South Dakota Farmers Union Celebrates the Richter Ranch Family

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By Lura Roti for SD Farmers Union

Neal Richter began helping his dad move cattle on the family's ranch near Enning when he was about 8.

"That was a bad idea because I was hooked," jokes Neal, 36, a fourth-generation cattle rancher.

"He always wanted to be on the ranch," explains his dad, Dick, 72.

In fact, so strong was Neal's desire to make ranching his life's career, that as a high school student, he took on extra classes so he could graduate a semester early to be home fulltime for calving.

"That first calving season, it happened to be a nice January and February, with 40 to 50 degree days. Calving was easy, I thought, 'this is great. The next calving season wasn't so warm, but I'm still here,'" says Neal, who graduated from Sturgis High School in 2000.

Although his formal education ended that year, Neal's intake of knowledge and information in regards to improving his and Dick's cattle herd genetics and management is a daily practice.

He reads agriculture publications, takes in seminars and workshops and works closely with local SDSU Extension staff. In 2010, he participated in SDSU Extension's first beefSD class. An intensive three-year program led by livestock experts and innovative South Dakota cattle producers, who provide cattle producers with research-based information on everything from improving genetics and cattle health to feed rations and grazing practices. Through beefSD, Neal was able to collect data on five of his calves - from weaning through the feedlot and on to processing.

"Ranching is just like other careers, there is always more information available to improve things, so I have to work to keep on top of it," he explains. "beefSD opened my eyes to how what is happening here on the ranch will impact what happens down the chain."

Among the management practices which have improved things is hay testing and supplementation. This was one of the topics covered during beefSD that made sense to Dick and Neal. So, today, the men have their hay tested to ensure they are feeding their cows a balanced ration. "We feed supplements as needed based on test results," Dick says.

The men market their calves at weaning, so birth weight and vigor are a large focus of their breeding program.

"We used to wean, feed and then sell," Dick explains. "In this country, we don't raise our own corn. Most of what we grow is to replenish hayground. So, when the calf prices started coming up, and we could make more money selling them right off the cow, without feeding them, that's what we decided to do."

And, according to the feeder/finisher who has been buying the Richter calves several Octobers in a row, they gain and finish well.

"The guy who bought them said 75 percent of them graded choice," Neal says. Although the same buyer bids on their cattle each year, when it comes to marketing their calves, the men are loyal to Ft. Pierre Livestock Auction Inc. "Marketing is a terrible big part of ranching. Even before Neal started ranching with me, I took the calves to Ft. Pierre and I thought they did a good job by me," Dick says.

Neal adds, "They have gotten to know us over the years. They know our brands and they will call us when someone is looking for the type of cattle we raise."

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