Questions and Answers with Ron and Aaron Amidon

Meet father and son Ron and Aaron Amidon. Affiliated with Sioux Nation Ag Center, Ron and Aaron operate a small independent consulting service in Montana that optimizes performance by creating programs that match the specific needs of customer’s operations. The duo feels that their success is based solely on the success of their customers.

Q – Please share a little about your family, where you have lived, and where you live now.

Ron: My wife Sandy and I were married in 1969 and first lived in Little Falls, MN. We moved around the state a little, residing in Glencoe and Hutchinson before relocating to Great Falls, MT, in 1980. We moved to our current home in Bozeman, MT, twenty years later. Our daughter Julie works in the medical field, and our son Aaron is following in my footsteps, working in animal nutrition.

Aaron: I married my wife Jodi in 2021. She was raised in Rapid City and Gregory, SD. I was in the Bozeman MT area from 1988- 2004, where I worked as a ranch hand and completed my degree from MSU. I started my career in animal nutrition in the farm store sector managing the feed and animal health department at Big R Ranch and Home Supply from 1994 to 2004. After that, I moved to Ideal, SD. There, I worked as a nutritional consultant for an independent coop called Country Pride Coop. In 2022, my dad invited me to move back to Montana and take over his business Amidon Feed Consulting Service, so my wife and I relocated to Lewistown, MT, where we are currently.

Q – How long have you been in the animal nutrition business, and how did you get started?

Ron: I have been in the nutrition business for 54 years. I started buying hogs and cattle for Sawyer Livestock in Little Falls, MT. My first experience with animal nutrition started at Sawyer Livestock. In 1970, Cargill hired me as a field manager who called upon dairymen, hog producers, farmers, feeders, and cow-calf operations. My real love was working with cattle, but I spent most of my time developing feeding programs for all livestock. While I enjoyed being involved with agriculture, I wanted to focus on cattle. After 25 years with Cargill, I decided to start Amidon Feed Consulting. I wanted to change the feeding habits of the cow-calf operator. My objective was to influence their programs to produce more beef through quality nutrients and making the best use of their forages.

Aaron: I have been in the Animal Nutrition business for 26 years. Through college, I started as a ranch hand, developing a deep appreciation for the people who raise cattle. Growing up watching my dad working as a nutritionist made me want to pursue a career in animal nutrition. This led to me completing a BS degree in Animal Science Production and Management of Livestock at Montana State, where I studied under some of the top professors in the field.

Q – What is the most common advice you give your customers?

Ron: Forage testing is a necessity. The program that has influenced productivity and cow-calf operations more than anything else is the TMR. It gives them total control of diet expenditures and dramatically influences profits. Body condition of cow-calf health via increased colostrum quality and breedback conception are extra, significant benefits. The TMR allows producers to utilize lesser quality forages like straw, CRP hay, corn fodder or stalks, with dry or modified distillers, or corn syrup.

Aaron: The most common advice I give to any producer I work with is “Stay the Course.” Don’t make knee-jerk decisions or changes due to factors like fluctuations in the market. Changes such as dropping a mineral program can cost producers more in the long run than the upfront mineral investment. One thing I wish some producers would do differently is to adapt to new technologies, such as cattle tracking programs. It can help a producer track ingredients as well as performance.

Q – What can you say about your approach to bull nutrition?
Aaron: The main approach I take with feedlot producers, both bulls and heifers, is to supply rations that are accurately balanced for protein, energy, and trace minerals to promote optimum performance for breeding and structural soundness.

Ron: Professional bull breeding has been a challenge. Too high ME (metabolizable energy) levels too early results in an over-conditioned bull. This can lead to poor performance and longevity. A high protein ration with a high chelate package helps their body condition inside and outside, and muscle and frame are critical. This plan often improves scrotum size, and semen quality is always better. The results can be achieved as early as one season. The program can’t be generic. It should be designed for different bull breeds, starting weight and desired finish weight to meet the sale date. Commodities and forage play a significant role. Heifers also require special diet attention.

Q – How has animal nutrition changed since you started? What differences do you see between cattle and bison nutrition?

Ron: Bison nutrition has changed since I started 35 years ago. There are hobby bison producers and those who make their living through bison meat production. What is unique about bison is the retention of the forage, which is almost 10 hours longer than a range cow. They are very efficient. However, the average weaning weight is about 400 pounds, and special attention must be placed on their ration as increased nutrient density is essential. The phases of bison cow nutrition are rut season, calving season, and building of body reserve for winter conditions. Once achieved, the bison cows transition to a maintenance level. As the demand for quality bison meat at home or in high-end restaurants has increased, diets play an expanding role in achieving yield and carcass quality results.

Ruminant nutrition has also changed, as those in the range cow business in the 70s had 1200-pound cows and calves weaning at 450 pounds. Fat steers were killed at 1200 pounds and heifers 900 to 1000 pounds. Today, we see 1300-to-1400-pound cows, calf weaning weights of 550 to 650 pounds, and kill weights of 1400 to 1600 pounds. Our cost to produce a calf has skyrocketed. Our sale price has increased, but not enough to offset the costs. We must make constructive changes. A purebred breeder told me “The TMR program can make the difference for me to sell bulls. I must continue to have cows to stay in business.”

Q – What might the future of animal nutrition look like?

Ron: Daily nutrient intake on these cows during the winter has dramatically increased. We must control costs as it takes more of everything to maintain the cow, raise a hearty calf, and get her bred back. Animal nutrition has matured. Chelate research has proven valuable in our business and chelates have affected results. The total nutrient requirements have increased because of the animal’s physical makeup.

Aaron: Let’s talk about the near future of our industry first. There is currently much optimism as all beef industry sectors are seeing profitable returns. It’s been a long time since cow/calf, backgrounding, finishing, and packers have all been profitable. Looking further into the future, I see more corporate operations coming into play, making smaller nutrition businesses harder to operate unless we can provide what others can’t, such as our products and services.