Hugh Ingalls, 86, got his start ranching with a registered Black Angus heifer his dad, Lawrence, gave him in 1942.
Ingalls was a timid 11-year-old. The heifer stood out in the show ring as it was the first black calf shown at the Western Junior Livestock Show in Rapid City.
“Everything else was red and white,” recalls the Stoneville native and 2016 Eminent Farmer/Rancher.
Ingalls walked away with a blue ribbon and his heifer continued to perform well outside the show ring. “She is the foundation of my herd; she had all heifer calves for quite some time,” he says.
Although at the time Black Angus cattle weren’t grazing their neighbors’ rangeland, the breed is a long-standing tradition in the Ingalls family. In 1895, Ingalls’ great-grandfather, James Ingalls, purchased his first Black “Aberdeen” Angus bull. Grandpa, Albert Ingalls, brought the breed to Meade County when he homesteaded in 1908.
Ingalls’ great-grandfather, James, was a first cousin to Charles Ingalls, the father of pioneer author, Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Today, Ingalls’ great-grandchildren make the seventh generation of Ingalls to raise registered Black Angus.
“The breed is traditional for the family, but as a kid, they were the ones that didn’t have horns or get sun burnt bags, and by comparison they are a good milking cow and good mothers.
The family is credited by the American Angus Association with having the longest continual history of registered Black Angus in the United States.
Known for calm disposition and performance, commercial cattle producers have come to count on Ingalls’ Angus genetics. Like his father before him, Ingalls sells private treaty.
“I like the personal contact it allows me to have with the buyers. You spend a little more time with them – which is why we hesitate to change,” Ingalls explains.
Today, Ingalls and his wife, Eleanor, remain actively involved in the day-to-day ranch operations. “We have two hired men who help, but I still cut all the hay, keep everything fed and help with calving. I’m thankful I can do this. I just don’t tag calves anymore. I don’t want to buck up against those mother cows anymore,” says Ingalls, with a chuckle.
His passion for the land and cattle is evident. “If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, you’d better find a different project,” he wisely explains. “When you choose a vocation, you want to do the best you can with it. If you aren’t interested in what you’re doing, then you’re not enjoying the best part of life.”
Encouraged by his dad, Ingalls pursued a two-year agriculture degree at South Dakota State University. This began a life-long relationship with the University, its researchers and faculty.
Ingalls was among the first South Dakota cattle producers to participate in production testing in 1956, and for the last 30 years, he has sold his steers to the SDSU Research Feedlot.
When Ingalls returned to the ranch full-time in 1949, he was determined to continue his family’s legacy and work to raise better cattle and take care of the land. “There is always a sense of accomplishment when you see where you were and where you are at the end of the day. I enjoy that sense of accomplishment even today.”
Growing up a child of the Depression and raised primarily by his father, after his mother died in childbirth, Ingalls says his dad, Lawrence, instilled a strong work ethic and faith in his children; an example Ingalls followed when he and Eleanor raised their six children: Marie Shilling, Peggy Rahn, Dan, Kenneth, Beth Hotchkiss and Laila Brownlee.
“We were taught to do the best with what you have. There was a lot of work and we never had much, but we didn’t expect much either,” he explains. “When I was young, attending church and Sunday School wasn’t a question. That consistency had a strong influence on me.”
Ingalls further explains the important role his faith in God has had on his life. “My faith has given me purpose in life and direction. I wouldn’t want to go through hard times and tough decisions without knowing there was something better to look forward to.”
Along with his faith, Ingalls, a humble man who isn’t comfortable talking about himself, also attributes hard work and “bull-headedness” with getting him and the ranch through tough times. “You stick with it and do the best you can. Be conservative and have your family close around you, helping you.”
Over the years Ingalls has gone out of his way to help young ranchers throughout his community, loaning them cattle to help them get a strong start. Following Oct. 2013 Storm Atlas, Ingalls offered to loan cows to young ranchers to help them through devastating livestock losses.
“I was concerned at the time for young operators so we did what we could to help them – pretty much everyone survived,” he says.
Getting involved when there is a need for leadership has been as much a part of Ingalls’ legacy as his ranch. As a young father he was a Sunday School teacher. “I am naturally timid, so it wasn’t easy for me to teach, even though these were kids – I thought I was too young to teach, but that’s where they needed help,” he says.
Over time, as he was called to lead, Ingalls overcame his fear of speaking in front of groups. He and Eleanor even took a Dale Carnegie class together.
Through the years he has actively served his community and South Dakota’s beef industry. Ingalls has served as chairman of the Meade County School Board, President of Black Hills Angus Association, chairman of Mead County Farm Bureau, Sunday School teacher, chairman of the S.D. Angus Association, member of South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, chairman of the South Dakota Delegation of the American Angus Association, Faith Stock Show Committee, Central States Fair Board, South Dakota Beef Industry Council, and President and Director of the South Dakota Beef Improvement Association.
Ingalls has been recognized for his contributions to agriculture and the beef industry including: Outstanding Young Farmer (1961); American Angus Association Centennial Angus Herd Award (1983); Black Hills Angus Association Outstanding Angus Producer of the Year Award (1990); Black Hills Stock Show Stockman of the Year (1995); South Dakota Angus Association South Dakota Honored Angus Family Award (1998); South Dakota State University Friend of the Beef Industry Award (2004); Rapid City Chamber of Commerce Ag Producer of the Year (2005); Black Hills Angus Association Distinguished Service Award (2007); Black Hills Stock Show Hall of Fame Silver Spur Award (2010); American Angus Association Aberdeen Angus Heritage Foundation inductee (2010); South Dakota Beef Industry Council Prime Promoter Individual (2015); and the American Angus Association Century Award (2015).
“It is always rewarding to work with other ranchers toward a common goal,” Ingalls says.