MARSHALL - It's the kind of thing that makes a little knot in your stomach, Dan Stassen said. All this week, Stassen and his wife Renae have been on the move, penning groups of black Angus cattle, helping to transport them to South Dakota, getting ready for veterinary checkups - all in preparation for one last auction.
After two generations of family ownership, Stassen's Angus Farm will be auctioning off its herd this weekend.
"It was difficult to let this business go," Dan Stassen said, but it was getting harder to keep up with the work and time needed to raise cattle. "The world keeps changing," Stassen said, and it was time for him to make a change, too.
Photos by Deb Gau
Dan Stassen reminisced while checking on some of his black Angus cattle earlier this week. The cows were penned and waiting for trucks to take them to auction in South Dakota. Stassen is retiring from the cattle business and auctioning off his Angus herd.
The Stassen family has bred and raised Angus cattle at their farm north of Marshall for more than 60 years. Dan Stassen's father Eloi Stassen bought his first Angus cattle in 1947.
"My dad really made it work. When he started, he didn't have a lot of money, so he had to make it work," Dan Stassen said. Not many cattle businesses last as long as Stassen's Angus has, so Eloi must have picked some good cows and the right breed, Dan Stassen said.
Dan Stassen grew up around cattle - one of his earliest family photos shows him together with a calf being warmed up in the farmhouse kitchen.
"It was like that was my pet," Dan Stassen said.
As he got older, Dan Stassen was active in FFA and 4-H and showed cattle. He started his own Angus herd in 1971. For the past 10 years, Dan and Renae have been running the business together.
"There's a lot of history here," he said of the farm. The Stassens' herd has produced many champion cattle throughout the years, and the Stassens have gotten to know their regular buyers. The best experience, Dan Stassen said, "is the friendships, and seeing the people who come and buy from us."
"It makes you feel good that people appreciate your efforts enough to come back year after year," Renae Stassen said.
The Stassens said they have a lot of memories from working with the cattle and have had a lot of visitors. Once a group of people from China visiting the U.S. came to tour their farm. In the mid-1990s, hundreds of people visited in the same day as part of a cattleman's tour. They came by busload, the Stassens said.
Dan Stassen said one of the most unusual places he's showed one of his cattle was inside a local bank. In 1986, a 2,400-pound bull named Instant Cash spent the day at Wells Fargo as part of a promotional event at the bank.
"People still talk about that," he said. "They put up four gates, with plastic on the floor and wood chips on chips on top of that."
"It was hard to get him to go through the door," Stassen said, but once inside, the bull didn't seem to mind.
There's a lot of work that goes into breeding cattle and caring for the herd, the Stassens said, but over time there's also a connection that develops with the animals. Going out to look at some of the herd, Dan and Renae could call the cows and heifers by name and knew their personalities. The oldest cow in the herd was 14 years old and still producing calves, they said.
There have been hard times too, however. Throughout the years, it's gotten harder to keep up with the physical demands of raising cattle, training them for the ring and showing them, Dan Stassen said. Recently there have also been some tough times for the cattle industry. This summer's heat and drought was especially difficult, he said. There was little grass in the pasture, and hay was expensive. It can also be tough to find other feed sources, he said, because corn isn't very good for the purebred cattle.
The Stassens said they started thinking about retiring from the cattle business in the past couple of years.
"This last year we said, 'We're ready,'" Renae Stassen said.
The auction will be Sunday in Watertown, S.D. With more than 100 head of cattle being sold, it will be a huge undertaking, but the Stassens said their family, including their children and grandchildren, will be there with them.
The Stassens said they look forward to being able to travel and spend more time with their grandchildren. However, they still plan to farm. At the very least, Dan Stassen said, there's still going to be plenty of cleanup work to do on the farm after the auction.
"It'll keep us out of mischief," he said. "There'll be a lot of pasture fence to pull up."