By Sarah Hill
Photos courtesy Berwald family
Berwald Red Angus is committed to raising high-quality Red Angus cattle and crops.
Austin Berwald can talk about Red Angus genetics all day. The beef producer from Toronto, S.D., has a knack for identifying and discussing genetic lines in cattle - a skill he likens to his experiences growing up in the dairy industry.
Berwald’s grandparents, Arlen and Eunice, had a small dairy and beef cattle herd near Summit, S.D., and moved the farming operation to the current location around 1964. “My grandfather was really into registered Holsteins and helped establish the foundation of a lot of today’s genetics, but he always had about 40 Hereford cows, too,” Austin Berwald says.
Arlen and Eunice’s son, Michael, added Red Angus cattle to the operation in 1996, at the encouragement of Austin’s mother, Kimberly, who grew up on a multi-generational black Angus operation. The family also milked 1,200 dairy cows while Austin was growing up, in addition to farming corn, soybeans and alfalfa, operating a feedlot, and doing custom forage harvesting.
Beef Herd Beginnings
“My dad happened to be at the sale barn and was interested in having a beef herd,” Berwald says. “Walking through the pens, he came upon these Red Angus cattle, and he really liked their docility and udders. He never had a registered Red Angus herd, but he treated them like they were a registered herd.”
Over the years, Michael built up his “hobby” Red Angus herd to around 200 cows. Berwald’s interest in the operation started early, with his attending artificial insemination (AI) school at the young age of 13.
“I did a lot of the breeding on the dairy side, and I really enjoyed it,” Berwald says. “As soon as I became skilled at inseminating, it was very easy to implement that on the Red Angus side, helping to select matings.”
Arlen began teaching Berwald the ropes of the crop side of the business, and Berwald was managing the row crop farming before he even graduated from high school. Since then, he’s grown the Red Angus herd to around 600 cows.
The operation includes Austin, his mother, Kimberly, his wife, Becky, and their four children, Jaylee, Jaedyn, Jamison, and Jocelyn. Tragically, Austin’s oldest son, Jaxson, and father, Michael, passed away in 2021.
In addition to the Red Angus herd and farming operations, Berwald also owns a custom forage harvesting business, harvesting crops for 28 customers with a large crew. “This year alone, we did more than 700 hours of work,” Berwald says. “We market a lot of the crops we raise, and the alfalfa hay is sold to a local dairy.”
Seeking Out the Best
Having learned from his father, Berwald focuses on improving the beef herd’s genetics on feet and legs, udder, disposition, and fertility. He has intentionally sought out the best Red Angus genetic lines he can find and afford.
“The biggest part of our breeding program is embryo transfers and in vitro fertilization calves,” Berwald adds. “We have a nucleus of about 30 donor cows, while the rest of the females in the herd are commercial-based cows.”
Berwald’s approach is that he’s not afraid to ask other Red Angus breeders for calves or embryos out of their best females. “These are cows you can’t actually buy to own yourself, because they’re a prize cow,” he says. “But the owner would be willing to sell an embryo or flush out of that cow. It’s a very long waiting game, but if you can get a $2,000 embryo that results in a viable, live calf out of those top cows, it’s a feasible gamble.”
There are a couple of other Red Angus breeders who have helped Berwald along the way. He credits Steve Mayer from C Bar Red Angus, Brownell, Kan., and Pieper Red Angus, Hay Springs, Neb., as two breeders who have helped him to get his start and served as mentors.
“Two years ago, I rolled the dice a little bit and bought a really nice heifer calf from Canada,” Berwald says. “We flushed her successfully and got a really nice heifer out of her, as well as a powerful set of ET sons that are on test now.”
Calving typically runs from the end of January through March at the Toronto location, and then females are shipped to ranches Berwald leases in northern South Dakota. Top females are bred back within 60 days postpartum, and in vitro flushing can be done up to 100 days of pregnancy - a tactic Berwald has also employed.
A self-described forage specialist, Berwald emphasizes forage for his Red Angus herd, as he says it’s the natural state for cattle diets. Their diets include a lot of ryelage, earlage, and wetter feeds to focus on rumen development and rumination. Each pen is fed a customized diet using Performance Beef Analytics, a ration software program.
“I like to feed earlage - it’s like a magic feed,” Berwald says. “You don’t have to worry about acidosis, because you’re harvesting both the corn cob and husk, which has a lot of fiber and is really healthy for the cattle’s gut.”
Bulls are developed using a ration with forage, earlage, grass hay, a little silage, and a bull challenger pellet from CHS.
In the fall of 2022, Berwald decided that he was ready for his first annual production sale, so he teamed up with his good friend and Red Angus breed expert, Seth Leachman. The sale was held at the farm on March 8, 2023, was a great success and tribute to all the hard work Berwald had put into the program.
The 51 bulls averaged $11,824, including a $90,000 herd sire to ABS Global, and he also sold 12 of his top replacement open heifers for an average of $19,375. The 2024 sale is scheduled for March 13, 2024, and Berwald plans to offer more than 100 bulls and another draft of donor quality open heifers. The sale will also feature the bull calves from the C-Bar program in Kansas.
Upcoming Production Sale:
Wednesday, March 13, 2024
learn more at www.facebook.com @BerwaldRedAngus