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Management

Ranchers share tips to get young people started in the business, increase opportunity

Written by Gayle Smith

While its not easy to get started in the ranching business, it is possible, according to three western Nebraska producers. Getting started in the business may require some thinking outside the box, use of alternative forages, watching for opportunities and finding ways to capitalize on them.

Nancy Peterson of Plum Thicket Farms near Gordon, Neb., Brock Terrell of Terrell Farms of Hay Springs, Neb. and Hazy Nielsen of Ellsworth, Neb. shared ideas they have utilized to allow them to add additional income to their family ranching operations.

No-till farmland

Peterson said Plum Thicket Farms is a family operation with 2,300 acres of irrigated and dryland farm ground, in addition to a cow/calf and stocker feeder operation. 

“We are manic, no-till operators,” Peterson told producers. “We really bought into that. If there is a single thing that drives our management, it is stewardship.”

Peterson said about half their farm ground is sandy.

“In our eight-year crop rotation, about 75 percent of the crops that are grown on that land are forage crops utilized by our cows,” she said. “The other ground is a little better quality, so we grow quite a few forages on it, but our emphasis is more on cash crops.”

The Petersons keep all their heifers.

“We expose them all to a bull for 25 days. We sell opens in fall, or if the market is right, we will rebreed them and sell them as fall yearlings,” she said. “We background all of our steers until March.  Then they go to a custom feedlot.”

Limiting factors

Pasture is their most limiting factor.

“We hardly put up any hay,” Peterson explained. “The corners of our pivots are in alfalfa, and that’s it. We also buy a couple loads of alfalfa from a neighbor.”

Since the cattle graze most of the year, Peterson said they rely heavily on annual forages.

“We calve in May on rye that is planted on the pivot,” she explained. “We move off the pivot when it is time to plant corn or soybeans to a dryland field of rye. We also planted 190 acres of a cocktail, primarily oats and peas, and some buckwheat. It was the only crop that made money for us in 2015.”

She continued, “We were able to take in 500 steers for three months last year. They were grazing the native pasture while the cows grazed the oats and peas.”

Terrell Farms

Brock Terrell, who works with his family as Terrell Farms, has farm ground and leases pasture.

“We have had to develop more opportunities to increase the bottom line and make room for more families on our operation,” he said. 

The cows, which are bred Charolais, calve in May. Terrell said by calving in May, they are able to buy cheaper cows.

“We buy May, June and July bred cows at the sale barn for two to five cents over scale price,” he said. “We don’t take much depreciation on these cows.”

Terrell added, “We calve for 150 days. All our bulls are turned in Aug 10. Our goal is to move 30 percent of the fall cows up to the June-July herd, and the June-July calvers up to May.”

“We figure we can add 30 to 60 pounds of calf per cow just by getting them to calve earlier,” he explained.

  With a longer calving season, anything that falls out of the fall season is re-exposed for February calving.

“Our goal is to try and add value all the way through,” Terrell explained.

Taking advantage of Mother Nature

They also have cows from 13 states in their herd.

“We go wherever there is a drought to capitalize on cow sales due to drought,” he explained. “We take advantage of Mother Nature.” 

Terrell says once they had some wind blow a field of corn down, so they bought cull cows to utilize it.

“We made more money using it for cows than we would have made by combining it,” he said.

Utilizing space

Terrell said their bulls are all yearlings.

“We have a buyer in Texas who needs two-year-old Charolais bulls, so we buy our bulls in the spring, use them during the breeding season and then sell them to him. We only have them on our place 90 to 100 days, which frees up enough space for an additional 100 head of mother cows,” he explained.

“It allows us to better utilize our resources while not having a lot of money tied up in bulls year-round,” he explained.

In addition, Terrell says they breed a lot of heifers, run yearlings and utilize a preconditoning program.

“We also buy undervalued lightweight cattle, straighten them out, put them into load lots and turn them back over by end of year,” he explained. “Anything that doesn’t fit, we just retain ownership of and feed. We try to keep the ranch really flexible.”

More diversity

About four years ago, Terrell said they also added sheep to the cattle operation.

“We added one ewe for every cow. Since the sheep graze different resources than the cows, we didn’t even notice a change in how much they graze,” he said.

Terrell said they have found the sheep are actually more profitable than the cattle, so this year they plan to double the size of the sheep operation.

Open to new ideas

Hazy Nielsen works alongside her parents and brother on their Angus Simmental composite operation in southern Cherry County, Neb.

“Our goal is to be open to new ideas and opportunities,” Nielsen said.

They calve their cattle in May and June and have been a cooperator with Leachman Cattle Company in Colorado.

“That has allowed us to buy bulls with superior genetics while emphasizing feed efficiency and carcass characteristics to maintain those important traits needed on the ranch,” she said.

Using alternative forages has allowed the Nielsen’s to cut back on their cow production costs.

“We are fortunate to be close to Alliance, Neb., so we can utilize cornstalks with our cows.  We also utilize some annual forages,” she noted.

On their own range, Nielsen said her family has used the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to improve water resources, which in turn have improved grazing utilization.

The family also uses sexed semen technology to keep daughters out of their best producing cows.

Nielsen said they use bull semen to breed cows they are certain they don’t want replacements from.

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..