Circle C Cattle of Storm Lake Offers Facilities, Expertise for BVU Farm

Located just outside the Storm Lake city limits, the diversified farm operation will provide functional facilities for BVU faculty and students to put concepts into practice. The farm rotates corn and soybeans, and raises 85 head of cow-calf pairs.

Buena Vista University’s agriculture instruction leaps forward this summer with a partnership finalized between the Circle C Cattle Company, of Storm Lake, and BVU’s growing Institute for Agriculture, Food, and Resource Management.

BVU students and professors now have access to a diversified farm operation just outside Storm Lake’s city limits, mere minutes from campus.

“It would maybe take a university a decade, if not longer, to start and operate its own farm,” says Mike Christen, who co-owns Circle C Cattle Company with his wife, Dana Christen. “With this agreement, we bring a fully functional family-based farm to BVU for students and professors to use as they put into practice concepts related to livestock, agronomy, commodities, breeding, artificial insemination, marketing, and more.”

“These facilities provide students the opportunity to gain practical experience from exposure to animal husbandry, stockmanship, and herdsmanship.”

Landon Sullivan

Mike Christen, grandson of the late Herb Johnson, who established the farmstead, rotates corn and soybeans and raises 85 head of cow-calf pairs on pasture at the farm. Their herd, he says, is 100 percent artificially inseminated with the embryo-transfer work he conducts.
Dana (Lehner) Christen, originally of Le Mars, raised show calves while growing up and has transferred that interest to Circle C Cattle Company as their two sons will one day follow in their mother’s footsteps.

“We have a sale every September and, for years, we’ve always kept a couple of calves back to allow some Storm Lake children the chance to show calves that might not have that opportunity,” says Dana, who also serves as Buena Vista County Fair Board President. “We’ve wanted young people to get the opportunity to work with calves and get their hands on equipment and a feel for feeding, breeding, and more. Our relationship with BVU will be an extension of that.”

Landon Sullivan, BVU Instructor of Animal Science, believes farming must not be limited to a classroom and textbooks.

“These facilities provide students the opportunity to gain practical experience from exposure to animal husbandry, stockmanship, and herdsmanship,” Sullivan says. 

Rich Crow, Director of the Institute for Agriculture, Food, and Resource Management, says having a working BVU farm represents a natural step for a University serving a state that produces more corn, more soybeans, and more hogs than any other. Iowa, which leads the nation in egg production, is also in the top four in beef cattle.

Agriculture faculty and staff pose with a cat outside a barn

Circle C Cattle Company, in addition to its cattle expertise, has a swine herd, 13 horses, chickens, ducks, and hundreds of crop acres for students to study. Dr. Geoffrey Ecker, BVU Assistant Professor of Agronomy, has worked with Sullivan, the Christens, and Crow, in starting a field trial this summer at the site.

“We are trying to find ways to grow crops more efficiently and save the environment at the same time,” Ecker says.

Dr. Ben Maas, BVU Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Geology, will make use of the farm, as will Dr. Bob Brodman, BVU Associate Professor of Biology. Kevin Price, BVU Instructor of Management and Ag Business in the Dr. Harold Walter Siebens School of Business, is working with students in establishing an agricultural enterprise with drones through BVU’s new Lamberti Center for Rural Entrepreneurship.

Price has indicated he and his students will use the site initially for crop mapping, crop scouting, drainage, and to sharpen their abilities in illustrating crop health for area growers.

Price and Jennifer Hecht, BVU Assistant Professor of Accounting, teach ag management, ag marketing, and ag finance, all of which will likely expand their reach to include areas of study at the farm. Student-run businesses, the operations of the farm, and collaborative projects with their peers in the Institute for Agriculture, Food, and Resource Management provide agricultural majors opportunities to apply their knowledge of business and entrepreneurship, bringing to life the theory-to-practice principal upon which the ag business major was established.
BVU students will also have a hand in planting and harvesting crops, while evaluating animal characteristics to determine genetic compatibility for breeding.

“Dr. Ecker’s students this fall will take scientific measurements of crops at harvest to see if the products studied did what their makers said they would do,” Crow says. “Students will walk through the process as Mike conducts artificial insemination on the farm. They’ll get an up-close look at calving in the spring.”

BVU will also start a livestock showing team, one in which BVU students may show Christens’ calves or pigs or shown their own livestock. Plans are also underway for the farm to host the Northwest Iowa Region of the FFA Soils Judging Contest in 2021.

“We are taking experience beyond the classroom, it’s a wonderful step for our program,” Crow says. “We’re very fortunate and grateful to have someone with the knowhow and the enthusiasm of Mike and Dana to be working with us on the farm.”