by Cheryl Kepes
Photos courtesy Frederickson Family and Focus Marketing Group
Frederickson Ranch / Pyramid Beef builds beef business in the Black Hills.
Eleven years ago, the owners of Frederickson Ranch decided to do something that is almost unthinkable to many multi-generational ranchers. They packed up their entire cattle operation and moved. Uprooting a ranch three generations deep and transplanting it hundreds of miles away in a different state may seem crazy to some, but it made all the sense in the world to Mark and Mary Kay Frederickson.
The Fredericksons’ son, Nate, along with his wife, Jayna, and their sons, Teegan and Tiernan, were already calling the Black Hills of South Dakota home. They had spent years encouraging Mark and Mary Kay to sell their Minnesota ranch and move to South Dakota. Finally, their persistence paid off. “My folks made a big leap moving out here. They packed up at 60 years old and left everything they had known to come out here on their son’s whim that we could make this deal work,” Nate Frederickson said.
Nate had never planned to establish roots in South Dakota. In fact, the course he charted for himself included working for a pharmaceutical company after college for a few years and then returning to the family ranch in Minnesota. But love hijacked Nate’s plan. When a job with Novartis led him to Spearfish, S.D., he met his soon to be wife and he also fell for the beauty of the Black Hills. “The Black Hills are a wonderful place to be, it is very scenic, a beautiful climate and it is cow country,” Nate shared. “After two to three years out here I started questioning if I ever wanted to go back.”
Nate’s new plan was to convince his parents to relocate to the part of the country he had fallen in love with. It would take almost a decade for Nate’s dream to be realized. Eventually, as luck would have it, Nate’s sister and her family moved a few hours away to Wyoming. Being close to current and future grandchildren was the solidifying factor to convince Mark and Mary Kay to take the chance on starting over in a new region.
Rooted in the Black Hills
In 2011, Mark and Mary Kay purchased a ranch near Nate and his family and embarked on the transition of lifetime. “It’s been a good successful move. And it is home,” Mark Frederickson shared.
Prior to Mark and May Kay moving to South Dakota, Nate and Jayna had started to build a seedstock operation of their own. When the two families joined forces, Frederickson Ranch flourished. In 2015, Nate transitioned from his corporate job to a fulltime position at the ranch. A few years later, Jayna stepped out of her 20-year career as a probation officer and into a fulltime role at the ranch as well. “We needed the careers to get to where we are, but now being fulltime at the ranch we are more efficient in being able to really focus on the ranching side,” Nate explained.
Recently, Frederickson Ranch added two additional fulltime employees. Herdsman, Ross Potter, and Jayna’s brother, Jason Anders, who assists with machinery maintenance, managing crops, and haying. The Fredericksons say running the ranch is truly a team effort and Ross and Jason are a crucial component in the operation’s success.
Frederickson Ranch’s Focus
The origins of Frederickson Ranch trace back more than 70 years to west central Minnesota. Initially, the family solely raised Hereford cattle but added Angus to the cow herd in 1992. Currently, the Fredericksons manage a registered Hereford herd, a registered Angus herd, and a commercial herd.
The family prides itself on producing quality, sound bulls for commercial customers. “My passion is without a doubt the bull side,” Nate said. The Fredericksons market approximately 200 bulls a year through their partnership business, Pyramid Beef. The family grows out their bulls at their bull development facility in Spearfish, S.D. “Out here we are blessed we can focus on the production side with the bulls and that is not possible in every geographical area. Instead of trying to bring the customer to us, we moved to the customer,” Nate explained.
The families also focus on raising seedstock that will fit well into their customers’ programs. “I just always believed you have to raise cattle that work for the environment you are in,” Mark explained. “If you want to sell seedstock you have to raise cattle liked by the people who are buying them, stay current with them, stay with their needs and wants, and raise a product that works for them. If you do that you will stay in business.”
