Rod and Wendy Peterson are the 2019 BHSS Stockman of the Year.
Rod and Wendy Peterson are the 2019 BHSS Stockman of the Year.

By Amy Blum

Each year, the Black Hills Stock Show® in Rapid City recognizes industry leaders, innovators, and stock show supporters. The show’s stockman of the year award specifically honors cattlemen and women who excel in the beef industry.

While the 2019 recipients share a long, proud history, the notion of winning such a prestigious award remains hard to fathom.

“To be blunt, this was a helluva shock,” says Pukwana, SD cattleman Rod Peterson. “I never in my wildest dreams envisioned this. We’re just a family outfit. I’ve always felt like this award was for big operators, so I am absolutely honored for us to be included among the recipients.”

In trademark fashion and matched humility, cattlewoman Wendy Peterson (Rod’s wife) adds, “This kind of award was definitely not on our bucket list, but what an honor!”

The Petersons, known around the nation as L7 Bar Limousin, will be recognized during the Black Hills Stock Show® Stockman’s Banquet & Ball on Saturday, January 26.

Not Allergic to Work

Rod Peterson of Pukwana loves to jump on the four-wheeler with his dog and check pastures. He enjoys sorting cattle and loves a good shop project. He appreciates the skill and thought involved with choosing mating combinations in his family’s purebred Limousin cattle herd, and he still equates calving season to the excitement of Christmas morning.

“There were lots of years I had my Denver string picked out when they were still wet,” Peterson proudly says. “When you’re with the cattle all the time, you can often just tell when a newborn calf is a good one. There’s really nothing like seeing how those matings you poured over worked out.”

To understand just how much he loves being a cattleman, you must know this: Rod is allergic to virtually everything in the cattle business except the people.

“I don’t know how many times I’ve been tested since I was a kid, but I’m allergic to everything, dust, dander, mold, everything. Guess I just decided it’s better to do what you love and fight through some stuff than it is to fight through a job you don’t like,” says the straight-forward grandfather of seven.

Rod’s attitude, which is shared by Wendy, speaks volumes to the business they have created with their family in nearly 50 years of marriage.

Working on the Rails

As a third-generation cattleman operating on a Century Farm, Rod knows well the need to embrace thoughtful change to overcome challenges. When Rod joined his dad Harold after high school, their Hereford, Angus, and baldy-based herd raised good-enough calves, but something was missing.

“Like most everyone else in the late-60s, we fed everything we raised,” Rod recalls. “We were having trouble getting enough yield out of our cattle.”

Harold believed in constant improvement and taught his son the same. Luckily, and perhaps with some “divine guidance” as Wendy calls it, the father-son duo found themselves at a local John Deere Day watching a video about a new breed of cattle from France. That day in 1970 became the tipping point for what is now a nationally-recognized purebred Limousin cattle operation, firmly-rooted in a balanced multi-trait selection process.

“Not a day goes by that I don’t think of my dad watching that video about Limousin cattle being muscular, feed-efficient, and carcass-oriented,” Rod says. “When we got in the car to come home, he told me to find out everything I could about this new breed because those cattle had what we needed.”

Rod did as his father said. There were no Limousin cattle in the United States at the time, and those early efforts to try something new became foundation to the Peterson legend.

Embracing Change

Neighbors took notice of the Peterson cattle and inquired about buying bulls. Armed with a pen, copy machine, and stapler, Wendy created the first of many sale catalogs, and Petersons hosted their first bull sale at the ranch in 1979. 

They went on to exhibit their cattle at the National Western Stock Show in Denver for 33 consecutive years. They earned their first champion Limousin banner at the Black Hills Stock Show® in 1984 and went on to claim supreme champion bull honors in 1997, 2001, and 2017. They have bred and led numerous state and national champions, and their genetics influence herds around the world. Their 41st annual sale will be on the ranch April 10.

Yes, cattle are at the center of their business, but people are at its heart.

“I’ve always placed customer service and friendships at the top of our list,” Rod says. “As a friend once reminded me, ‘People do business with people they trust.’ We’ve all taken that to heart, and I absolutely cherish the friendships we have built.”

Even more special than the friendships are the family bonds.

Sons Chisum, Cade, and Quin along with their wives and children each play a role in the business growth.

“Our boys are unquestionably what I am most proud of,” Wendy says. “They and their families mean everything to us.”

Rod adds, “I am most excited about this fourth and fifth generation. We started the dream, but they’re adding their own dreams to it and making it more than we could ever imagine.”

This year marks another pivotal time for the L7 Bar brand. 

“I told the boys I was going to slow down when I turned 70,” Rod says. “I turned 70 in December, and I made good on my word. We have run commercial cows 50 miles from home on the place Wendy grew up. They have served us well, but time is precious, and it’s their time to go. Now, when I go west, it will be to fish and hunt.”

Though Rod plans to slow down, Peterson L7 Bar Limousin won’t follow suit. 

“We are humbled to be recognized as stockmen of the year, but I absolutely view this honor as ‘stock family of the year’,” Rod says. “We would not be successful and looking toward a bright future without our kids and all their involvement. Cade and his family are here on the place full-time, but everyone brings great, unique value to what we do and who we are.” 

The Petersons will be awarded during the Stockman’s Banquet and Ball on Jan. 26 in Rapid City at the Ramkota.