How a Dream Became A Reality

A Nebraska breeder combines tireless effort, innovative thinking and attention to relationships to bring a long-time wish to fruition

-By Dan Rieder

“Any success that we have had traces directly to three primary reasons,” says Loren Berger, a long-time advocate of Simmental genetics whose ranch is located midway between Stapleton (population: 300) and North Platte (25,000). “First and foremost is the Good Lord’s blessing; secondly, family has been critically involved in our development, and finally, we’ve discovered that relationships are a key element to our continuing growth. Our ranch business has expanded far more than I ever anticipated.”

Berger’s ranching experience has surpassed his wildest expectations. “If someone had told me 32 years ago that I would be in my current financial position of owning my own ranch free and clear, I would have said that they were dreaming, because I just didn’t think that was possible,” he continued. “We have gone from owning almost nothing to managing this ranch to leasing it to owning it outright.”

After growing up on a diversified livestock operation in northeast Kansas, Berger enrolled at Kansas State University. While at KSU, he met his future wife, Peggy, a farm girl from central South Dakota. “Even before we got married, we agreed that eventually we’d like to own our own ranch and raise our children in that environment,” he reported. “But, we also knew there was no opportunity for us to go back to either of our family operations. I have a twin brother and we are the oldest of seven children.” While earning his master’s degree in animal science at KSU, he shared an office and became fast friends with former ASA Executive Vice President Jerry Lipsey.

The Route to the Ranch

After marrying Peggy and completing his education in the mid-1970s, Berger and his bride took a rather circuitous journey to ranch ownership. His first position after college was a three-year job as a herdsman for a purebred Simmental operation in northeast Iowa. When that herd was relocated to Missouri, he was accepted for a position with the University of Nebraska’s West Central Research and Extension Station at North Platte. That’s where he met and developed a working relationship with Dr. Don Clanton, who was in charge of beef cattle research and would be instrumental in his future life-changing decisions.
“I was there for three years and really enjoyed our time with the University, but still had that dream of getting involved in an operation where we could start our own cowherd along with building some equity in our own business. So we left the University setting, moved to northeast Nebraska and went to work for another Simmental seedstock operation,” he said.

“A couple of years later, Dr. Clanton called me and said ‘I wonder if you’d consider coming to work with me privately.’ He had leased this very ranch, the ranch we now own. He had about 100 purebred Simmental cows and was also part owner in a nearby feedlot. He wanted me to work part-time procuring cattle for the feedlot and the rest of my time would be spent managing his cattle,” he recalled.
“I told him I would accept his offer if I could run some cows of my own. He agreed to that request so I borrowed some money and bought 10 cows. That arrangement continued for the next 12 years, by which time my cowherd numbers had grown to 30 head,” he said.

In 1993, Clanton, who had served as an ASA Trustee from 1985 to 1992, decided to retire. He offered to sell his equipment and to lease his cowherd to Berger. He also volunteered to accompany Berger to a meeting with the ranch owner to see if Loren could assume the lease. “The owner agreed and that is how and when I really got my start,” he states.
In keeping with his habit of enhancing relationships, he worked closely with his new landlord. “He had encountered some financial setbacks and called us several times to see if we could pay our rent early. We complied with his requests and never questioned him,” Berger says. “So, when he got ready to sell, he called me and offered it to us first. That was his way of repaying the favor. We paid fair-market price and made our last payment in 2014.”

