Raising hardy cattle: Elkington’s place emphasis on hardiness in their Hereford and South Devon operation
The Elkington family has been ranching near Idaho Falls, Idaho for more than 50 years, with several generations involved.
Polled Hereford operation
The Polled Hereford part of the operation started in the 1960s with Keith Elkington’s FFA project when he was a freshman in high school. His dad and uncle raised purebred Columbia and Hampshire sheep. Keith had a sheep project, but he also wanted a heifer since he was interested in raising cattle. The heifer he bought was the beginning of his registered cattle herd.
Keith was most interested in Polled Herefords and bought a bred heifer from Gilman Fletcher. A month later, the heifer had a bull calf.
“When that bull was a coming two year old, I took him to the Six Point Hereford Sale, and he topped the sale at $800. His mother lived to be 18. Every time I sold a calf, I’d buy another cow or heifer so that was the start of my herd,” Keith explains. “Later, we bought all the yearling heifers Gilman Fletcher had, and this put us in the purebred business.”
Raising hardy cattle
“We had 100 commercial cows and 50 purebred cows. Part of our farm was so rough and rugged with lava outcroppings we didn’t think we could run purebred cows on it. But, eventually we had to expand or do something else,” he says.
“We didn’t have any other pasture, so we sold the commercial cows and put purebreds on the rough pasture. Now they are weaning 600 to 800 pound calves off that rugged country,” Keith adds.
This hardiness is what the Elkington family based their breeding program on – producing cattle that can work in tough terrain and conditions.
“If cattle won’t work there, they won’t work for our customers either, since many of our bull buyers run cattle in rough country. Many purebred breeders run cows on irrigated pasture in the valley and don’t know what it takes to make them work in the hills,” Keith says.
Adding the South Devon breed
Today, Keith and his brother Brent are co-owners, and Keith’s son Layne is involved with the ranch.
“We have a good market for about 70 Hereford bulls each year, but have enough pasture to raise about 100 bulls. We added South Devons cattle to the operation a few years back because they cross well with other breeds,” says Layne.
“We chose South Devons because most people have Angus, and we’ve found the South Devons really complement our Herefords. They have extremely large ribeye and great marbling. Our customers who have tried this breed really like them,” he says.
Layne’s son Eric and daughter Piper help on the ranch as well. They grew up participating and showing animals in the local FFA and 4H programs. The last few years they showed, they consistently won champion showmen. Today, they continue teaching kids how to clip and show animals.
“We all pitch in and work together to do whatever needs to be done on the ranch to get the work done so we can all go fishing or hunting,” Layne says.
Layne built his house next to their calving facility.
“Uncle Brent, my son Eric and I calve out the cows, and my dad calves the heifers. My dad and Brent own the ranch, and Eric and I are working our way into it, to keep things going. It is all working out very well,” he says.
“I enjoy working with my family. My worst day was always when they went back to school. Eric is married now and working full time on the ranch. Piper is in college and comes up to help when she can. Farm kids are good help. They know what needs to be done and can do it,” Layne says.
He continues, “The ranch is a part of all of us. We work hard and enjoy every minute of it. I was born and raised working on the ranch and am grateful my kids had the same opportunity.”
For more information, visit elkingtonpolledherefords.com.
Heather Smith Thomas is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.