Four-year-old Quinn Schaeffer enjoys being daddy’s helper during calving season.
“She likes helping,” explains her dad, Jon Schaeffer. “The last two nights, Quinn and I have gone out and tagged calves and checked cows together.”
His daughter reminds Schaeffer of himself at her age. “I grew up beside my dad, working with livestock. I always had a big passion for growing crops when I was young. I started with a big garden and it materialized into the farm I have today,” recalls Schaeffer, a Viborg farmer who along with a commercial cow/calf herd and backgrounding operation, raises soybeans, corn and forages.
“I like to do a little bit of everything,” says the South Dakota Soybean Association treasurer and District 2 director. “Raising livestock gives me a break from crop farming, it’s something different. Plus, I’m not throwing all my eggs in one basket. When soybean and corn prices aren’t very good, hopefully the livestock help out the bottom line.”
And, he says, livestock are really what allowed him to return home to farm full time after college. “I began renting my first piece of land right out of high school. But livestock are really what brought me back. It’s easier to build up cattle numbers and pick up hay ground here and there than it is to find land available to farm,” he explains.
Schaeffer began raising sheep in high school as an FFA project. He sold his flock before college and began buying a few head of cattle to run with his dad, Roger’s cattle. While pursuing degrees in accounting and agriculture, Schaeffer didn’t lose sight of his goal to farm full time. The summer after he graduated from high school, family friends leased their family’s farmland to Schaeffer. As a full time student, he returned home nights and weekends to farm or help with calving.
Today, livestock also help him manage marginal farm acres. “Cows utilize the waste ground on my farm. Our native hay or pastureland is in areas with big hills, on highly erodible ground or wetland — acres that should not be farmed or cropped. It’s more eco-friendly to keep those acres in a forage management program — and it helps the wildlife out too.”
Schaeffer implements conservation management throughout his farm, no-till or minimal tilling most acres and interseeding cover crops into soybean and corn acres. “Cover crops work really well with livestock production. I like to call it a green manure. I put it in and let the roots and organic matter filter back through the soil — plus it gives the livestock something to graze on in the fall and winter months,” he said.
A combination of cover crops and drainage tile have also helped Schaeffer manage acres with drainage issues. “They’ve converted areas that were way too wet, and made them very productive,” he says. “In certain fields with lower organic matter, cover crops help reduce erosion in the spring. They keep the soil where it needs to be.”
He credits minimal till and cover crops with an increase in soil organic matter.
Although his rotation is primarily soybeans and corn, Schaeffer also plants forage sorghum because of its efficiencies. “It uses about a third less moisture than corn. I can plant it on a lot poorer soil for less cost and have a good quality forage product. I chop and feed it.”
During calving, Schaeffer utilizes the forage sorghum as a natural bedding. He turns his cows into a 50-acre parcel of land he drilled with forage sorghum and radishes last summer.
Calving season increases his workload, but he says it’s rewarding. “We keep our own heifers back, so we can see the generations and improvement in our herd. I like to select bulls to be middle of the line, more of a profit bull that will get out and convert low quality forage into meat and protein.”
Because he has access to plenty of feedstuffs, Schaeffer backgrounds his own calves and, once he sells them, he buys more to keep his feedlot full.
“Diversification helps spread the farm’s risk out,” he says. “We are always experimenting on different things, trying to cut costs.”
And, due to the current, low markets, Schaeffer says he spends quite a bit of time pouring over spreadsheets. “I am a firm believer in knowing my costs and break-evens. I decided instead of working harder, I work smarter and more disciplined, taking time to set targets and follow through with them.”
The work ethic he learned working with his dad, he and his wife, Krista, hope to pass along to their daughters, Bailey, 7; Quinn, 4 and Hattie, 2.
With his daughters in mind, Schaeffer dedicates time to advocating for the industry he loves. He is an alumnus of South Dakota Agriculture and Rural Leadership and has served on the South Dakota Soybean Association Board of Directors since 2011.
“There are less and less of us in rural communities and agriculture. My involvement in South Dakota Soybean Association (SDSA) helps me step up and protect the rights of farmers. I am involved to give back, and to ensure farmers have a strong voice at the table,” he explains. “When it comes to certain regulations, we have to be present to explain why we do what we do.”
In his role as an SDSA director, he represents soybean growers’ interests through policy and procedure development at the state and federal level. He also participates in the Hungry for Truth campaign, an agriculture advocacy effort that works to increase consumer awareness.
To learn more about SDSA and how the organization serves South Dakota soybean farmers, visit SDSoybean.org.