Although I’ve lived most of my life in or near South Dakota, I was born in Texas (near Cleburne) where my dad was the manager on a ranch. Sure wish I could remember any of that, but alas no. My family moved up to South Dakota in 1974 when my dad bought the Veterinary practice in Martin. I spent a little bit of my time growing up in the sandhills of Nebraska, a very short time in Denver (didn’t take me long to know I couldn’t stay there) and a little in the Black Hills of South Dakota. I knew I wanted to come back to the Martin area and it is here that I met my husband, Mike.
Our ranch is 30 miles northwest of Martin, amidst the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and Mike has lived the majority of his life here. He knows the family well that lived here prior to his family, and we’ve been fortunate enough to even meet some of them that were here when that family first settled it. It has an interesting history, and we feel fortunate to be able to have a small glimpse of it.
Due to unfortunate circumstances, Mike’s dad lost the place back in the 80’s and Mike was working on getting it back when I met him. We were able to “buy” it back (in other words start making payments which will last about 40 years) a couple of years ago. I’ve heard the following saying many times and it fits the ranching business all too well, “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how long you stay in the game!” We try to remember this when things get tight and we just keep fighting to hold on until things get a little easier. We’re very aware that anything relating to agriculture runs in cycles and so just hang on for dear life when we’re at the bottom of the cycle.
Mike and I both come from a strong Ag background and have been working the place together for 12 years now. We each had a few of our own ideas and were able to merge them together to compliment each others quite well. My dad was in general vet practice for many years but then started specializing in Embryo Transfer with cattle in the 80’s. He ran a purebred cattle operation and that’s what I grew up around. I had my own small herd of registered red Angus cows when Mike and I got together. Mike had been raised on a commercial outfit with a few purebred longhorns of his own.
We now run commercial black cattle with the focus on a cow/calf operation. We have split the calving times up and have the majority of our cows calving in the spring with the remainder of them calving out in the fall. We are hoping to expand on the fall calving program as it suits our needs very well here. We also run some cash cattle for other people during the summer months.
Mike and I have two young boys, Dustin is almost 9 and Brady just turned 7. They are both proving to be quite good help on the place already. Brady has a special interest in anything involving a rope and a horse. Dustin and his dog Dutch are invaluable help when working stock.
I grew up with Aussies that were always there to help us out with the cattle. Mike’s family didn’t use working dogs very often but had a few good dogs that darn sure tried to help when he was growing up. Before I ever got one, I had long admired the work ethic and intelligence of the Border Collie. It happened mainly by accident that I got my first one. I was asked if I could help find a home for a 3 month old female Border Collie. I hauled her to every rodeo we went to thinking someone would want her but no luck. I’d had her about two weeks when she got out of the yard and had all the roping calves rounded up and back down at the barn. I decided maybe she could stay and I’d see what I could learn from her.
I used her daily from the time she was little. She pushed calves up into the roping chute for us when she was 4 months old and then stayed out of the way while we roped. She’d bring weaned heifers up out of the draws when we were feeding in the winter as well as snuggle up with both of my kids when she was done. She was a great little dog to learn about the breed from!
We now have several Border Collies that we use on the place as well as dabble in the trialing world with. The dogs are used in almost every aspect of the place now. If we could figure out how to teach them to drive a staple or stretch wire, we might get them more involved in fencing, too. As it is now, they prefer to supervise.
Depending on the year and the cattle market, we try to wean and keep back quite a few replacement heifers. These calves have grown up around dogs and are pretty easy to handle early on in weaning. We usually feed out other people’s calves along with ours during the winter. They usually haven’t seen a dog prior to weaning and so they’re held in a corral for a few days to settle, then dog broke and finally turned out to pasture. They run in section pastures over the winter where they get hay if the weather gets real tough, otherwise their on grain and grass. When we first take them out, we use the dogs to help bunk break them as well as get them used to the idea of following a feed pickup. We turn a few dogs out to gather them and then hold them to the pickup as we drive to the bunks to feed.
The dogs are invaluable in helping gather pastures in the fall. They are great about sweeping the tree filled draws. It takes about half the riders it used to with the dogs helping now. We have a solid tub and alley system along with a hydraulic chute, so the dogs aren’t used right in the working area. The corrals are set up for the safety of the dogs though and they are used to bring cattle up to the tub and then sent back after another bunch when it’s time.
We use the dogs pretty sparingly during calving. A few of the more experienced dogs get used when moving pairs “across the road” but very rarely do we use them right in the calving pasture. A big part of this is lack of need. We pasture calve in April and very seldom have to bring a cow in.
Mike and I have gotten into the sheep business (against Mike’s better judgment he reminds me) and I have to admit it all started because of my love for training dogs. The addition of sheep has really added on to our operation however, and it’s amazing to see how much better we can utilize our pastures now with the multi-species grazing going on.
The dogs are used year round on the sheep. I pasture lamb as well and use the dogs to hold a new mom and lamb to me while I dock tails on the lambs. The dogs are also used to load them in trailers, run them in the tub and alley so I can vaccinate/deworm, of course during shearing, and also when sorting any off. Basically anything I have to do with the sheep, I do it with a dog or two along.
I can’t say we really have a “line” of dogs that we use. Two of our main dogs are heavy on the Nyle Sealine lines as well as some of Paul Schultes dogs. The foundation bitch for our kennels came from Texas and is from E.B. Raley’s dogs. She’s a great asset to the place every day but is also proving to be an exceptional producer! We also have a couple of young dogs right now that are sired by Joni Swanke’s Spot. They are proving to be the kind of dogs we like.
Mike and I like really confident dogs with a big “motor”. We don’t like overly aggressive dogs as we don’t really need them with our setup. An extremely intelligent dog with tons of heart and natural ability is the kind of dog we like to produce and work. A dog that will bite both ends on a cow if needed is preferable but a strong head dog is a necessity. Quiet dogs are also a bonus. Our dogs are expected to work cow/calf pairs, yearlings as well as ewes and lambs. Neither of us wants a specialist dog; we want dogs that will work the livestock in front of them that day.
Each producer is different and has different needs. I think it’s important for people to recognize that and accept the differences in what others are looking for in their own dogs. If they’re getting the jobs done that are set before them and the person is happy with it, more power to them!
Well, I hope I haven’t bored you with the details of our life. If you’re ever out in our neck of the woods, give us a call. The coffee pot’s always on and there’s always miles of fence to fix!
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