Leaning on Leases
Part of the uniqueness of Frederickson Ranch’s seedstock operation stems from its utilization of federal property for its cow herds. Frederickson Ranch relies heavily on federal national forest leases. Their commercial cattle graze on thousands of acres in the Black Hills National Forest. The diverse terrain is filled with parks, meadows, and grass galore. Yet, it contains rugged areas too steep to navigate even on a horse. The ranch runs 800 head of cows and 300 to 400 head of yearling heifers on 55,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service permits and privately leased land.
The Fredericksons implement water development and other management strategies to encourage their cow herds to lightly graze through large sections of the permit property, instead of remaining in a few areas. “It’s very challenging but it is very rewarding. Cattle do exceptionally well up there,” Nate said. “Our weaning weights will be substantially higher up there, it’s just a good place to be a cow.”
The Fredericksons take the responsibility of leasing federal land seriously. They strive to be good stewards of the land and positively coexist with hunters, recreationalists, and others who utilize the Black Hills National Forest. “We want the interpretation that cows are good for the environment, cows are good for fire suppression, cows are good for grass management, and cows are good for wildlife. So, we work very closely in trying to build that reputation,” Nate shared.
Growing Bull Business
The Fredericksons’ move to South Dakota centered around lifestyle preferences but also involved business strategy. In Minnesota, their average customers managed 40 to 50 head of cows. However, in South Dakota their customers operate larger ranches with an average of 300 to 400 cows.
Due to Frederickson Ranch’s emphasis on selling bulls, this different client base gives the operation room to grow. “Everyone talks about the commercial man, but that truly is our market. We will market 97 percent of our bulls to commercial customers. There are a lot of cows in this area, and it is big ranch country, so there is a lot of opportunity to market good bulls,” Nate stated.
Through the years the families have grown their seedstock operation. They have had opportunities to acquire more federal land use permits and to purchase neighboring ranches. Nate, in partnership with two other cattlemen, established Pyramid Beef in 2009. The cattlemen joined forces to justify having their own annual bull sale. The three consign their own bulls and split expenses. Due to logistics, one of the partners has since left Pyramid Beef to manage his own bull sale closer to his ranch in North Dakota.
The Fredericksons operate a bull development program for their bull calves. The bulls are developed and sold at 18 months to 2 years of age. Marketing the long-aged bulls requires dedication and effort. “We really focus on longevity and developing these bulls a little bit slower,” Nate explained. “We sell quite a few older age bulls to assist our customers that run in a little bigger, harder country where a yearling might not hold up as well.”
Emphasis on Maternal Genetics
Producing bulls that will be successful for their customers starts with Frederickson Ranch’s females. The Fredericksons utilize embryo transfer (ET) to capture the value of the top 25 percent of their cow herd and capitalize on production ability. They also focus on udder quality along with foot and leg structure. “We are in a limited environment, so a lot of our customers are basically a grass and cake outfit. We really focus on fleshing ability and the ability to perform on limited resources, so the maternal side is a big focus of our business,” Nate said.
Frederickson Ranch implants several hundred embryos a year. The cows in their commercial herd serve as the recipient females. Hundreds of females in the registered Hereford and Angus herds are bred via AI and then are turned out with herd sires. The registered cow herds stay on the lower elevations where the topography isn’t as rough or widespread as the leased land.
The ranch has been in expansion mode in recent years. Therefore, most of the ranch’s females are retained as replacements. If the female doesn’t fit the ranch’s registered herd profile, she’s placed into the commercial herd. Additionally, the Fredericksons have worked to develop a replacement commercial female market, selling 150 to 200 commercial females a year. In the commercial herd, their Hereford cows are bred Angus, and Angus cows are bred Hereford to produce black baldie calves.
Frederickson Ranch devotes time to helping customers add value to their calves and operations. Nate capitalizes on his former work connections to help customers forge relationships with feedlots and other buyers. Frederickson Ranch works closely with its bull buyers to determine their needs. “We put greater focus on providing a benefit or solution to their operation, rather than trying to market the product itself,” Nate explained.
The Frederickson families took a chance by relocating their operation years ago. But it’s safe to say they have found success and settled into life in the Black Hills. “We have really come to call this place home out here,” Nate concluded.