Sonderup: A breed of All Their Own

Left to right) Sandy, Tom and their daughter Kelly at the ranch in 1983. Photo by Sonderup Charolais Ranch Inc.
Sonderup-TomSandyKelly

Sonderup: A breed of All Their Own

The painful decision to break up comes with both anxiety and relief. Tom and Sandy Sonderup felt it when they watched 150 head of Charolais leave their farm in Fullerton, Nebraska, in November.

By Lindsay Humphrey



Today Sonderup Charolais Ranch Inc. The success story was first developed by one of the pioneers of the time, Vern Sonderup. A farmer from nature helped introduce central Nebraska to irrigation, and did so in a big way.

“My dad was an extremely hard-working, all-around farmer,” says Vern’s son, Tom Sonderup, who now owns and runs the operation. “He first started with underground wells to feed the loops before he started using the Loup River.”



At one point, Vern had nine pumps with 23 miles of irrigation pipe carrying water from the river to 5,500 acres of farm land. At maximum capacity, four harvesters were needed to process all the fall crops.

At the same time, they fed 2000 fat cattle. Although Vern started the family with cattle, it was Tom who took it to a whole new level and forged a path of his own.

Humble beginnings

The first Charolais bull on the Sonderup estate was purchased in 1962.

“I took my first Charolais to the Nance County Fair and she was grand champion of the whole show, and also won grade and carcass,” Tom said. “I’ve been hooked ever since. In the 60s, they were very rare. We were the first people in the area to have Charolais.

Where Vern was a talented farmer, Tom was his equal as a stockman. As an eighth-grader, Tom started working in FFA and began building the famous Sonderup Charolais herd.

“It was technically my dad’s project because he bought the bull, but I started putting together a registered herd when I was in high school in the early ’70s,” Tom said. “I guess that’s all I really know.”

Before this single bull changed the face of Sonderup forever, Vern was managing 150 head of cattle. Tom’s thorough knowledge of both purebred and commercial cattle is a combination of hands-on experience at home and his degree from Nebraska Technical College of Agriculture.

“I knew Tom’s parents in high school, but I got to know him in college when we both showed at the Nebraska State Fair,” said Greg Hubert, who has managed Tom’s female sales for 20 of the past 35 years. “Tom was just a fun guy, always smiling and always kind. He is the same now as he was then.”

After college – 1976 – Tom Tri R Cattle Co. began to manage his herd. He started with just 27 cows, but within eight years he had grown to 150.

“We took this herd to stakes and the production records there helped me earn my American Farmer degree in FFA,” Tom said. “In the late 70s, we bought 100 cows from the Bauman Ranch in Wyoming. That’s how we really started the breed business.”

Feature over fiction

Known for his early adoption of AI and ET technology, Tom had his work cut out for him in the first few years. During the AI ​​season, Tom spent a lot of time on the horse.

“The way we set up for AI, we had to bring each cow individually through several canyons and ditches on horseback,” Tom said. “I remember one time a cow jumped a fence and we got a mile and a half north of the barn. We stretched him between two ropes and then with artificial intelligence we dropped him right there.”

Somehow, that cow got pregnant. It’s one of those memories that Tom laughs and shakes his head about because it doesn’t make any sense.

“I remember another time in the early years with the rental cows, when a calf started sucking on my finger, I was crossing my elbows trying to fake the cow,” Tom said with a hearty laugh. “It was 24 hours before he was born. We thought she was hot, but obviously we were wrong. I was young and had just started.”

While these are some of the things Tom will remember about Sonderup Charolais, his peers have a completely different view of him and the herd.

“When I think of Sonderup cattle, the first thing that comes to mind are mother cows,” Greg said. “I think people know they can breed them to all kinds of bulls and it’s up to them to take care of their calves and grow them to a heavy weaning weight.”

It was easy for breeders to use outcrossing on Sonderup females because they would still get a calf that would perform.

“I think people realized that Tom raised good cattle and recognized him based on that,” Greg said.

Dynamic Denver

For almost 50 years, Sonderup had cattle at the Denver National Stock Show. This is where Tom discovered a formula that worked for him and his clients.

“In the early ’80s, I came across a farmer from Montana who was trying to select cattle with linear measurements (a system that takes various measurements on cattle to help the producer select for traits such as low maintenance, desirable weaning weight). mother’s percentage, etc.). That’s been our theme ever since,” Tom said of his desire to combine feed efficiency, red meat yield, reproductive efficiency and performance in one animal. “At that time, there were eight or nine breeders [all of different breeds] the whole country uses the same system.”

