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Beef Producers Go to School

Whether you have been raising livestock for 40 years or four months, there is always room for improvement. By launching the beefSD program, South Dakota State Extension is working to help producers learn new skills to take their operations to the next level.

“We felt that there was a need for beef producers to have a greater understanding of alternative beef production and management practices,” says beefSD founder Ken Olson. “We focused this effort on beginning beef producers, meaning they’ve been in the business for 10 years or less.”

Olson is an Extension beef specialist at South Dakota State University (SDSU). He began beefSD over seven years ago and aimed it toward South Dakota beef producers who are willing to make a two-year commitment to the program. During this time, participants attend 10 two-day workshops, two five-day trips out of state, and several shorter activities such as evening webinars.

While 110 producers have gone through beefSD to date, Olson and his colleagues have decided to begin limiting class sizes due to increased interest.

“We like to keep class sizes small enough that the participants get to know each other and become comfortable asking questions and getting involved in discussion,” says Olson. “Class three had over 50 participants, and they never got to know each other very well.”

Many of the program’s participants grew up on farms but have decided to create and expand their own herds. beefSD helps them develop the management skills and business plan needed to succeed.

The Producer’s Perspective

Erika Goette will finish up the beefSD program in August with her husband, Brandon. While the pair currently both live and have full-time jobs in Hurley, South Dakota, they grew up on farms and wanted to become more involved with the industry again. They purchased commercial ewes in the fall of 2014 and added bred Black and Red Angus heifers the following winter.

“Because we are originally from Minnesota, we did not have a nearby support system in South Dakota and had to start our operation from ground zero,” says Goette. “We were wanting to learn more about different production options, and the networking opportunities alone were a huge plus for us.”

Through beefSD, the Goettes learned how to calculate cash flows and build a business plan. They were able to take this business plan to a bank and acquire the money necessary to purchase 30 head of 450-pound cattle and background them to 750 pounds.

In addition to expanding their herd, the Goettes were able to make their operation more efficient. Utilizing their new knowledge, they shortened their calving season from eight months to 60 days.

While his operation may be more developed than the Goettes’, fifth-generation rancher Wacey Kirkpatrick knew there was still room for improvement.

“I don’t want to put myself in a box and pretend I know everything,” says Kirkpatrick. “I decided to apply for the first beefSD class to keep abreast of new things in the industry and to keep learning. We have large goals and intend to keep growing as opportunities present themselves.”

Kirkpatrick and his wife, Jamie, were married in 2013 and decided to begin their Red Angus herd in Central South Dakota. They raise yearling grass cattle, cow/calf pairs, and also background cattle. beefSD allowed him to connect with producers who were operating in a way he envisioned for his own ranch.

“During the program, we were able to spend time with some ranchers who had successfully implemented planned grazing on their ranches, and I was an immediate believer in its benefits,” says Kirkpatrick.  “We started utilizing this method on our leased ranch, and it is amazing to see the difference in the land’s health when comparing it with continuously grazed land.”

After completing beefSD, Kirkpatrick wanted to pay forward all of the help and advice he had received by coming back to the program as one of 19 mentors. As a mentor, his role is to bridge the gap between the new, young ranchers and the established, successful ranchers.

“It is a lot like using a seasoned ranch horse to guide a young horse,” says Kirkpatrick. “The experienced horse keeps the colt calm and going in the direction it should.”

Though they had different goals for the program, Goette and Kirkpatrick both believe that beefSD is an incredibly valuable experience, and they encourage anyone interested to apply quickly.

“We have learned more than we ever expected, seen and learned about more production options, and added some amazing people and friends from across the state to our network,” says Goette.

Once the program receives long-term funding, the SDSU Extension would like to open up beefSD to out-of-state producers. The program is currently run on grants. Applications for the fourth beefSD program can be sent to Ken Olson until July 20.

Aside from the application, interested producers must also complete a webinar interview. Up to 30 applicants from 20 operations will be accepted into the program. There is also a fee of $1,000 for an individual and $1,500 for two people from the same operation. For more information, go to

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