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  • Pat Kirk Angus

What Makes a Herd Great - the Owner or the Herd? A History of Mary Helen

Updated: Apr 18, 2022

What came first - the chicken or the egg?

That age-old question holds true in the cattle industry too. Many ponder the question: what makes a herd great - the owner or the herd itself?

Are the cattle what makes for a healthy, well-sought-after herd, or is it the owner who lies behind the success of a ranch?

Today, we put that question to rest.

Most cattle farmers know that a good herd is built through hard work, better-quality gene choices in breeding stock, and a mindfulness of the animals’ wellbeing.

These three critical jobs lie at the heart of a successful cattle operation and rest squarely on the shoulders of the herd’s owner. Just think what a herd would look like if neglect, poor gene choices, and a lazy approach to business were standard prodigal. The truth is, a poor-quality herd is built by neglect of the principles of herdsmanship just as a superior herd is built by careful diligence to them.

The herd’s fate is in the hands of its owner.

Let us prove our point with a little Pat Kirk Angus history lesson.

Meet Mary Helen Severson of Webster City, Iowa. Before Pat was owner of the Pat Kirk Angus, Mary Helen was proprietor and caretaker.

prior to Mary Helen ever ventured into the business of cattle, she unknowingly poised herself for success.

In 1940, Mary graduated from Lincoln High as valedictorian. From there, she went to a Rosary College in Chicago, Illinois where she graduated with a degree in economics. This would come in handy later.

Mary Helen moved on to not only teach as a professor of economics at Iowa Central, but worked for the Marshal Plan of 1984 that aided in the rebuilding of Europe after WWII. The organization, planning, and financial skills she learned from her early years as an adult gained her the job of speechwriter for Adlai Stevenson, Eisenhower’s presidential opponent of 1956.

Business, economic, and interpersonal skills on her side.

Then came the cattle.

The 200 head herd previously had been owned by Mary’s uncle, Winslow Stark, and mother, Annetta Woods, was passed down to the care of this capable woman.

Mary Helen put as much effort into the success of her herd as she did any effort she put her mind to.

If you were looking for the best cattle business around, you wouldn’t have to look far. Mary enhanced the Stark Woods Angus herd with superior genetics and a high standard of care.

How did she do it?

Through business grit!

Because of Mary’s political and economic background, some would say she was a very tough businesswoman – but the truth is, she was shrewd. She knew what it took to have a successful cattle business and she didn’t hesitate to pursue it.

For example, many cattle farmers put effort into their herd genetics, but Mary took it to another level. Mary Helen pulled out the stops one year and headed straight to the Denver Stock Show for her herd’s next bull. The Denver Stock Show is widely known to have some of the best bulls in the country. They sell only 20 sires. Crugeranne of Donmerre 490 was purchased here and added to the good Angus genetics of Mary Helen’s herd.

In the end, Mary’s commitment to shrewd business showed in the health and genetics of her herd.

So, have you figured it out yet?

What truly makes a herd successful, a herd’s owner or the herd itself?

We’ll let you decide.

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