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‘Just in my blood’

By Staff | Apr 25, 2014

Tim Chapman/PCT Jacob Ripplinger, 9, helps his father, Ron Ripplinger, with the tagging of a new calf on Monday at the family’s farm on ND 17, about two miles east of ND 3.

RURAL BARTON – Ron Ripplinger finds that sorting his cattle is usually the most difficult part of ranching. Luckily, he has 9-year-old son Jacob keeping a keen eye on the 200 cattle at the family’s farm on ND 17, about two miles east of ND 3.

“Dad, doesn’t that one need nine more?” asks Jacob as he points toward a pen of cows with calves suckling milk.

The young Ripplinger can spot specific cows without seeing their tags. It comes natural. Jacob is also quite fond of the calves and enjoys naming his new bovine friends. This year’s newcomers include Oreo, Beardy and Panda. The latter has a white face and black patches around the eyes.

It’s moments like these – and a strong cattle market – that keep Ron and Melissa Ripplinger ranching despite both holding full-time jobs in Rugby. Getting to watch the herds of calves play and run around the rolling hills makes sorting and calving an afterthought following brutally cold winters.

“If we don’t get divorced sorting out cattle, we’ll never get divorced,” Ron said before sharing a laugh with his wife.

The Ripplingers are a rarity when it comes to workloads. Ron has worked in the city for 25 years, spending the first 20 at Rugby Manufacturing and the last five driving semi for Envision. May will mark the 19th year for Melissa at Center Mutual Insurance.

Melissa’s father, Ted Mitzel, helps on the farm and checks on the animals, especially during the cold days. Mitzel, who sold some of his cows to his son-in-law when he retired in 2007, will give Ron a call if he spots anything out of the ordinary.

“It’s peace of mind when he calls and tells me everything is fine,” Ron said.

He added that some of his coworkers think he’s crazy for taking on what amounts to two full-time jobs.

“It takes a pretty good employer too,” he said. “They’ll let a guy leave once in awhile to check on things out here.”

He’s only had to leave work once this calving season. His parents also farmed as did Melissa’s on land between Orrin and Balta, where the land is a bit sandier.

“I’ve been doing it for 20 years now and (as kids) we always had to get off the bus and help,” Melissa said.

Said Ron: “I guess it’s just in my blood. I’ve always been doing it. The check in the fall is nice.”

A national shortage of cattle is driving up the price of beef, which doesn’t hurt the Ripplingers’ passion for ranching.

The first calf was born about March 15 and the total was at 160 earlier this week. Ron welcomed the rain mid-week in hopes of seeing the pastures growing green sooner. The precipitation means a little more attention to the calves in order to keep them dry and healthy, but hearty grazing in the coming months is worth it.

The family works into the dark many evenings. Melissa and 16-year-old daughter Shannon operate the two balers, baling between 1,600 and 1,800 bales a year. Shannon is a fan of the animals and photography, which keeps her busy all year. Jacob is a bit young for some of the chores, but can assist in mending fences and tagging calves.

“There’s days when you think, ‘Why the hell am I still doing this?’ ” Ron said. “But it’s always good. When these guys are out here helping, it makes you feel good.”

Got an agriculture story idea? Contact editor Tim Chapman at tchapman@thepiercecountytribune.com.

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