After brain tumor, rancher's return to sales ring brings out emotions
WING, N.D. — Troy Vollmer can remain pretty stoic while talking about the events of the past months, the difficult calving season stacked on top of his father's health struggles. But in front of the standing-room-only crowd at the Vollmer Angus Ranch bull sale on Tuesday, April 23, he choked up as he tried to introduce his parents, the stress and worry of months showing clearly.
Auctioneer Roger Jacobs gave him an assist, pointing to Allen and Bev Vollmer in the crowd. Bev, camera around her neck, waved. And Allen, seated at a table in the middle of the crowd, gave a triumphant fist pump toward the auction block.
On sale day, Allen, 72, only had been out of the hospital for a week after surgery on a brain tumor, followed by treatment for blood clots. But he was on the go at the family's 42nd annual sale, talking to buyers and neighbors.
Troy got through the emotional moment before the sale, introducing his wife, Sara, and daughters, Brooklyn, Haley and Callie, sister and brother-in-law Tamra and Tony Heins, and nephews Clayton and A.J. Heins. Then he came back to his parents.
"They've been a real inspiration. My grandparents started this place. Mom and Dad kind of built it up," he said. "We do appreciate all they've done for us."
A family ranch
Allen Vollmer calls himself the "No. 2 man" at Vollmer Angus Ranch. His parents started the ranch, and he and Bev kept it going. Now Troy is at the helm, with involvement from the Heins, as well as Allen and Bev's grandkids, who are the fourth generation at Vollmer Angus. This year, neighbor Tanner Wolff also joined the operation part time, which Allen said was a "godsend" when his health issues cropped up.
Allen said the problems with his brain tumor, which was benign, began eight or nine months ago. The tumor was surgically removed March 25 in St. Paul, and he returned home in early April.
"Everything was going really good, feeling pretty good and getting stronger and we're going to go get this thing done and then bang, we end up getting some blood clots," he said.
That landed him in the hospital in Bismarck for six days. He made it home on April 16, and by 5 p.m. that day was out checking calves.
"I guess it's always been what I've always wanted to do, ever since I was very young. I just enjoy the cattle business," he said. "I was gone for three weeks. I had the chance to jump in the pickup and just drive around and look at the new calves and whatever. I couldn't hardly wait."
Being a man down during calving season can be difficult, and Troy said it was "stressful" and called for being on-call at all times. This season, with its brutal cold temperatures was especially difficult. Heifers started calving Feb. 22, right during a cold spell.
"My son had his hands more than full, but the girls stepped up and helped whenever they could," Allen said.
During the sale, Troy thanked his wife for making sure everyone worked with a smile and lauded his daughters for becoming "extremely good ranch hands." He thanked his sister's family, mentioning that nephew A.J. is a "seedstock enthusiast" with a mind for the cattle business while nephew Clayton also enjoys cattle but has to be talked out of preferring "red and white" ones (Herefords).
The family's involvement in the operation on sale day was obvious, with Troy and Sara's daughters taking on various tasks, including directing parking and signing up bidders. Sara was running a computer on the auction block. Bev was documenting the day with her camera. Tony Heins was taking bids on the phone during the sale. Everyone was on the move, helping or talking.
Prior to the sale, Troy was reticent about his expectations for the sale. He thought the bulls looked good but "it's always hard to say" how a sale will go. Allen was more forthcoming.
"It's probably the best set of bulls we've ever had from a quality standpoint, performance standpoint," he said.
During the sale, Troy said Vollmer Angus culls hard on both cows and potential bulls, making sure they're providing quality to their customers.
Allen said the Vollmers don't spend hours on the phone "blowing smoke" about their cattle. Instead, they focus on raising good cattle and providing service to their customers.
"I think we're basically kind of a humble group and enjoy what we do and try to do a good job at it and try to be an asset to the community," Allen said. "Probably the weakest point of our operation is we're probably not the promoters we should be."
Even without the heavy focus on promotion that some operations have, the sale barn was packed and the crowd was ready to bid, with early bulls topping $10,000. But to Allen, the value of ranching is more than money.
"It's not an easy business, but it's something you really, really can enjoy. And as far as raising a family, you can't beat it," he said. "The dedication and the work ethic that they learn and the value of working with people and respecting people, you know, it's great. If you want to get rich, it's probably not where you want to go."
Health problems hopefully behind him, Allen is focused on enjoying life.
"After you've had health problems, the birds sing a lot sweeter," he said.