By John O’Connell
Intermountain Farm and Ranch
BLISS — Many of the cattle roaming the pastures at Spring Cove Ranch can be traced back to the first Registered Angus cows born on the property in 1920.
Art and Stacy Butler run a cattle operation steeped in history, with a reputation for quality earned over more than a century in the business.
They operate the oldest Registered Angus herd continuously kept by the same family west of the Rocky Mountains, now in its 103rd year.
"My father-in-law deemed it the pioneer herd of the West," Stacy said.
Art's grandparents homesteaded the property. His Grandma Effie named it Spring Cove for the natural spring that flows in the cove above the farmstead.
Pioneers traveling the Oregon Trail's Kelton Branch kept a tin cup in the sage brush near the spring, where they'd stop for a water break, Stacy explained.
Wagon ruts left by those pioneers are still visible there.
Effie and her husband, Arthur H. Butler, purchased their first Registered Percheron Horses at the ranch in 1916, and they bought 13 registered Angus cows and a bull from a neighbor three years later.
They would travel the country selling the Angus cattle and Percheron draft horses they raised.
Arthur H. Butler was the original ditch rider on the Northside Canal's west end, helping to build the canal, which still supplies water to the ranch.
Stacy explained the location of the homestead now helps the family minimize its irrigation power costs. The water supply flows downhill, and the fall provides pressure to their pivots, reducing demand for electricity to pump the water.
Art's father, Doran, was the oldest of four siblings. Doran had seven children, including two sons — Art is the youngest of the group, all of whom went to college.
Today, Art and Stacy run the cattle herd with their son, Josh Mavencamp, their daughter, Sarah Helmick, and their nephew, Dale Butler.
Art's brother Daniel runs the farm, traditionally raising grain, hay and corn. He also leases about 500 acres per year for potato and sugar beet production.
In 2019, the ranch received some notable recognition. The National Angus Association honored Spring Cove with the Centennial Herd Award, the Seedstock Producer of the year Award and the Certified Angus Beef Commitment to Excellence Award.
"That's kind of the pinnacle for us, being recognized for what you're producing," Stacy said.
They threw a big shindig with live music and a memorable dinner to celebrate. The event also included an educational presentation on Certified Angus beef.
The ranch is now in the throes of preparing for its major event — its annual bull sale, scheduled for March 14. On a single day, they sell about 170 bulls and 75 heifers.
Stacy is working on a catalog to mail to prospective buyers. Her son Josh is in charge of preparing all of the animals for the sale.
Some of the top bulls are purchased by internationally renowned genetics programs to become studs for artificial insemination.
"This is the payday that funds the ranch for another year," Stacy said.
At last year's sale, they sold their highest grossing bull ever, named Spring Cove Crossfire. Three breeders — Sitz Angus in Montana, TD Angus in Nebraska and Triple L Angus in Twin Falls — purchased the bull together for $120,000.
Spring Cove also sells bull semen, keeping a semen interest in every bull sold. They maintain videos of bulls from past sales on their website, springcoveranch.com, along with performance data, for the benefit of customers interested in procuring semen from top AI studs.
The ranch started its bull sale in 1992. Back then, they hauled their animals to the Producers Livestock Marketing Association in Jerome to be auctioned, along with animals from other breeders.
To avoid the biosecurity threat of having their animals in contact with other livestock, as well as the cost of transportation, they built their own sale barn in 1998.
Their annual sale draws about 450 people. For the first two decades, Stacy prepared home-cooked meals for all of her guests. Nowadays, they hire Stampede Burger, of Gooding, to cater a flank steak dinner.
They start feeding people at 11:30 a.m. and the sale starts at 1 p.m.
In addition to buyers, lots of friends from town and neighbors stop by the sale barn for a good meal and the entertainment of watching an auction.
"We wanted to get people out to the ranch. This is a beautiful location," Stacy said. "We wanted people to see how our cattle are raised and how our bulls are on range."
They also broadcast the sale on live auction sites to allow buyers to participate remotely. The family uses software to post the price of every animal sold to inform online bidding.
They host additional meals for customers the night before the sale and following the sale. About once every five years they put on a larger post-sale party with live music for those who wish to "stick around and just celebrate the joy of being a rancher."
Both Stacy and Art come from historic agricultural families. They met at the University of Idaho, where she studied plant sciences and he was an animal science major.
"We have a deep commitment to agriculture and the family farming way of life," Stacy said. "We never thought twice about wanting to raise our children and grandchildren anywhere else than on a ranch or a farm."
Stacy said she's fascinated by genetics, and she and her husband appreciate the scientific approach to breeding.
"Because of the longevity of the herd we've been able to see the results of those breeding decisions," Stacy said.
Nowadays, advanced scientific techniques help the family produce animals with better marbling, birthweight, tenderness, weight gain and other desirable traits.
For the past seven years, they've been taking a tissue sample from every newborn calf and have DNA testing done to verify parentage and provide genomic trait data, which helps them to more rapidly improve their herd genetics.
"It's given us another tool," she said.