukart's second time entering the contest, while Harris has participated in other similar challenges not associated with the same organization for years.

"It's a matter of being able to know how my cattle are doing on the other end of the food chain and trace them from pasture to plate," Dukart said. "It opened my eyes on what my cattle are doing in terms of carcass quality and has helped our operation."

This also is a good way to highlight the quality of cattle in the state, he added.

Harris said he hopes to learn a little more about the actual carcass under the hide of his cattle. This is the first time he's done this particular challenge.

"It's important to know what type of cattle we're producing in order to continue to satisfy consumer needs and demands," Harris said.

Harris' ranch was named the Top Certified Angus Beef Producer in the nation in 1998. Harris is the third generation on his family's farm in Grassy Butte.

"I was pretty shocked I was in the top because we didn't select the cattle, but we had a pretty good set of steers," Harris said. "It'll be interesting with sending the cattle we selected for next year. We're sending two full brothers of the calves who placed second this year."

It will be interesting to see how the two groups from each year compare, he added.


"We hand select a group out of 300 steer calves to be part of the contest," Harris said. "We wean all replacement heifers and keep them until they go. Our practices are standard like most ranchers."

When buying bull herds, Harris focuses some of his efforts on the carcass quality because he said it's important in long-term survivability of the beef industry.

"When we calve, we individually identify each calf to correspond with its mother," Harris said. "Then we can go back to our records easily."

In the case of the winning 2007 group versus the 2008 group, two brothers were available to send and the Harris family was able to identify the bull which sired this year's winner.

"They were out of one sire and had the better carcasses," Harris said. "We'll look at trying to do something on that order, but not this year since we didn't keep that particular bull separate. We are able to identify a sire that produced pretty good carcasses."

Working with the Certified Angus Beef Program has enabled Harris to get individual carcass data on what's harvested and cull inferior cow carcasses after three years to improve his entire cow herd.

"We'll use the information from this challenge as another marketing tool for future calves," Harris said. "We sell through Stockmen's Livestock Exchange in Dickinson each year and have provided information from prior carcass work so buyers understand there is value under the hide of our cattle."

The market has been good at weaning time and for the most part, the Harris' sell all their calves at that time, he added.


"This challenge is a value to all commercial cattle producers," Harris said. "If they don't know what kind of carcasses they're producing, then this gives them a chance to get a sampling."

Dukart is the fourth generation on his family's farm and entered in the contest with his parents. He had a group of five steers from his operation and another group of five from parents' Doug and Sandy's operation.

"I'm a believer that every animal has a carcass and a purpose," Dukart said. "Last year, we were able to take a trip to Kansas during the contest and see our cattle in the feedlot. It was a great educational experience."

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