Lack of ideas, not so much.

It has been a long time since I have actually posted here myself, so I thought I better before you all thing I don’t do anything around here.  I’ve enjoyed delegating the website journal to the interns but I don’t have any here now, so it’s up to me.

In an industry as steeped in tradition and history as ranching, you might think not much changes from year to year.   That may be true on some levels, but in many ways it is false.  For our operation, there are constant changes.  We are always looking for new and better ways to do things.  Innovation and adaptation to the environment we do business in is as important to ranching as it is to any other business.

“Lack of money is not an obstacle.  Lack of ideas is an obstacle.”
Ken Hakuta

“Discovery is seeing what everybody else has seen and thinking what nobody else has thought.”
Albert Szent-George

“Learning is not compulsory… neither is survival.”
W. Edwards Deming

These quotes, and others similar to them, have rolled around in my head a lot this winter.  I have some new ideas we’re trying out this year.  Here’s a few of them.

Tire feed dispenser
Last week I cobbled together a rolling grain feeder to supplement some corn and soybean hulls to the young cows.   They are still growing themselves, plus feeding the calf in utero, so they could use a little extra feed.  You can see the feed dispenser in the photo below.

Every time the tire goes around, a small pile of grain is left on the ground.  The cows clean it up very well.  The “feeding frenzy” where I feed with this also helps break down the old dead grass, allowing those nutrients to cycle and feed the new grass coming up.

Breeding Heifer enterprise
An new venture we’re trying this year is bred heifer development.  We’ve always done our own, but this year we are doing it with the intention of selling them.  Since we don’t start breeding until July 15, our bulls are unemployed during the month of June when most other ranchers are breeding their heifers.   I bought a load of heifers to breed in June, which will then be sold as bred heifers this fall.  This allows us to pull double-duty from the bulls, spreading their cost out over more heifers.  It also allows us to better match our forage supply with our cow inventory.

Wagyu genetics
This spring I’ll be calving out a group of heifers bred to Wagyu bulls.  It’s the first year we’ve done this.  The calves will be destined for white-tablecloth restaurants and the Japanese market.  These calves will be fed for about 500 days after leaving here in the fall to maximize their meat quality.  Over 95% of them will grade USDA Prime (about 3% of cattle grade prime normally, although our Angus calves have done up to 20%).  The immediate benefit to us is they are very easy-calving.  This makes it easy on the first-calf heifers and easier on me, not having to help as many deliver their calf.

Double-cropping forage & grazing
The slim (or negative) profit margins on some crops has caused me to try an alternative plan on one field.  We will plant oats and peas in the spring, cut it for hay in June, and then plant a multi-species grazing crop immediately following the hay crop.  Assuming we get enough rain, this second crop will provide high-quality forage next fall for our young bred cows.  It will feed the soil as well.  Multi-species cover crops help sustain a diverse population of below-ground organisms, which in turn keep the soil healthy and productive.  I’ve seen this done successfully on other progressive operations, so I’m optimistic it will work for us.


Not everything I try works out.  I could do a multi-part journal series on those ideas that didn’t.  But I always learn something – even if it’s just what not to do.  That’s still a success in my mind.

I’ve survived so far.

“I have not failed.  I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Thomas Edison

Sand’s in the Air

Recently I toured the Sand Ranch in Forbes North Dakota. I started the day by checking cows looking them over for any health problems.  Then Melanie (the new August intern) and I took off for North Dakota. As we arrived we registered and paid our dues for the dinner that was going to be provided! We all piled on to flatbed trailers and fixed our keasters on some good ole hay benches. One of the first things I noticed was the use of permanent two strand high tensile wire fence. They used to have 16 pastures that encompassed 2300 acres. This high tensile wire plus poly wire have turned 16 into 65 pastures in just four years. This then allows them to experiment and have such a cushion of grass. For instance, if they wanted to try using grazing weed control in a certain pasture that has a lot of wormwood they can graze it heavily. If it does not work out then they have 64 other pastures to go into. Their average pasture size is forty acres. Then they use poly wire to make those into twenty acre paddocks. Another advantage to doing this is to use a high intensity stock grazing.  They had three to four herds and combined them all into one herd. By doing this they have seen a large amount of native grasses come back into their pastures along with a vast amount of diversity. 

Cody explaining the water situation. You can see the blue calf water tank in the background."It should of been lower”Cody explained. It was the fabricators first ever calf water tank. The prototype!

