When Shawn Christensen was three years old, he wanted to be an airplane pilot.

That didn’t last long.

The ambition couldn’t hold up against the call of an Angus cowherd and the Rocky Mountain, Hot Springs, Montana, ranch. Home.

2016_05_mr_Springvale Ranch_Christensen-161

Shawn and Jen Christensen, with daughters Katelyn and Kara, run Springvale Ranch very little outside labor.

I got to meet Shawn, his wife Jen, and daughters Katelyn and Kara, earlier this year. Traveling with Josh Comninellis from the Angus Media team added to the fun. We toured some of the prettiest spots in Montana, saw the girls’ 4-H animals and shared laughs around the supper table.

It was pretty clear to me that, if he had the training, Shawn has what it takes to pilot a 747. I’m equally certain he was called to ranch for a reason.

“Some days, is it a dream? Not exactly, but I feel like this is what I’m meant to do,” he says. “This is what I enjoy doing. You accept the good with the bad and the bad with the good.”

2016_05_mr_Springvale Ranch_Christensen-207

Efficient, docile Angus cows are part of the family’s plan to raise high-quality beef.

During his own 4-H tenure, Shawn was already beginning to mold the family’s commercial Angus cowherd. He learned about final carcass quality while on an undefeated judging team. At the same time, his dad was growing an irrigation business and the patriarch left the third-generation rancher, still in high school at the time, with “full rein.” “He kind of says, ‘Okay, you’re going to build this program,’” Shawn recalls. “It’s been great. It’s just one of those things you look forward to.”

Carcass shows gave him a taste of learning what was under the hide of his own animals, but the rancher wanted to know more. It was another decade or more before the Christensens got connected with the Loseke family in Nebraska and started getting individual performance and carcass data, though they don’t retain any ownership beyond weaning.

2016_05_mr_Springvale Ranch_Christensen-176

For Shawn, the ability to learn what was under the hide just intensified his interest in making that even better.

“We are raisers of beef, but you still have to raise cattle that can calve out on the range,” Shawn says, noting he places importance on everything from fertility and mothering ability to carcass weight and marbling.

They started with artificial insemination (AI) in 1983, and two-thirds of the females are still bred that way today.

His bride let me in on a secret: you won’t find Shawn reading the latest best seller. Instead, free time is devoted to the research for perfecting matings. He starts looking at them in the fall, but the cattleman might make a change or two right up until breeding day.

“He spends a lot of time perfecting that,” Jen says, more with admiration than annoyance. She then hand-enters all records so he can compare. It’s clear they make a good team.

2016_05_mr_Springvale Ranch_Christensen-280

Individual animal identification, and then tying records back to that, is a pillar of their herd improvement.

“If you don’t know who the good one is or the poor one is, how do you make changes?” Shawn asks. “It seems like you can make it happen in a few years, but it takes time.”

His life would look a lot different if he were logging airline miles right now, but I suspect that Springvale Ranch would, too.

I’ll bet I’m not the only one glad that when a four-year-old Shawn Christensen changed his mind, that second dream stuck.

May your bottom line be filled with black ink,