Ranching Heritage Breeder: Crago Cattle Co.

Ranching Heritage Breeder: Crago Cattle Co.

This award-winning ranch has been producing good horses for decades.

Crago Cattle Company

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By Andrea Caudill

One hundred and thirty five years ago, a Crago settled on land now located in western South Dakota. 

Generations later, his descendants oversee a vast and productive ranching operation on the same land, which sits near Belle Fourche (pronounced bell-foosh) and Spearfish, on the western edge of South Dakota just north of the famed Black Hills National Forest and the historic town of Deadwood.

For a period, they raised apples, then Hereford cattle. Now, an Angus-based herd grazes on the picturesque, somewhat rolling landscape. And for almost half that time, they have raised quality American Quarter Horses – stout-built, cow-minded animals ready and willing to take on the tasks assigned to them.

For exemplifying the ranching lifestyle, Crago Cattle Co. was recognized as the 2017 AQHA Ranching Heritage Breeder of the Year. This award is open only to AQHA Ranching Heritage Breeders, and is voted on by other Ranching Heritage Breeders. 

Brothers Ralph and Bruce, great-grandsons of the original homesteader, and their families operate Crago Cattle Co., which altogether oversees more than 2,500 head of cattle, 400 head of sheep and about 2,000 acres of hay. For that work, they have more than 80 head of horses, and are horseback almost every day of the year. 

The family members each have their own land to oversee, all of which is within about a 35-mile radius of one another.

It takes a solid remuda to keep the Cragos mounted – and that remuda is made up of solid horses. The broodmare band has about 20 mares, they have three stallions and 35 geldings, which are ridden up to 300 days every year. 

When you look over the horses, you see a group of muscled, stout and docile animals with friendly, interested expressions. 

 “We want a good mind, very correct conformation and looks,” says Ralph’s daughter, Kristy Schmidt. “Athletic ability, good minded and trainable. I like good bone and foot, it’s pretty important to us. Color is a bonus.”

While the horses are registered under their individual names, all of the horses are packing the family’s rocking chair brand on the left shoulder, which has been placed on all the Crago horses since 1958. 
Their foundation sire is Beckwith Dun, a 1973 red dun by Classy Flap and out of the Wrangler Red mare Beckwith Babe. 

Bred by Ralph Beckwith – the brothers’ maternal grandfather – they bought the stallion as a 3-year-old and took him home. He was a great-grandson of Sugar Bars on the top, and his dam had a concentrated dose of Yellow Wasp, he a grandson of the legendary King Ranch’s Old Sorrel and a great-grandson of Little Joe.

For many years, the family stood Beckwith Playboy, a son of Beckwith Dun, until his death in 2015. Kristy now has the 2001 dun stallion Loves Jessie James, a son of Taylor Jess Tivio out of the good Beckwith Dun mare Beckwith Lobo. 

 “I grew up riding the Beckwith horses,” Kristy says. “I’ve always tried to keep the Beckwith line going. They make great ranch horses, they have good looks, good conformation, are cowy and athletic. I’ve always enjoyed riding them, and always try to breed a few every year and keep the Beckwith Duns going.” 

The Cragos operated a production sale for 38 years, but now usually either sell horses as weanlings or wait until the horses are 5- to 6-year-old, well-started ranch-ridden horses. 

Every one of the Crago colts gets a gentle introduction to people. The broodmares are gentle and friendly to people, and help the foal stay calm. They are started under saddle as 2-year-olds, and by the time they reach 5 or 6 years old, they are seasoned ranch horses.

The horses are typically sold private treaty, although some are marketed at sales such as the Denny Price Ranch Horse Sale and the NILE weanling/yearling sale in Billings, Montana. 

That rocking chair brand can be found not only trailing cattle on the open plains, but also in the performance arena. The family has bred multiple Top-5 placing performers at the AQHA World Championship Show, successful horses competing in the AQHA Ranching Heritage Challenges and at rodeos and ranch rodeos. 

“We’re just looking for a horse with a good disposition, a good mind and can do all the cattle work we need to do, plus go to the arena and do whatever you need to do there,” Bruce says. “That’s what we’ve tried to do over the years, and still are. 
“They are good (horses),” Bruce continues. “A cow couldn’t get by them. You couldn’t find a better horse. Once you got on them, you were mounted. There was nothing you couldn’t do on them.”

The AQHA Ranching Heritage Breeder program highlights working cattle ranches that breed high-quality American Quarter Horses primarily for ranch work. Horses bred by these ranches are given unique opportunities through Ranching Heritage competitions open only to these horses. For more information, visit www.aqha.com/ranching.