By Cheryl Kepes
Photos courtesy Jensen family
Jensen Bros. Herefords combines the perfect blend of ingredients to produce impactful seedstock.
Kevin Jensen literally started his cattle operation from scratch. As a teenager, Kevin and his brother, Kirk, dipped their proverbial toes in the cattle industry with the purchase of a heifer for a 4-H project. “We are unique in the fact that we started from one 4-H show heifer in 1972 and really didn’t have an acre of land,” Kevin Jensen recalled. “My parents were both babies of large families and there wasn’t enough farm for them by the time they got older.”
Now fast-forward 50 years to today, a time when Jensen Bros. Herefords, headquartered in Courtland, Kan., is well-rooted in the Hereford business. Breeding national champions and operating with hundreds of purebred cattle, the Jensen family reigns as one of the nation’s leading Hereford breeders.
Starting from Scratch
Kevin Jensen’s beginnings were humble and scarce, but his determination was plentiful. “My thoughts were to build a herd; I wasn’t really sure how I was going to do it. But where there is a will, there is a way,” Kevin said.
By the time Kevin attended junior college he had built a small herd and started to show cattle for other people. The fitting and showing side of his business began to flourish and people within the Hereford breed took notice. “Jim and Sue Rowland with G&R Herefords were very instrumental in helping me. At first, they even loaned me a truck and a trailer,” Kevin reminisced. “By the time we got done I had shown a bull that had won several national shows for them. So, it worked for both of us.”
An unexpected blessing arose from Kevin’s time working on the cattle show circuit – he met, Sheila, his future wife. Sheila grew up in Manitoba, Canada raising polled Herefords, Simmentals, and Shorthorns. “Her family was rich with history in the purebred business, so she brought a wealth of knowledge to the operation,” Kevin said.
Kevin and Sheila started to expand their herd on rented land in Kansas. Then in 1985, they used their part of the proceeds from the sale of a heifer they were showing on a share to make a down payment on a quarter section of land. Their registered herd began to grow as did Kevin and Sheila’s family. The two started their family in 1992 with the birth of their son, Brady. In the years to follow, the Jensens welcomed daughter, Brooke, and then son, Ben.
One of the Jensens’ earliest successes came from their work with a bull calf raised by friend and fellow Hereford breeder, Tom Ihry from Hope, N.D. The Jensens’ care, fitting, and showing of IHRY GK RACE, helped propel the bull to national acclaim. “He was a two-time national champion and raised a lot of bull calves and semen that got sent all over the world and that is what really catapulted us in many ways,” Kevin explained.
RACE was also the sire of G&R Raceway 1900, a bull Kevin fitted for Jim and Sue Rowland, that won the Hereford show at the National Western Stock Show in Denver and the American Royal in Kansas City. “Those are the things that got us going,” Kevin said.
The Jensens’ fitting business grew quickly. For three decades they hauled large show strings to state fairs and national shows. “We went to every state fair from California to Tennessee, Maryland, Texas, and North Dakota. We traveled the entire United States with our fitting service and a group of young people, showing hundreds of head of cattle and meeting other breeders. That’s how we made many of our connections,” Sheila Jensen explained.
Though showing, fitting, and herd building produced success, the Jensens relied on other avenues to help their business thrive as well. “When you start from scratch you have to figure out ways to make things work and cattle have done it in one aspect or another,” Kevin said.
In the early days of the operation, Kevin worked purebred cattle sales. Much of the time, that work was for National Cattle Services Inc., owned by Eddie and Ruth Sims. Kevin’s role took him to cattle operations and sales all over the country and gave him opportunities to network with other breeders.
In the later years, as the Jensens scaled down their fitting business, they added Jensen Genetic Center, a custom semen herd bull collection facility. The satellite facility is affiliated with Hawkeye Breeders Service located in Adel, Iowa.
From their beginnings through present day, Sheila has operated Jensen Livestock Agency, a livestock insurance business, which covers cattle across the United States and takes her to many cattle shows and sales.