The group met in Denver to compare results. Bulls of all sexes stood side by side with almost no distinguishing difference.

“You could paint them all purple and they’d look the same,” Tom said. “I was fascinated by this, so I used the linear measurement system from 1981.”

Tom was the youngest of that group, and now he’s the last to be destroyed. With all four of their daughters pursuing careers outside of the ranch, selling the female herd was the best way for Tom and Sandy to slow down after a life on the ranch.

“It’s a difficult decision to make, but it’s also a bit of a relief,” Tom said. “We’re both over 65, so our bodies are flirting with us more than ever.”

It should come as no surprise that Tom is not completely out of the cattle business. He will continue the bull operation for the foreseeable future.

“The bull calves come in the fall and I raise them and gather information on them for the spring crop sale,” Tom said. “This coming spring we will be 42n.d sale.”

More than 85 percent of Sonderup’s customers are repeat and feed their own calves until harvest. Like his client base, Tom’s goals and his cattle haven’t changed much over the years.

“Tom is a successful rancher because he always raised what he believed to be the right cattle, he didn’t chase the show ring,” Greg said. “He’s using a pedigree that he knows his stuff. His pedigree is not as well known in the United States as the others, as are the Sonderup breeds.

It was Tom’s favorite bull of his career – RFR Royal Ranger 726 – that put Sonderup on the map as a production-driven herd. The bull was 10 years old when Tom bought it, and he was still working in the cow pasture at 17.

“To him [726] and his ancestors helped create the breed,” said Tom. “I’ve always enjoyed how you can change the look and performance of a cow herd through good and bad selection. It can change dramatically; that’s the amazing part of it all.”

Sonderup Charolais always knew what was profitable in the bottling house. Although there are no more herds of females, this goal will not change.

“Whether you are weaning your calves, feeding and rearing them in the yard, selling fat cattle or marketing to produce replacements for the industry, these cornerstones will never change,” said Tom.

For almost 50 years, Sonderup Charolais have been established in yards at the Denver National Stock Show. Photo courtesy of Sonderup Charolais Ranch Inc.
Sonderup-Yards
Horses were a big part of the operation, especially when it came to breeding and hauling season. The horses that Tom Sonderup kept at the ranch were all pretty broke, and some were used for competitive team writing. Photo courtesy of Sonderup Charolais Ranch Inc.
Sonderup-TomSorting
Left to right) Sandy, Tom and their daughter Kelly at the ranch in 1983. Photo by Sonderup Charolais Ranch Inc.
Sonderup-TomSandyKelly
While bull sales have always been at the ranch, the fall female sale has moved several times since it began in the early 80s. Photo courtesy of Sonderup Charolais Ranch Inc.
Sonderup-SaleDay
Tom Sonderup always keeps a close eye on his leading ladies and likes to show them off to anyone who wants to get up close and personal. Photo courtesy of Sonderup Charolais Ranch Inc.
Sonderup-Pasture-1
When Tom Sonderup and his father, Vern, bought their first Charolais bulls in 1962, they were about the only operation dealing with the breed in Fullerton, Nebraska.
Sonderup-Heifers
Tom and Kathy Sonderup with their pride and joy: their grandchildren. (From left, front row) Isabel, Miles, Sandy and Tom. (From left, back row) Leila, Rachel and Charlotte. Photo courtesy of Sonderup Charolais Ranch Inc.
Sonderup-Grandchildren
Cows from Sonderup Charolais Ranch Inc. are known for being large and lean with lots of muscle and an abundant milk supply. Although they are usually framed at a medium level, they combine it with a lot of depth. Photo courtesy of Sonderup Charolais Ranch Inc.
Sonderup-Cows
Tom Sonderup holds his grandson Miles during the Husker Harvest Days, when the farm exhibits cattle at the Nebraska Charolais Association booth. Photo courtesy of Sonderup Charolais Ranch Inc.
Sonderup – Baby
More than 95 percent of Sonderup bulls are sold for use in commercial cows. And about 90 percent are sold either to repeat buyers or through referrals. Photo courtesy of Sonderup Charolais Ranch Inc.
Sonderup-BullPen
Tom Sonderup focused on breeding uniform cattle that would perform. He has accomplished this feat for almost 50 years and has been recognized numerous times with several reserve champion car loads at the Denver National Stock Show, including in 1998. Photo courtesy of Sonderup Charolais Ranch Inc. Sonderup Charolais | Courtesy photos
Sonderup-1998 Cargo

Leave a Comment