Something inside 29-year-old Dustin Burggraff told him to go west.
Growing up on a mostly hog and crop operation north of Sioux Falls, S.D., Burggraff always felt he was more of a cowboy. The feeling stayed with him when he was studying diesel technology at North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton, N.D.
When he was a semester away from graduating, he found a helped wanted ad in the paper for help at Thorstenson Gelbvieh & Angus in Selby, S.D. While he told them he could not start until he finished his degree that May, they were fine with waiting for him.
“Selby is a very good fit. They are very strong Christian people. I was telling someone the other day I can count on one hand the amount of Sundays I’ve worked for him other than feeding cows,” he says.
Burggraff started with Thorstensons in May of 2007, got married to his wife, Lynn, in August 2007 and stayed with Thorstensons through January 2015. At that time, he was doing a lot of the farming for the operation.
“That wasn’t my interest. My interest was in cattle and genetics and developing things that are going to work,” he says. “This is a registered herd so we sell seedstock and I was more interested in developing things that were going to work for the commercial cattleman.”
After visiting with the Thorstensons, Burggraff decided in 2015 it was time to look at something different so he moved to a ranch in Wyoming to care for the cattle of an out-of-state owner.
In December 2015, he got a call from Thorstensons asking him to come back to take care of the cattle at their Mound City, S.D., ranch. After a few months of thinking about it, Burggraff decided to come back to South Dakota. They moved back in July.
“It was a long time in the making. We had to make sure everything was right and it was what we wanted to do as a family, where we wanted to go,” Burggraff says. “Even though I left this place, my heart was still with this cow herd here and we felt that it was a good fit to come back. We felt led to come back so we did.”
Burggraff and his wife, Lynn, have four boys - Wyatt, 8; Ty, 5; Tate, 2; and Hayes, 1. Burggraff feels Wyatt is his right hand man. With that in mind, they decided to home school their children when they moved back because the nearest school meant a long bus ride before and after school, which meant Wyatt was gone for more than 10 hours a day.
He feels the home schooling is going well and fits well with their lifestyle.
“He can be done with his schooling by noon and out helping dad,” he says.
Faith and family are big parts of his life.
“Family time is very important, which is at the forefront of my life right now,” he says.
Moving back to the area felt like he was coming home. He feels connected to the people in the area.
“I believe that we grow up and get married and we’re supposed to leave our father and mother and cling to our wife and children and this is where Lynn and I have made home. I’m not saying that we’ll never leave the area again, but it would take a lot to get me away from here because being away from here for that year and a half really made me realize how lucky we are,” he says.
While in Wyoming, Burggraff had the opportunity to take part in the Wyoming Leadership Education and Development (LEAD) class. During his time in the class, he traveled to many parts of Wyoming, Washington, D.C., and South Africa.
While participating in Wyoming LEAD may not have necessarily helped his bottom line, it did show him the bigger picture and encouraged participants to get involved in their communities, state or nationally. He also learned how to talk calmly with others with differing viewpoints.
“I’m glad I did it because it’s taught me how to maybe diplomatically get my point across rather than getting in a heated argument with somebody and that it’s OK to disagree with somebody and still be a united front,” he says.
Now that he is back in South Dakota, Burggraff is putting his love for cattle ranching to work. He looks forward to running the herd in Mound City more efficiently and building it up.
“I’m all about efficiency and making the best of your time. I think that’s doable with myself and as the kids get older I’d like them to be involved,” he says.