Establishing Herd Identity

“The Clanton cowherd I took over was an excellent set of cows, but they were traditional Simmental, spotted and colored. At that time, those kind of cattle were being discriminated against and I figured that it would be financial suicide to continue down that road,” he commented. “After thoughtful consideration, I decided that the answer might lie in the production of hybrid bulls. I knew from the existing research that there were tremendous advantages to the hybrid cow in terms of lifetime productivity and the benefits of breed complementarity. Even back then, there was at least a $100 advantage for the crossbred cow when compared to the traditional purebred British breeds,” he said. Berger’s decision to focus on hybrid Angus x Simmental cattle put him well ahead of the curve. In 1993, years before SimAngus™ became such a popular, well-accepted industry term, he had coined Herdmasters to describe the composition of his cattle because at that time hybrid and crossbred were not favorably accepted terminology. “All of our cattle have some combination of Angus and Simmental genetics, ranging from 7/8 Angus to 50-50. When I say ‘Angus’ I’m referring to both black and red. We use the Herdmaster name as a product label, and even call our ranch Berger Herdmasters,” he continued. Today, his cowherd has expanded to 350 head, which runs on 2,000 acres of deeded land and another 3,000 acres of leased pasture. The ranch is located on the southern edge of the famed, grass-rich Sandhills, which encompass a sizeable portion of Nebraska’s prime cattle country. All females, including heifers are bred to highly proven AI sires. “Most of our customers keep their own replacement females and many of them retain ownership, so we concern ourselves with a wide range of selection criteria. We rely heavily on ASA’s innovative $API (All Purpose Index) and our customers are increasingly using and enjoying API as well. They like that it incorporates all economic factors into one relatively easy-to-understand index,” he says.

“I know that hybrid bulls can stabilize a herd in any combination of British x Simmental breeding. It is a much simpler method than the two-or-three breed rotational systems, which is difficult to manage,” he said. “We have found that it is the most efficient way to maintain hybrid vigor.”
For the past 21 years, the Bergers have held an annual bull sale the second Saturday in February at the fairgrounds in North Platte. “The past two years, we’ve sold the bulls on video, and have sold into eight or nine different states. We sold 155 bulls this past year at a phenomenal average of $7,800 – a far cry from 1995 when we sold 55 bulls at an average of $1,800.”
He pays special attention to honing sound relationships with his customers. “We feel that it is a privilege to provide genetics that work for them, maintaining year-round contact with those individuals. In addition, we personally deliver 95% of the bulls we sell – which allows us to develop face-to-face contact on each of their operations, learning what their breeding goals are,” he said.
Berger points out that some of those sale bulls originated from four cooperator herds. “Those breeders have purchased females from me in the past and their herds are very similar to mine. We also use the same AI bulls which enables me to select a uniform set of 150 sale bulls from a cow base of more than 1,000 head. It has been a mutually beneficial relationship for each of us,” he said.

All of Berger’s data is processed through the American Simmental Association. “We do that because that’s where we can get across-breed EPDs, which means that when we put together our sale catalog, regardless of the percentage of Angus or Simmental, they’re all comparable. Every cow we own is listed in the ASA data base,” he points out.
Berger’s love of family frequently surfaces in conversation. He and Peggy raised two children, both of whom graduated from high school in Stapleton, the only town in Logan County.
Aaron and his wife, Elise, live in Kimball, where he serves as an extension educator with the University of Nebraska. Their daughter, Sarah Busch, is married to Charlie, a minister who pastors a church in Chadron. “We have eight grandchildren with another on the way,” he says with obvious pride. “And we’re fortunate that they live within a reasonable driving distance from the ranch.”
He is quick to credit Tyrell Rousey, his herdsman, for his contributions. “He’s been with us for 11 years and is a multi-talented young man. I can be gone for several days and never worry because I know he can handle any emergency that comes up. He also runs some cows and sells several bulls through our sale – so our relationship is similar to the one that I enjoyed years ago with Don Clanton. His wife’s name is Deandra and they’re the parents of Aiden, who is 3,” he added.
“My infatuation with Simmental actually began way back in 1971 when I bred some purebred Herefords to a Simmental bull,” he concluded. “The production of those half-blood calves left an indelible impression on my mind about the value of the crossbred female and we continue to benefit from that quality more than four decades later.”

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Berger's Herdmasters
9339 E. Autogate Rd.
Stapleton, NE. 69163

Loren and Peggy Berger - Owners
loren@bergersherdmasters.com
Office: 308-532-0939
Cell: 308-520-3836
Tyrell Rousey - Manager
tyrell@bergersherdmasters.com
308-530-9279