By Hilary Rossow
photos courtesy 7N Simmental Ranch
7N Simmental Ranch owners reflect on life in the cattle industry.
Among the gently rolling hills, expansive pastureland, and waterfowl production areas of Medina, N.D., is 7N Simmental Ranch. This slice of heaven is owned by octogenarians, Arlyn and Sourey Schmidt, whose love of their land and cattle is eclipsed only by their love of their family.
The ranch found its beginnings in the 1890s by John and Frank Fisher, two brothers who called the 1,200 acres, The Fisher Place. At the time, it was a large parcel, and its naturally flowing spring water, and prairie hills full of fine grass made it a desirable piece of land.
John, his wife, and their ten children along with Frank, who remained a bachelor all his life, passed the farm on to John’s son, Gene. When Gene passed away at an early age, the Fisher Place was rented for several years before being sold in 1959 to Mads Nielsen, an elderly rancher from near White River, S.D. He saw the ranch as an investment and an opportunity to help a young friend get a start in agriculture. The friend seemed to enjoy partying much more than working, and the arrangement fell through.
Arlyn Schmidt, fresh out of the Army and newly married to his wife, Sourey, was ranching with his parents on the home ranch, where Arlyn was raised, neighboring The Fisher Place. On a blistering summer day in July of 1965, a car with South Dakota plates drove down the lane into the Schmidts’ yard. Mads introduced himself to Arlyn’s father and asked him if he’d like to purchase The Fisher Place. When Arlyn’s father told Mads he had enough land, but maybe one of his sons would be interested, Mads turned to the oldest son, Arlyn, and Arlyn said he didn’t “have the wherewithal to buy much of anything at that time.”
Mads couldn’t be deterred. “He then asked me how many cows I had. I told him that I had 50 Hereford heifers with first calves at side. He thought awhile and then said, ‘I’ll bring up 50 of mine, you care for them with yours, keep five replacement heifers in the fall, sell the remainder of mine in my name, and I’ll rent you the place.’ With a hand shake we made a sweet deal,” Arlyn recalled.
Seven years later, Arlyn and Sourey bought the ranch and the remainder of Mads’ cows. The cattle wore the 7N brand, so the Schmidts bought the brand for $1.00 and renamed the place 7N Ranch, as a tribute to Mads. “He was a fine man,” Arlyn stated.
Over the next decades, the ranch grew to over 2,800 acres. The cattle transitioned from Herefords to the Fleckvieh lines of Simmental cattle. The fleshier, flashier Simmentals were bred to Red Angus bulls in the early 1990s, and the current herd is comprised of purebred Simmental and SimAngus cattle.
In 1968, Arlyn attended AI school through ABS, and new genetics were introduced into the 7N herd through artificial insemination. Arlyn believed that AI was the most efficient way to quickly improve qualities within a calf crop by selecting for desirable traits while steering away from less desirable ones. The Hereford cows were bred to Simmental bulls this way, and for the next 25 to 30 years, the cows were bred exclusively through AI. In the 1990s, AI was supplemented by natural service Red Angus bulls on the ranch.
The Schmidts focus on producing high-quality, functional seedstock for cattlemen in all situations. As North Dakota is notorious for wild swings in temperature and weather patterns, the bulls are bred to thrive in any climate. “You have to be in sync with Mother Nature. Of course, there are still plenty of challenges, but if there weren’t, it probably wouldn’t be worth doing. Challenges add value,” Arlyn stated.
Because of the tough winters, calving is done in mid-April through May to capitalize on spring-like weather and avoid the late winter blizzards and frigid air.
Most of 7N’s customers are neighbors and many have purchased 7N bulls for nearly 40 years. An annual production sale is held each May where primarily red Simmentals and SimAngus bulls are offered.
Additionally, 220 acres of crops are produced when precipitation permits. The ground is rotated between spring wheat and soybeans, and all planting and harvesting is done by Joe.
Sourey has always been the domestic engineer of 7N. She was the driving force in keeping the household going, along with a long list of other duties. Four children joined the couple, Doug, Patricia, Joseph, and Zhiela known as “Kookie”, which meant Sourey had her hands full and her days packed. “So back in the day, that left the other three of us (me, myself, and I), to run the ranch,” Arlyn shared.
When the kids got older, they all helped run the ranch. “Then when they finished school and left the home nest to find themselves, it was the ‘three of us’ again,” Arlyn said.
After ten years, their oldest son, Doug, came back to help run the ranch and assumed a 50 percent ownership of the cattle and equipment. Doug’s son, Layne, has joined the operation since then and offered youth and brawn, so an actual “the three of us” is a little easier on Arlyn at this point!
Ten grandchildren and six great-grand children have joined the Schmidt family. Currently, Patricia and her three sons own and operate a SimAngus operation north of Medina, N.D. Joe is a noted feeder cattle buyer, and he is kept busy with his four children and large soybean and irrigated alfalfa farm. Kookie and her family live in Rochester, Minn., and she has worked for a Honda dealership for over 20 years. Kookie’s daughter, Maia, is a star athlete at Augustana University in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Involvement and Awards
Arlyn has been involved in local, state, and national agriculture and cattle-specific organizations since his youth. He has been a member of the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association where he served as a district director for nine years. The North Dakota Simmental Association was fortunate to have him as a past director and a member for 45 years. Additionally, he has been a member of the American Simmental Association for over 50 years.
Arlyn’s passion for stewardship led him to become a member of the Stutsman County Water Resource Board for over 30 years and a Stutsman County Weed Control Board member for ten years. He has also served as president of the Medina Heritage Committee for 36 years and was a committee member of the USDA-FSA county committee for nine years. The Medina School Board also had him as a member and officer for 24 years.
In 1958, his excellent livestock judging skills were on display earning him a gold award at the FFA National Convention in Kansas City, Mo. He was awarded Stockman of the Year in 1996 at the Agri-International Trade Show in Bismarck, N.D. In 2015, the North Dakota Simmental Association presented him the Pioneer Breeder Award, and in 2018, he earned both the Stutsman County Agriculturist of the Year and the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association Rancher of the Year awards.
Arlyn and Sourey are proud of their accomplishments and grateful for the acknowledgments, but the couple agrees that a wall full of plaques is not nearly as important as pastures full of healthy, high-quality cattle.
The Schmidt family plans to stay the course and continue to produce great cattle while taking care of the land. “Our goals remain the same: breed and produce high-quality, useful beef cattle for our loyal customer base,” Arlyn stated.
The ranch and the cattle have taken care of the Schmidt family in return for their stewardship. As the next generation becomes more involved, the land and cows are in capable hands. “All that we have has been earned from the ranch, especially the cows,” Arlyn said.
One of the longest-running production sales in North Dakota will take place May 3, 2022, at the ranch near Medina, N.D. The 43rd Annual Production Sale will feature 60 purebred Simmental and recorded SimAngus bulls, plus 60 exceptional yearling replacement heifers.
Arlyn is a grateful and humble man. He says how fortunate he is for the land entrusted to him, and he does not take for granted the opportunities he has been given. Many repeat customers have ensured life-long relationships with exceptional cattlemen, the experience and knowledge he has gained and shared over a long career as a rancher, and the support and love of his family mean everything to him. “Being here where I am each day makes me appreciate how privileged and fortunate we are relative to the masses of the world,” Arlyn said.