Another thing I found very interesting is a twelve foot tire tank with a curb stop floatation device in it. They also had calf water fabricated to allow calves to water. They found that a problem created by this high intensity style of grazing was the capacity of the water tanks for the calves as well as the cows.

Cody and Deanna talked a lot on improving the quality of life, being able to spend time with their family and not letting the ranch run their lives. One of the things that they have done is to put up little to no hay for the winter. Instead they stock pile grass on pasture. They hit the corn fields in the winter and then in the early spring they have grass stockpiled to use before the growing season. Not having to spend so much time haying has allowed the growth of another business, a custom saddle making business.

The familys saddle shop. A great way to improve the quality of life in my opinion.

On the tour we stopped by crop land that the family has owned for only four years. The ground was very mismanaged when they purchased it. The effects of tillage and no cover crop usage caused the top soil on these hills to sluff away, so they have been bale grazing the hills to try and return the top soil and allow grass to grow there.

bale grazing
Bale grazing on the hill to help improve soil health in that area.

It was a wonderful experience to me to see people thinking out side of the box that I feel a lot of people get stuck into. A special thanks to Cody and Deanna Sand for allowing the tour on their place. It gave me a lot of ideas and confidence to go out and try some of these practices out when I manage or own my own ranch.

Till next post “Watch your top knot” Readers.


Sam Newell


Coming Home–Kajsa Perman White

Coming Home

As I teenager I could not wait to get away from small town rural ranch life and experience what the world had to offer. I had a bad case of wanderlust and I count that a blessing.  In the last decade I’ve spent time in a handful of different cities, states and countries. I’ve traveled abroad, learned another language, met celebrities, worked in the corporate world, fell in love and married a man with an accent. To my teenage ears that would have sounded like a dream.  In many ways it has been my dream fulfilled.

I wrote my dad a letter once as a teenager and in it I said, “no matter where life takes me Rock Hills Ranch will always be my home.” At the time I didn’t realize what a rare thing it is for a person to always have a childhood home to go back to. My children get to walk the same dirt paths I walked to the chicken house to pick eggs, skin their knees on the gravel roads I played on, catch bugs and pick wildflowers on the same hillsides I did the same, and swing in the tree swing that was put up when I was a child. We don’t get to relive our childhood but I have the unique pleasure of seeing my childhood through adult eyes with my children.

This summer we had the fortunate opportunity to spend a month back at the ranch with our whole family. I noticed myself teaching my offspring many of the same life lessons in similar ways my parents taught me. Ranch life affords a unique setting for education. We had in-depth discussions on life cycles when we had to remove a dead chicken from the coop, an easy and natural conversation about gender identity when my eldest wanted to know the difference between the male and female donkeys, and a couple of conversations about how we care for and protect our family and those we love as we watched baby birds being pushed out of their nest, a doe protecting her fawn and a mother cat teaching her kittens to hunt.  They both squealed with delight as they dug for potatoes, my daughter gorged herself eating peas straight from the garden and they learned both biology and fine motor skills picking eggs every day. They understand where food comes from, and starting to value our connection as caretakers of both plants and animals.

Diversity is everywhere at Rock Hills Ranch. In nature, all living organisms have value and importance and must be present in order for the ecosystem to work. What a neat thing to watch my children grasp. A lot of the world’s most pressing problems could be solved if we as humans embraced that truth within our own race. Hard work, practical thinking, problem solving, manual labor, opportunities to practice patience and the need for teamwork are all principles available in abundance at RHR. There are so many more I could name but the bottom line is, I’m pretty confident in saying rural life provides hands on opportunities to learn all of life’s most important lessons.

The most overwhelming experience on the prairie is witnessing the fingerprints of our Creator. The beauty of the prairie grasses shimmering and moving like ocean waves in the wind, the delicate wildflowers staying intact despite the elements, the fiery oranges and soft pastels of the sunsets and the intricate bird songs all dug deep into our souls, deepening our appreciation for and recognition of an artistic and loving God. 

We had ample time at the ranch to talk about family values and what we want our children to remember and stick with them as they grow to be leaders, truth-seekers and caretakers of the next generation. We got bit by the country bug and are itching to keep living life off the fast track, more intentional and in touch with our natural world. We are back to our normal life in suburbia but we hope our new normal will include more dirt on our hands, sharper eyes and ears toward nature and a slower cadence to life.  My dreams for the future look a little different than those of my teen years. They have a striking resemblance to what I couldn’t wait to get away from 20 years ago — only with the addition of that handsome accented husband and some precious children in the picture. I may live 1200 miles from Rock Hills Ranch, but in my heart, it will always be home.

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