Young ranchers address the challenges, opportunities in getting started in agriculture
One of the highlights during Beef Day at the Colorado Farm Show was a panel of young ranchers who shared the sacrifices they have made and the challenges they overcome to get started in the cattle business.
“It’s pretty hard to get started with cattle these days because of the cost,” according to Kyle Kocerha of Callahan, Colo.
Referring to himself and the other members on the panel, he added, “We all got started with help from our families, who were already involved in agriculture. For those who don’t have family in agriculture, they have to work harder to find the right mix. It might be the farmer down the road who doesn’t have family and needs help. Young people need to do what they can to get their foot in the door.”
No family operations
Caleb and Kari Schultz, who ranch in the Kirk, Colo. area, stated several ranchers and farmers in their area want to retire, but have no one to carry on their legacy or take over.
“Young people who want to get started and don’t have family in agriculture should seek out one of these retiring ranchers,” Caleb said. “A lot of them need help. They are thankful for it, and they will remember it. Sometimes, just small gestures go a long ways. Be a good neighbor.”
Kari added, “Young people may have to be laborers first, but they should be ready to lease the operation or step into it and buy it. They should seek out what they are looking for,” she recommended.
Kyle works as an insurance agent with his father-in-law. They have offices in Callahan and Lyman, Colorado. Last year, Kocerha got his start in ranching after the person they had hired to look after the cows left unexpectedly just prior to calving.
“I ended up with 156 head of cows that were ready to calve, but it was the best thing I ever did,” he said.
From a young age
Leah Churches is a fourth generation rancher who grew up on a ranch in the Sandhills of Nebraska. She purchased her first heifer from her dad when she was eight and grew the herd from there.
Since then, her herd numbers have fluctuated through good years, drought years and a sell-down so she could pay for college.
Currently, she has rebuilt her herd to about 50 Simmental-Angus cross cows and is looking to expand more in the future. Leah and her husband Garth purchased a ranch near Laramie last year.
The couple moved to their Laramie ranch from Colorado, where Garth operated a custom haying business.
“What attracted me to agriculture is the way of life. I wanted to raise my kids how I was raised. I am looking forward to passing on the animal husbandry skills I learned from my family on to our children,” he says. “Our operation is a business, but our family is all involved. Our son helps his dad hay, and our daughter helps me take care of the cows.”
Garth continues, “There are a lot of opportunities in agriculture, but people have to seek them out. There are not a lot of younger people involved in agriculture, but it creates an opportunity for those of us who want to be involved.”
One of the biggest challenges Leah has found is finding value in the resources available, whether its land, animals or yourself.
“We had to find ways to make the most money out of what we own,” she said.
The couple feeds out several calves each year and have started a local natural beef business.
“We had several calves that would have been docked for color or because they were too small for the group, so we fed them out and sell them to local families,” she explained.
As cattle prices continue to increase, the panelists have different views of how fast they plan to expand their herd numbers.
Kocerha, who lives in an area that has suffered from drought for a few years, said they calved 119 cows this year.
“We slimmed down our numbers because of the drought. The biggest challenge we have now is figuring out ways to save some grass. We are taking a guarded approach to rebuilding our stocking rate, although we did retain 60 replacement heifers this year,” he commented. “We are hoping we can keep them, but it depends upon if we can get grass.”
Kocerha said the family also has a farming side to the operation, and since corn prices have declined, they are looking at planting more feed crops for the cattle.
“In addition to sustaining the herd, it might also help keep our feed costs down,” he explained.
Changes for value
Caleb and Kari say, on their operation, they plan to use some Hereford bulls on the Angus cows this year to add more value to the calf crop.
“We have decided to go the black baldy route,” Kari said. “We calve in March until the end of May. Last year, we also experimented with 10 head of fall calvers.”
“In this business, we have to be open to trying new things,” she said.
Caleb and Kari were able to borrow money from their bank to purchase 20 more cows, and they retained more replacements this year.
“We had to access more leased land, which was key to making this happen,” Caleb explained.
Leah said they also retained all their heifers this year and plan to keep them as replacements.
“Two-thirds of our calf crop was heifers, so this is quite a leap for us,” she explained. “We have to keep our finances in check because we just purchased this ranch last year and have to make a land payment.”
All of the panelists said they would rather keep their own replacements than purchase them.
“We run an Angus-Gelbvieh cross, and our herd originated in Montana and Wyoming,” Kocerha explained. “Keeping our own replacements allows us to manage our own genetics and monitor our progress.”
Kari said they also retain their own replacements to manage their genetics but also because the cows they have been selected for their disposition.
“A good disposition is a big plus,” she said.
Leah said when they moved their operation from Colorado to Wyoming last year, they changed their calving date to spring to fit more with the Wyoming weather.
“We market most of the steer calves in the fall and retain ownership of the heifers. We artificially inseminate the heifers to calving ease sires and market the ones that don’t stay in our herd as bred heifers,” she explained.
Caleb and Kari Schultz are both 30 years old, and Caleb works for Simplot, while Kari works the family operation with her father.
The ranching business has been a challenge for Caleb, who grew up in the city and doesn’t have an ag background but enjoys the way of life. The couple hopes to expand their operation so they can both work it full-time.
“My family is the third generation on the home place right now,” Kari explained. “My brother has also graduated from college and came back to the ranch, although he also works in town. My brother, older sister, Caleb and I have formed an LLC. We have bought pastureland and have our own branch outside the family operation.”
“Labor is not readily available, so everyone in the family pitches in to get the daily chores done. Since Caleb and my brother both work in town, my dad and I do the day to day labor and make the day to day decisions,” she explained.