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Faith, family and fresh air at Rock Solid Gelbvieh

M. Purviance for Progressive Cattle Published on 24 December 2020
The Christensen family

Fresh air: It’s something we all long for – fresh air in a fall fog, in the winter blizzards, in the springtime showers and in the summer wildfire season.

Fresh air is essential for our bodies and our environment, but fresh air is also a necessity on another front. According to the Oxford Dictionary, “a breath of fresh air” is a saying meaning “a person or thing that constitutes a refreshing change.” This phrase, among many other positive sentiments, can be said to describe Rock Solid Gelbvieh in Blackfoot, Idaho.

Gelbvieh mother cow

“We started our business from the ground up,” Carlos Christensen, owner and operator of Rock Solid, says. “We bought our first Gelbvieh heifers in 1992 from some people out of Colorado and Montana as well as some from our neighbor. We started from there and began A.I.’ing as soon as we could.”

Carlos adds that the family owned milk cows prior to Gelbviehs, which taught them how to A.I. He said they were in contact with Roger Gatz of the Cattlemen’s Connection and obtained some advice on decision-making with A.I. technology.

“It takes a lot of effort and a lot of time, but we feel it’s worth it,” Carlos says.

It seems that effort and time spent continues to pay off. Rock Solid has come a long way since Carlos and his wife, Trina, purchased those first Gelbvieh heifers back in ’92. Now, the Christensen family runs 90 mother cows, a large herd of steers and replacement heifers, and 10 to 15 bulls per year.

The Rock Solid herd is run locally in Idaho, with part of the herd residing at the property of Derik Christensen, Carlos and Trina’s oldest son. Of course, Derik and his family aren’t the only descendants of Carlos and Trina who help out around Rock Solid.

“Marcus and his family love to ride horses, and they help us out a lot with them being close to home,” Trina says. “The girls married, and they help when they can as well.”

Trina and Carlos are blessed with five children: Derik, Marcus, Megan, Erica and Shayla, as well as 15 grandchildren.

The balancer breed

Changing topics, Carlos begins to speak on the progressiveness of the Gelbvieh breed and why he feels Gelbvieh is the way to go.

“As a young man, I saw my neighbor, Robert Steffler, cross Gelbvieh bulls on his Angus cows back in the ’70s and ’80s, and I was extremely impressed with them,” Carlos says. “He was what I would call progressive for his time. He was A.I. breeding with bulls like Rolls Royce and Polled Hockeye – the cross on the Angus cows was amazing.”

Carlos says this decision was based on extensive research, including data from the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (USMARC) that showed Gelbvieh produced more pounds of weaned calf per cow than any other widely used breed. Gelbvieh had also earned a reputation for its heat tolerance and maternal qualities, such as fertility and milk.

“We love their temperament,” Trina adds. “There is a higher percentage of calm and curious cattle in the breed. We definitely cull according to their temperament. We do not want to work with crazy cows. I would much rather cuss a cow for moving too slowly wondering if I was going to scratch its back.”

Carlos echoes Trina’s comment but adds that the biggest challenge he faces each fall is getting calves to trust him.

Carlos Christensen scratches the back of a calf

“They have personalities just like we do; some are friendly while others are scared. Fear is a terrible trait. We all respond to fear in different ways, and sometimes you could get hurt. The more they know that we are there to care for them, the more subdued the herd. I just love it when I can walk up to them and scratch them.”

Carlos and Trina both agree that they love it when the kids and grandkids help around the ranch, and that the temperament of their Gelbvieh cattle help them feel more confident in doing so.

Carlos goes on to give an atta-boy to the Gelbvieh breed association and members.

“I think what they [the breed association] did in the early years has helped us out a lot today,” Carlos states. “They took all of the information obtained early on and have added on to it with different genetics and DNA to try and get that ‘perfect’ animal, and I feel like all the research they’ve done is paying off.”

Trina Christensen woeks cows on a chilly day

He adds that he feels this research will continue to help fellow seedstock producers and cow-calf raisers to understand cross breeding and how the Gelbvieh breed can affect the producer’s bottom dollar.

Obstacles

As with any operation, Rock Solid has faced its fair share of challenges and obstacles.

Carlos says the biggest challenges he feels they face is health, not only in cattle but within their family as well.

In 1994, Megan was diagnosed with leukemia and developed an infection.

“Our family sacrificed much through those years,” Trina says. “It took 20 years of doctor visits and surgeries, too many to mention. She is a miracle, being only the second survivor of the infection at Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City at that time.”

Years later, Carlos got a bacterial infection from treating a calf for coccidiosis. It took five years for him to heal, which took a mental toll on Carlos and Trina as well.

“Religion and thought work helped us move into a place of hope and courage,” the two say.

Another thing that helped, the Christensens add, was the help of their friends and family.

“Everybody just stepped up for us,” Carlos says.

Going back to challenges within the Rock Solid cow herd, Carlos says he’s realized the importance of disease prevention over treatment.

“The mutation of sicknesses in the cattle is a major challenge any producer faces,” Carlos states. “We think we have a vaccination program to follow and then, like this year, we just found out that the veterinarians are recommending using two different wormers. … We have to constantly communicate with our veterinarians. Prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

The good life

Carlos says the most rewarding aspect of owning Rock Solid is overcoming.

“We have overcome many setbacks. There are many challenges in the world today, and we are learning how to face our dreams without fear,” he solemnly states. “We are adding a measure of faith and courage to our daily regimen, and the results are amazing for us.”

Trina says she feels the same, that dwelling on the setbacks will only hold you back.

“I know there’s a lot of people out there going through tough times, and we want people to know that there is hope. Like Bob Proctor says, ‘Fear and faith both require you to believe something that you cannot see.’”

Carlos echoes Trina and says, “Life is good. It seems like so much of the media right now is dwelling on aspects of fear. We all need to know that there is hope. In an industry we don’t seem to have much control of – cattle get sick, markets are not in our favor, families have problems – but good will prevail … and Gelbvieh is great.”

Taking the punches and not only rolling with them but making the best of a less-than-desirable situation seems to be a skill the folks over at Rock Solid have mastered. Carlos and Trina lead a life of faith over fear, a strong cow herd and even stronger family ties. It’s refreshing to hear their attitude and, sometimes, a breath of fresh air is all you need.  end mark

PHOTO 1: The Christensen family, from left to right: Derik and Andrea with their children; Shayla and Nate with their children; Carlos and Trina; Erica and Candon with their children; and Megan and Josh with their children.

PHOTO 2: Pictured is one of the Gelbvieh mother cows on the Rock Solid ranch.

PHOTO 3: Carlos Christensen scratches the back of a Rock Solid calf.

PHOTO 4: Trina Christensen works cows on a chilly day. Photos provided by Carlos and Trina Christensen.

M. Purviance is a freelance writer based in Montana.

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