Tripp County is cattle king in South Dakota
IDEAL -- Greg Jorgensen calls his family cattle operation a passion, a hobby and work.
"I've been doing it all my life, and I'm 62," he said Wednesday afternoon. "It's a full-time job and then some."
Greg, a third-generation farmer, runs Jorgensen Land and Cattle along with his brother, son and nephew near the town of Ideal, northwest of Winner. His brother, Bryan, is a also third-generation farmer, and two of their sons, Cody, 38, and Nick, 23, also run the farm and ranch combination.
The Jorgensens -- with about 3,200 bulls -- have one of the many operations that help make Tripp County top in the state for the cattle industry. Nestled along the Nebraska border, Tripp County has the most cattle of any county in South Dakota, with 160,000 head within its borders, according to data collected from 2013.
That No. 1 status is due to a robust feeder cattle industry, experts say.
"There are a lot of cattle on feed in Tripp County," said Ken Olson, SDSU Extension beef specialist. "They are not being finished but are on background lots."
Those so-called background feedlots take calves from weaning -- about 550 pounds -- and get them up to about 800 or 900 pounds and ready for a finishing feedlot, of which there are none in Tripp County.
The abundance of feed in the Winner area provides the foundation for the feeder cattle industry, which is spread out among several producers, said Frank Volmer, of Winner Livestock Auction.
"We raise a lot of feed such as corn, hay, milo and alfalfa in the county and surrounding area," Volmer said. "I don't think any one person can take credit for this. It's just a lot of people in the area who like to feed cattle. There are several smaller lots that background cattle."
SDSU's Olson agrees.
"Everything comes together nicely. There's good pastureland in the Winner area. South central South Dakota is a great place to grow silage," Olson said. "They are probably farmers first and they add value by feeding it to cattle."
Background feedlots typically put growing cattle on a diet of about 60 percent from forage and 40 percent from grain, and cattle typically gain 2.5 pounds per day. Finishing lots shift that feed ratio to 90 percent grain and 10 percent forage, which adds about 4 pounds per day to an animal and makes for higher-fat, marbled meat.
The breakdown of cattle type reflects the background feeding explanation, as 99,000 of Tripp County's 160,000 cattle fall under the category of "All Cattle and Calves," according to data released jointly by the South Dakota Department of Agriculture and the USDA. Of the total, 61,000 are classified as "Beef Cows" and just 200 are dairy cattle.
Here's a look at the other five top counties for cattle for 2013:
• Meade County -- 125,000 head (data assembled before Storm Atlas hit in October 2013)
• Beadle County --120,000 head (1,200 are dairy cows)
• Hand County -- 105,000 head (800 are dairy cows)
• Charles Mix County -- 105,000 head (1,200 are dairy cows)