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Combining Performance, Mothering Ability, and Carcass | December 2023

By Sarah Hill

Photos courtesy Sletten family

The Sletten family from South Dakota has built-up their Angus herd from scratch and achieved much success in the Angus breed.

Most cattle producers want to raise a herd that has the complete package - strong carcass genetics, mothering ability, and high reproductive performance. Sletten Angus, Faith, S.D., has found the sweet spot, producing high-quality cattle that have influenced herds across the Midwest - and even abroad.

John Sletten grew up near Faith and his father, Wayne, was a veterinarian, so he was constantly around cattle. He worked on ranches during summers in high school, gaining experience and learning from his employers. His expertise with cattle grew even more when he became his father’s veterinary assistant—a role John held until he began ranching full time.

“I always wanted to be a rancher,” John Sletten said. “There were some hard times, but giving up never was in the equation.”

John also served for 20 years in the National Guard, helping to build bridges during his service in three different countries. He says he’s proud to have served his country.

Starting a Herd

“We started out in 1985 by buying seven purebred Angus cows from Tom Foley in Phillip, S.D.,” John said. “From there, we grew the herd, through buying and using our own replacement females, until we were up to 500 head in 2008. My brother-in-law, Dan Jordan, let us run cattle on his land and helped us a lot.”

The Sletten family - John, his wife, Tammy, and their daughter, Jessica - leased a ranch starting in 1997 and started ranching full time. In 2012, the Slettens bought their own ranch from Gene Lund, and downsized the operation to about 200 head, which is the herd size they have maintained ever since.

Easy-Keeping, Big-Volume Females

John said mothering ability was what initially drew him to the Angus breed. “We have been very happy with Angus cattle,” he said. “They combine performance genetics, and we have been working on improving the carcass side of the equation, too.”

The Sletten family utilizes artificial insemination for all of their females, breeding in May and retaining females as replacements when they want to build-up the herd. In the past, they have used Rockn D Ambush 1531 and B/R New Frontier 095, whose daughters have performed very well for the family.

Currently, Sletten Angus is using G A R Home Town, HCC Whitewater 9010, Crawford Guarantee 9137, Sitz Resilient 10208, Bar R Jet Black 5063, MW DNAmite, KR Incredible 8205, KR Incredible 9119, G G Raptor, and Crouch Congress daughters are looking really good. “We look for easy-keeping, big volume females with good feet and good udders that breed back every year,” he said.

Females calve out from February 1 through the end of March in a calving barn. The Slettens work with an independent nutritionist to design a TMR based on how many pounds they want their females and bulls to gain. “We use hay, silage from our neighbors, wet distiller’s grains, and a pellet specially for females or bulls from Hubbard in the TMR,” John said.

Building Success

Bulls are identified before weaning and then sorted out for development. The operation hosts an annual bull and female sale in February, where they sell about 80 bulls and 30 females. In 2023, Sletten Angus celebrated its 35th annual sale. Over the years, the operation has sent bulls and females to California, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Texas, and Wyoming. “In 2007, we even sold 50 females and one bull through a private treaty sale to Russia,” John said.

The operation has had success in the show ring, too. In the late 1990s, Sletten Angus took champion bull and champion heifer honors at the Black Hills Stock Show. In 2000, the champion bred heifer was a Sletten Angus female. The operation has also taken champion pen of three at their local fair in Faith on several occasions over the decades.

This past summer, Sletten Angus was a stop on the South Dakota Angus Tour, an exciting milestone for the family. John said he wants to keep improving the operation’s efficiency and animals’ feet, udders, and performance.

“The Angus breed is getting more EPDs for everything, and we are trying to make ours the best that we can - even if it is impossible to do it all,” he said. “We want to raise docile cattle that are good performers with strong carcass numbers behind them.”

Lessons Learned

Along the way, the Slettens have learned many powerful lessons. One of them is the importance of keeping the ranch finances in check—a task that John credits Tammy with. “You need a wife who’s a good businessperson, and I have one,” he said. “It takes both of us, and we’ve learned to watch the bottom line closely. You don’t need to buy everything.”

John added that, as a first-generation rancher, he has surrounded himself with successful people to learn from their experiences. “We’ve been blessed with people who have helped us along the way,” he shared. “That’s the only way we could’ve done it. Pray for the best. There’s a lot of things that will set you back but keep going the best you can.”

Annual Sale:

February 12, 2024

1 pm MST - Faith, S.D.

learn more at

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