The family relies on their longtime herdsman, Eddie Sandberg to help with all aspects of the ranch. He has been a vital part of Jensen Bros. for 20 years.
Currently, Jensens Bros. operates with 350 momma cows. Due to the drought, the herd numbers are down slightly. The Jensens primarily run a spring calving herd, but also calve a small group of cattle in the fall.
The operation has a vibrant embryo transfer (ET) program. The donor pen consists of 10 to 20 females each year. In vitro fertilization is the Jensens’ method of choice for flushing their donor cows. The Jensens raise about 450 calves annually, a hundred of those are ET calves.
Most of the ranch’s recipient females are purebred Herefords. “It makes more sense to us to have purebred Hereford cows raising purebred Hereford calves. It also puts a little bit more faith in what you are doing,” Kevin shared.
The genetics in the Jensens’ herd come from deep-rooted cow families. Some of their first purchases derived from a group of older cows from Messersmith Ranch. “We knew they were proven and had longevity and basically our whole herd is based around about 10 of those cows,” Kevin stated.
To this day, some of the cattle in the Jensen herd can be traced back to the champion pedigrees from the operation’s earliest days. “Primarily in the last 20 years it’s the same cow families that are doing it for us now, that were doing it for us then. It’s different bulls we have used on them, but it is the same cow families and we kind of pride ourselves on that,” Kevin said.
As seedstock producers the family is striving to strike a balance between show ring champions and performance cattle. “I guess we are in the minority right now with what we are doing, but I really believe we should keep real life business in our show cattle and some quality, look, and phenotype in our commercial cattle,” Kevin shared.
Sales and Marketing
A significant part of the Jensen operation centers on producing high-quality bulls for commercial cattle producers. Jensen Bros. hosts an annual bull sale the first Thursday in March. The operation’s spring bull sale features 100 bulls. Many of the ranch’s bull customers are commercial cattle producers. The operation also hosts an annual female sale in October and an online female sale in April. The female sales feature elite Hereford show heifers and bred females for producers looking to enhance their herd.
Now adults, all three of the Jensen children are involved in agricultural in some respect. Growing up, they were successful in the show ring and active in the National Junior Hereford Association (NJHA). Brady and Brooke both held officer positions on the NJHA board. Brooke also served as the National Hereford Queen.
Kevin served for many years on the American Hereford Association (AHA) board of directors; he was elected to the first board of directors to preside over the AHA organization after it merged with the American Polled Hereford Association. During his tenure on the board, he served as chairman of the performance committee the year the AHA instituted Whole Herd Total Performance Records.
The entire Jensen family has been involved in judging livestock shows. Brady, Brooke, and Ben competed on Kansas State’s livestock judging team. Kevin and Sheila have traveled to judge cattle shows throughout the United States and Canada, as well as other parts of the world including New Zealand, Australia, and Argentina. Additionally, the Jensen family hosts numerous livestock judging teams at the ranch throughout the year.
Kevin and Sheila’s children are now bringing their families back to the ranch. Brady, along with his wife and two young daughters, recently returned to Courtland, Kan., so he could work at Jensen Bros. in addition to his fulltime job with ST Genetics. Brady’s wife, Allie, works at a bookkeeping firm.
Brooke, and her husband, Kalen, and their young son, moved back to the area to farm and raise livestock. Brooke works as a protein marketer for Cargill and enjoys helping on the home ranch and at the shows and sales. Kalen is an area representative for Beck Seeds, Inc. The Jensens’ youngest, Ben, works for Kansas State’s Masters of Agribusiness Department and helps throughout the year on the ranch.
As the next generation of Jensens come home, Kevin and Sheila look ahead with a hint of excitement anticipating what ingredients the next generation will add to the ranch’s recipe for success.
Annual Bull Sale:
Thursday, March 7, 2024
1:00 pm CST - Courtland, Kan.
learn more at www.jensenbros.net