VanderSloot a big name in Idaho, but not for his cattle
By JOHN O'CONNELL
IDAHO FALLS -- Frank VanderSloot is best known as the successful owner of Melaleuca, a global supplier of cleaning and wellness products made with natural ingredients.
In his hometown of Idaho Falls, he makes headlines by financing the community's annual Fourth of July celebration and hosting fundraisers for Republican politicians, including presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
In the privacy of his Hummer, however, the businessman soaks in audio recordings of bull auctions the way his daughter, Cassie, would listen to a pop album. As Cassie recalled, family activity nights were spent at their Riverbend Ranch, where her dad reveled in pointing out the herd's best cattle to his children.
Though overshadowed by Melaleuca, Riverbend Ranch is no hobby farm. It's among the nation's top 10 registered purebred seed stock operations and ranks among the top 20 largest U.S. commercial cow-calf operations, said General Manager David Brown. On March 10, the ranch will host the world's largest Angus bull sale, with 600 bulls, 50 head of registered heifers and 1,000 commercial Angus replacement heifers on the block.
"I'm always amazed of those who know Melaleuca first, and they're of course surprised to learn we're in the ranching industry," Brown said.
VanderSloot, who was raised on a small Idaho ranch, saw Riverbend as a way to "share with his own children the valuable lessons he gained as a child working on his family's farm," Brown explained.
Cassie recalled her eighth birthday. Expecting a pony, she was thrilled to learn her gift was awaiting at the ranch. Instead, she found an Angus calf. Looking back, revenue from the calf's genetically pure offspring helped Cassie pay for college. At age 12, she made additional income "mucking" the ranch's horse stalls with her siblings.
Brown said VanderSloot is intimately involved in the ranch, establishing its mission as "providing ranchers in the Intermountain West with the best genetics at an affordable price."
"Since our inception, we've spared no expense in sourcing out the very best genetics in the business," said Brown, who travels the country seeking prime genetics but finds some of the best specimens among his own herd.
VanderSloot started the ranch in 1992 as a cow-calf operation and bought his first pure-bred Angus cattle in 1998. He now runs a dozen ranches in Utah, Idaho and Montana with 1,600 registered cows -- mostly Angus and Charolais -- and 3,500 commercial cows.
Through embryo transplants, they can produce up to 40 calves from a single registered cow. They use genetic markers to identify positive traits among their lines -- selected for characteristics including fertility and carcass merit. Their low-input lines require less care and feed.
Riverbend cattle are also bred to have the leg structure, good footing and optimal growth to match Idaho's rugged environment.
Brown said the ranch sells bulls, embryos, semen and feeder cattle to a customer base of 350. Riverbend obtains additional genetic data about its cattle lines by buying feeder animals from its own bull customers, Brown said.
"Everything we do here is data driven, so we're always looking to obtain data to fine-tune our genetics," Brown said.