Livestock production sessions embrace ideas

Farm Forum

Continuing discussions around the state are targeting the future of the livestock production.

About 70 people gathered at Hub City Livestock Monday to listen to the presentation by SDSU Extension Beef Feedlot Specialist Roger Ellis and Agriculture Business Development Specialist for the South Dakota Department of Agriculture Allison Kiesz. A similar meeting in January was held at Aberdeen Livestock. Other meetings will continue through March.

The duo presented information about the beef industry in the state and also led a discussion about the economics of a thriving ag community in Iowa.

The speakers noted the need to capture more value from available resources.

The showing of the video and sharing of the statistics was meant to stimulate thoughts about ways to do things differently. Ellis suggested, “Think of the things they do with their resources and maybe some of it can transfer to this area. There are a lot of things to explore and a lot of challenges.” Farms are much smaller in Iowa and concentrate on hogs and dairy.

Around the room the rugged faces and hands were evidence of the independent nature that is traditionally ingrained into the makeup of livestock producers. Some father-son groups were part of the crowd, and some had traveled 80 to 100 miles for the meeting.

Many farmers who used to raise both crops and livestock have gotten out of livestock because of the amount of work involved. Livestock require daily attention while corn does not, and it’s easier to finance a crop operation.

There was talk about programs at the state level to try to match retiring producers with new farmers. It was noted that finding land is a problem and new farmers have to be involved in a partnership or a mentorship. Kiesz said that their office is revamping a program to try to connect the two parties, but so far there have not been a lot of producers involved.

Livestock production is labor intensive, and swings in feed costs can make it tough to make a profit at times. With recent drought conditions and corn above $7, many are looking at alternatives for feed.

Dry lot feeding operations aren’t very popular in this area with more producers inclined to pasture animals. But Ellis said maybe some operations can take on certain sectors of cattle raising such as heifer development or backgrounding.

In speaking with Ellis after the meeting, he said, “It may not be the work that the producers want to do, but it could work to have more young people come and do some of the work, and spread out the risk. While the person with capital may not want to expand their operation, they may be able to set up barns to feed or farrow pigs or milk cows, which may provide jobs for somebody else.”

Some in the crowd noted that it would take a lot for a cow-man to set up a hog operation, but it could be done.

The speakers suggested finding a niche. Maybe young people could focus on weaning, heifer development or heifer growing programs.

In the beef cattle world, producers are risk aversive. They survive the bad, roll with the good. Being able to step outside the comfort zone could reap rewards.

Another question asked is what would happen if agriculture should dry up? Ellis said there is a need for integrated production that combines the support of the local communities, people across the state and legislative processes to continue to keep ag strong.

One of the producers at the meeting reminded people to tell the story of the industry at every opportunity. He noted, “Whether it’s going to a dentist or to get your hair cut, explain some of those questions that people may have about livestock production. Many think antibiotics and vaccinations are the same thing. When you’re sitting in that chair, let people know that we are concerned about ag and how we use the products to keep our animals healthy.”

Main concerns seem to be row-crop versus livestock, time commitment of livestock, gap between generations and family connections and being bound by traditions. Weather of course is a huge unknown.

Ellis said that SDSU Extension beef team is available to go out to operations to talk about options. More information is available at “We need to learn from producers what additional information they are looking to explore,” Ellis said.

At a similar meeting in Mobridge, there was a big discussion on the South Dakota Certified program. Sarah Caslin, Livestock Development/Program Specialist explained the timeline of what is going on in the program. A key component hinges on producers taking their animals to Northern Beef Packers in Aberdeen. Ellis said that this is a key for South Dakota – for cattle producers to be able to put their name on their product. It’s evident from marketing reports that there is a great consumer appeal by having such a label showcasing South Dakota beef.

Ellis said he sees the stumbling blocks to the program are a hesitancy to do the paperwork and follow-up. In the beef cattle world, most are used to selling on the open market. The hesitancy may come from the cost, as in “What is the return for the $5 I spend on doing the extra work?”

Ellis said that statistics used to be that in an average cow-calf operation, it would cost $300 to $400, now it’s $600 to $800 to own and operate a cow for a year. Expected return on cattle averages 5 to 8 percent. Some who are able to be profitable reach numbers into the teens, but that means there are those who are not making money. The dilemma is whether that is good enough to keep the operation going.

There are resources to do more with livestock production in the state. Some in the crowd noted that capital is available but direct financing is more difficult for cattle; it’s much easier to get financing for row crop operations than for animals.

“Sometimes we get too trapped into zones,” Ellis said. “These discussions are valuable in stimulating ideas, both for established and new livestock people.”