Founded in 1961 by Todd Vejraska’s grandfather, Lou Vejraska, Sunny Okanogan Angus isn’t made up of just a third-generation cattle ranching family, but people who have been purchasing from their annual bull sale and annual production sale for the past three generations as well.
It all began with a small side herd of cattle, founded from heifers purchased in the 1950’s and 1960’s, as he continued his duties as a dentist in Nebraska. From those first few heifers, things just “spiraled out of control.”
When Todd, the first generation not to be born in the midwest, graduated college in 1998, the ranch began to take an intentional pivot to focusing on the cattle operation full time. In an era where everyone raised Hereford cattle, Sunny Okanogan Angus has always been about Black Angus.
It is a longstanding comical story in the Vejraska family about a time when they sold a local rancher his first Black Angus bulls and the young rancher wasn’t quite sure how to tell his dad that he had “mixed things up a bit,” by not buying a Hereford bull.
“You don’t think about it these days because most bulls are Black Angus,” Todd said with a laugh in defense.
It was a decision that worked out well as they sold other ranches their first Black Angus bulls in their home state of Washington as well. This long-standing relationship with their buyers has proven fruitful, as these families have continued to attend their bull sales and purchase black Angus bulls from them.
With a firm understanding and expertise in bovine husbandry, Todd prides himself on his ability to buy commercial cow-calf pairs at an affordable rate and use bovine husbandry skills to turn around the genetics of the offspring for future commercial use.
“We were always selling 40 to 50 two year-old bulls and then we bumped it up to 100 yearling bulls to total 150 a year,” Todd said. “One of my brothers, Scott, is also with us and he wanted to have fall calving, so now we sell 50 fall bulls and 80 yearling bulls.”
What makes Sunny Okanogan Angus different is that the family prides themselves in not only their registered cattle, but also their 400 head of commercial cattle. The commercial herd allows Todd and his family to stay on top of the current commercial trends, as well as hands on testing how they can change their stock every year, one great sire at a time.
“Not a lot of registered [breeders] have both [registered and commercial],” Todd explained.
Staying grounded in their roots as commercial cattle producers, they background almost a thousand head a year. The performance and ending weight of their cattle truly matters to the Vejraskas because that is how they sell as well – by the pound, just like everyone else.
Todd firmly believes in the bulls that he is buying and has confidence in using these bulls and his knowledge of bovine husbandry to take mismanaged cow-calf pairs and straighten them out one breeding season at a time. Cows that don’t make the cut for the registered herd move into the commercial side of the business to produce cattle for their clients JBS Cattle Company and Three Rivers Cattle Company.
The strategy is simple, buy pairs so Todd can understand the issues that they currently express in their offspring then straighten them out by breeding them to the appropriate bull. Many times, it simply takes the effort to feed and breed them correctly to get the shift to begin. As for the economics – Todd can sell his replacement heifers for a price higher than what he can usually pay for a mismanaged pair.
“Pounds pay our bills and if you can’t do it efficiently or easily, you can’t do it at all,” Todd explained.
A part of the Blue-Ribbon Bull Sale for 30 years, Sunny Okanogan Angus stepped away to start their own bull sale in 1999. They’ve been going strong ever since.
“We are different from most people that sell bulls because the only thing we sell by the head are the bulls – everything else is by the pounds,” Todd explained. “Other people are more per head driven, so it’s a different perspective when you are on the commercial side of the deal.”
Having second and third generation bull buyers attending their sales is something that Sunny Okanogan Angus takes very seriously.
“If you are a second or third generation buying bulls from us, that means that you are depending on us to deliver you the most problem-free package,” Todd explained. “These people are like your family and you don’t want to see them mess up. They are depending on you and you are depending on them to keep your livelihood alive. You both need to succeed for either one to stay in business.”
Sunny Okanogan Angus is known for breeding stout bulls. These bulls make great calves which people can buy that will finish at 1,450 pounds – the optimal size for today’s feedlots. Many breeders found themselves swinging too far on the pendulum of fads, such as low birth weights. The Vejraskas stayed firm in their breeding by watching their commercial herds produce and go to market. It was a real-life simulation of what their buyers were going through.
Reaching Further Through Midland…
Half of the bulls sold annually travel within a hundred-mile radius; a firm representation of the old quality test of seeing if the local neighbors are breeding to those genetics. Thanks in part to the Midland Bull Test, Sunny Okanogan Angus has found some of their bulls traveling further than they did in the past, such as South Dakota where one rancher purchased three bulls.
“The best part about the Midland Bull Test is that I get to sell bulls to producers that I normally wouldn’t have gotten to meet,” Todd said. “You get to see how you stack up with a lot of different bull breeders.”
For the past 43 years, Sunny Okanogan Angus has attended the Midland Bull Test because it provides benefits that they can’t find anywhere else. Whether it’s meeting new potential bull buyers or seeing the RFI results, the best part about Midland Bull Test for Todd is being able to take three of any one sire group and have them tested to see how they stack up.
“I would always recommend the Midland Bull Test because it’s the people who are the best,” Todd said. “They are cow people and second to none. They are great families to do business with and their word is their bond – they are good on their handshake and they are just great people. They give you the ability to market more and see how you stand.”
The Future of the Industry…
The Vejraska family has a long line of ambitious individuals who are intent on learning all that they can and continuing to promote the bulls that they raise, but also the youth that are coming up through the ranks. In 2009, the Vejraska family hosted their first ever judging contest at the farm on the day prior to their annual bull sale. At the 2020 event, they saw 211 kids attend who were able to judge five different classes.
Sponsored by the Farm Bureau and Washington State Cattle Producers, they handed out buckles and prizes after feeding all of those that attended while scores are calculated. Some of the attendees drive from as far as Yelm, Washington, a whopping five hours away for the opportunity.
An event that isn’t ideal as it takes time, money, and organization, is worth it as it hits home for Todd who judged livestock through college and has daughters judging through FFA now. Most of the time, livestock judging has to take place on a television screen for practice so the opportunity to view live cattle is a unique opportunity. Todd also believes that there is a lasting impact as some of the youth judging participants have come back to be buyers as they start their own herds of cattle as adults.
Todd and his wife, Katlenia, are proud of their daughters, Kady (14 years) and Kacie (17 years), who are in high school – showing and competing with cattle and livestock judging. Their oldest daughter, Kelsey, is a freshman at Oklahoma State University and is currently a National Angus Board member and a part of the leadership team running the Omaha Youth Expo, a fourteen-day youth event showing all breeds and five species of livestock animals.
The future of Sunny Okanogan Angus is bright as each generation continues to improve the ranch and the bloodlines for the subsequent next generation of Angus bull buyers. The Midland Bull Test is another resource that they use to continue to make those changes and growth, generation by generation, to make a difference for the cattle industry.