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Durable cattle: JC Heiken Angus and Sons produces durable bulls and females to last customers a long time

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Joe Heiken and his sons John, Brian and Ben run a family ranch near Broadview, Mont.   

“Back in the 1990s we bought some embryos from Van Dyke Angus, and our registered cowherd originated from those first embryos purchased in 1992. Before this, our family ran commercial cattle for nearly 100 years,” John says. 

From the beginning, all breeding decisions were made using highly proven, nationally-known herd sires to develop the optimal cow for the eastern Montana environment. Fertility, thickness, depth and efficiency have been a focus of the breeding philosophy from the beginning.   

“In order to continue improving our herd and ensuring we are providing the best genetics, we listen to our customers’ needs,” John explains. 

Separate herds, one family unit 

Family is the basis of the operation and something the Heiken family is very proud of. John, his brothers and their father each have their own land, but the ranch runs as one whole unit. 

“We work together very well as a family,” says John. “We each have our own land and cattle, so if we ever want to separate from the family operation, we can. We are more flexible this way, and it allows us to be responsible for our own breeding decisions.” 

 “However, we are stronger together,” he adds. 

John explains the family registers their cattle under their own prefix, which is why some of their cattle have different prefixes in front of their names. 

“When we sell bulls through our annual sale, we each get money from our own bulls. We don’t average it,” he says. 

Each individual in the Heiken family has a different idea of what they want their cattle to do, and since they each make their own breeding decisions, no one has to compromise to come up with a certain program – they can each follow their own goals.  

“My brothers’ cattle and my cattle will never be exactly the same because we breed them a little bit differently. But, we do it similarly enough we can run them together and sell them together,” he says. 

This enables them to have a wider offering, in case a customer wants something a bit different.   

“It works really well for us this way,” notes John. “We calve in February and March and have our bull sale in February of the following year. Calving and caring for the herd together helps maximize our labor and facilities.” 

Last spring the Heiken family had a lot of help during calving season because kids and spouses were home from school due to COVID-19. 

 “Our kids are old enough to be a lot of help when they are not in school. It made a big difference having them home. Calving and branding was a lot easier with their help.  Usually we have to work around school and track meets,” John says. 

A herd built to last 

For years, the breeding focus at JC Heiken Angus and Sons has been on maternal qualities. This has created a cowherd strong in maternal traits.   

“We have some of the top bulls in the breed for a few of the new expected progeny differences (EPDs) – the heifer pregnancy EPD and maternal EPDs,” states John. “Our goal is to have the best females we can, raise good bulls that will sire the best daughters and produce good replacement heifers for our customers.” 

“We try to make the best cows we can with a focus on fertility and good feet and legs. Structural soundness is very important to us. Eastern Montana is big country, and cattle must be able to travel,” adds John. 

John notes durability and hardiness are also very important at JC Heiken Angus and Sons. 

“It’s expensive to develop heifers, have them wash out at age three or four and then replace them,” John states. “Therefore, we try to raise bulls with females in mind.” 

He explains whenever they select a new bull, they pay special attention to bloodlines and background. 

“When looking at a bull the first question we ask is if we’d want 100 daughters from him. If we do, we try to buy him, but if we don’t, we move on to the next one,” John says. “Cows are the foundation of a herd, and it’s crucial to know we are producing good females.” 

“My dad always said a producer only lives with a steer calf for about nine months, but they want their cows and bulls to last 10 years or more,” he adds. “So, we really strive to produce durable cattle that will last a long time.” 

Fit and durable bulls 

As far as the bulls go, John explains the Heiken operation develops young bulls in big pens where they can get a lot of exercise and develop good muscle, instead of just getting fat. 

“When our customers turn them out with cows they don’t melt as badly because they are fit and ready to go to work,” John says. “Too many young bulls are overly fat and don’t hold up when they have to go out and travel.” 

The top 130 bulls from JC Heiken Angus and Sons are sold each year through an annual production sale, while another 150 bulls are sold private treaty.   

“This works well because we have customers who prefer both – some like to come to our sale and buy bulls here at the ranch and some who don’t want to pay as much at the sale but are willing to buy them private treaty.” 

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Heather Smith Thomas is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to 

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