BROOKINGS, S.D. -Riding out to check cattle with his dad is among Reid Grate's earliest memories.
"This was what I always dreamed of doing," says the 34-year-old Isabel cattle rancher.
At 12, he took out a loan to buy some cows. "By the time I was a freshman in high school I was building a plan on how I could save up to buy more cows and become part of the operation."
Today, he and his wife, Barbara continue to plan for the future of their family's cow/calf operation.
"We are constantly asking, what can we do in our lifetime to manage this operation so my kids, and their kids, and their kids' kids can be here," Grate says.
Participating in SDSU Extension's beefSD program is one solution the couple found to help them build a successful and sustainable cattle operation - one that will be around when their three young children are ready to take over.
"Times are changing. It's no longer sustainable to just do what our dad or grandpa did before us," Grate says.
Through participation in the intensive program, the couple took a renewed look at their herd's genetic program, modified their calving dates and marketing program.
Not long after he and his wife graduated from Class 1 of beefSD, Grate's dad passed away unexpectedly. He was forced to make some management changes to accommodate the fact that the ranches' labor force was cut by one.
One change he made was pushing calving season from the April/May time-frame to May/June.
Before making the change, he contacted one of the program's mentor ranchers who does summer calving to get management and marketing advice.
"It's not like I was sitting down and pushing hypothetical numbers. I got to talk to someone who has done it before," Grate says. "The experience was eye-opening for me and my wife."
Spencer cattle producers, Joann "Carroll" and Mike Schock agree.
"Before participating in the class, our breeding program focused mostly on maternal traits. Today, we spend a lot of time looking at carcass data and looking at ways to modify our genetics to add as much value to the carcass as possible," Joann says.
Both fourth-generation South Dakota livestock producers, the couple met at South Dakota State University as students pursuing animal science degrees. They got their start raising cattle together when the farmer Mike worked for throughout high school and college retired and sold his operation to them.
The couple says participating in beefSD together, helped them reevaluate their operation as a whole and make changes that have increased profits, like retaining ownership of some calves.
"Before, it seemed the end of the line was when our calves went to the sale barn. But now that we have some custom finished, we are more aware of cattle cycles and trends and give more thought to when we should sell our cattle to receive better prices," Joann says.
Developed by SDSU Extension as a two-year program, beefSD is designed to provide today's new and beginning cattle producers with the resources, mentor network and research-based applicable information necessary to increase a ranch or farm's profits and sustainability, explains Stacy Hadrick, SDSU Extension beefSD Coordinator.
"Unfortunately, we are no longer in an industry where if a cattle producer works hard, it will pay off. Today's producers have to do more than work hard to succeed," says Hadrick, who came up with the idea for beefSD during a conversation with her dad, Ed Blair, a lifelong cattle producer and one of the program's producer mentors.
With the help of Ken Olson, Professor & SDSU Extension Beef Specialist and other SDSU Extension staff, beefSD was launched in 2010. Since that time, 100 South Dakota cattle producers from across the state have participated in one of three beefSD classes. The class is a two-year commitment and includes scheduled workshops and on-farm/ranch case studies designed to provide information on five focus areas including:
- Production practices
- Transition/Estate planning
- Post-weaning carcass performance
- Consumer outlook
The fourth class of 29 South Dakota cattle producers begins September 2018.
"We have an aging producer population, and we have these young cattle producers who face a lot of different challenges than cattle producers of the past. beefSD is designed to provide tools and experienced mentors to help the next generation be successful," says Adele Harty, SDSU Extension Cow/Calf Field Specialist and one of many SDSU Extension staff who facilitate beefSD workshop sessions along with SDSU researchers and faculty.
Along with tours of South Dakota cattle operations, the beefSD curriculum works to expose cattle producers to the demands of end-users, including tours of packing plants and high end restaurants as well as discussions with chefs and urban consumers.
"It's easy to get stuck in your own little world and see things as they are in your own backyard. beefSD showed me other perspectives, and that is worth a lot," explains Lon Medbery, a Roberts County cattle producer and Class 1 participant.
beefSD is made possible through funding support from SDSU Extension, North Central Risk Management Education Center, the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture under Award Number 2015-49200-24226, SD Farm Bureau, Pioneer Bank & Trust and National Audubon Society.
To learn more about beefSD, contact Hadrick by email.