Humor, determination create successful life for West River Charolais family
By Amy Blum
Joel Deering may have invented a new rodeo sport.
Last summer, Deering's two youngest children - John Wayne (5) and Sheridan (3) - frequently tagged along as he hauled water north of Wasta to their purebred Charolais herd.
As Dad went about the business of tending the cattle, John Wayne and Sheridan promptly stripped down to go for a dip in the tank. Before long, one of Deering's herd bulls walked up for a drink.
"Justice 503 is about as gentle as a dead pig!" Deering said. "He went to drinking water while the kids swam around in the tank. I came along, scooped them out of the tank and put them on his back."
With that, naked bull riding was invented!
Funny looks weren't uncommon when little Sheridan shared her exciting day with friends and family.
"The kids had a good time; it was fun," Deering recalled. "Taking the little guys along feeding and watering cows helps keep ranching interesting. The experiences we get into would take up a lot more pages."
Although Deering encourages people to pray that "your banker and your wife (if you have one) have a heck of a sense of humor," it's not all fun and games at western South Dakota's Cheyenne Charolais. It's a lot of hard work with rewards that haven't come easily.
Deering operates both his maternal and paternal grandparents' places. With the help of one full-time hired man, his kids and occasional day labor, he runs 650 cows, 250 of which are purebred Charolais. Each fall, Deering sends between 300-400 calves to market.
The Soderquist Ranch is located south of Wasta. This ranch serves as headquarters for the operation and houses the commercial cowherd. Deering also uses the ranch to calve and develop heifers.
"I live at the 'home' place with my four kids - Cheyenne (13), Autumn (10), John Wayne (5) and Sheridan (3)," the doting father said. "They're good help. John Wayne was pretty upset when he had to go off to kindergarten!"
73 Ranch, which is currently owned by Melvin & Dorothy Anderson, is located 10 miles north of Wasta. All of the purebred Charolais cows make a home there. The ranch also focuses on bull development.
Deering's family started crossbreeding their mostly Gelbvieh-crossed cowherd with Charolais bulls in 1980.
"We first decided to introduce Charolais into our herd because I felt our crossbreeding program had gone as far as it could … the logical choice for a terminal cross was Charolais bulls. The results of our first cross were incredible," Deering reminisced. "My first purchase of purebred cows soon followed from U-Cross, Wienk and Double Hook."
Creating the image he wanted for Cheyenne Charolais took time, and Deering admits there were times of struggle.
"After a lot of experimentation with our breeding program, and really focusing on superior maternal genetics, I finally have a young set of cows that is bred the way I want them to be," Deering said. "I've found that as my cowherd has steadily improved, so have my bulls – both in quality and disposition."
Changes, however, didn't have to be made in only the cowherd.
Bulls Deering purchased in the late 80s produced inconsistent results with regard to calving ease and body type. On a mission to develop bulls that would work in his commercial operation, Deering started the process of creating a Cheyenne Charolais.
"I decided to try my hand at raising my own bulls for the commercial operation," Deering said. "I guess things kind of ‘snowballed' from there, and here I am at my 15th annual bull sale."
Over the years, Deering has worked hard to improve his own herds. He has focused on traits like disposition, eye appeal and calving ease.
"One bull can't be all things for all people," he noted. "Some may calve in the open in large pastures and rarely check their cows during calving. For them, calving ease is a must, and they may be willing to sacrifice some performance to accomplish that."
Deering continued, "Others may calve their mature cowherd in lots around their ranch and keep a pretty close eye on them. They may be willing to purchase a bull with a little bigger birth weight, frame and performance to maximize weaning growth potential."
Knowing all that, Deering does his best to "shoot for that middle of the road kind of bull." His goal is to provide producers with bulls that would work in both operations.
"It's kind of hard for me to describe," Deering said. "But, I want them to have the Cheyenne Charolais look – long, smooth shouldered and neat headed, not too much bone. A bull that even if he were carrying some birth weight would still calve easily."
In creating a "Cheyenne Charolais look," Deering has also created a Cheyenne Charolais following.
Each February, he sells about 80 bulls through an auction at the Philip barn. About 80% of the bulls he sells go to buyers in a 150-mile radius.
While he would eventually like to get back in the show ring - a place he's been out of for 10 years now – he's not there yet.
"I'd eventually like to have a Denver Champion Pen of Three," Deering forecasted. "But, I'm pretty happy selling bulls to commercial guys. I want to keep them happy."
The West River cattleman boasts an enviable humor and outlook on life.
"I think I've always wanted to do exactly what I'm doing," he said. "I wouldn't have passed up scholarships if I didn't."
And though Deering enjoys the life he has with his children, he has slightly different hopes for them.
"I just hope my children get their educations first so that they can ranch as a 'fall-back' instead of having to work as hard as I've had to accomplish the goals I've set for myself. Heck, if I had gone to the Naval Academy like I was supposed to, I could be ranching for fun now instead of for a living!"
Deering's road hasn't always been an easy one. He's the first to say there are times when he took one step forward and two steps back while building his cowherd.
However, he maintains some simple advice for others.
"Keep things light if you can," Deering advises. "Maintain a sense of humor no matter what hardships there are; enjoy every day you have on this earth, and never do anything that you'll be ashamed of later."