Ice cleats provide traction on iced-over yards and like those cleats, the Weiszhaar family of Leola, S.D. digs in to handle what Mother Nature throws their way. Family members have built miles of fences, planted acres of trees and cared for thousands of animals. Their heritage in this rugged, rocky land of northern South Dakota has shown them that there is never a shortage of opportunities for them and future generations.
Three generations involved in the operation employ techniques to produce top production from their animals. While riding in a John Deere Gator to see the Weiszhaar ranch, the satisfaction that comes from hard work comes through in the words of Wade Weiszhaar.
“Ranching is more than just turning out cattle to graze and closing the gate,” Weiszhaar says. “It is part science through the use of the latest technology in vaccines to help cattle remain healthy. Ioniphores and total mixed rations achieve maximum gain. There are new ways to harvest grass through mob grazing, rotational grazing and cover crops which help ensure profitability. Having cattle available to market at various weights and at different times of the year helps with flexibility.”
Careful summer grazing strategies maximize profitability of the various livestock enterprises. In the winter, each day begins with feeding silage, earlage and hay to the Black Angus animals in lots on the home place. The feed is all grown on the ranch. Grandpa LeRoy picks up bales with a tractor while Wade’s son Brady runs the bale shredder. When the machine jams, Brady, LeRoy and Wade confer wordlessly to sort out a solution and get the most important job of day done: caring for the cattle.
The ranch runs 550 head of commercial Angus cow/calf pairs. The backgrounding operation feeds home raised steer calves to 850 lbs. and sends them to a custom feed yard in Ainsworth Neb., to feed them to slaughter weight at 1,600 lbs. Labels show the meat is non-hormone treated beef and shipped to the European Union or sold in the United States. Each year, replacement heifers join the cow herd for breeding.
The family purchases 1,750 head of commercial Angus heifers each year for its yearling grass operation. The heifers graze the native pastures on the ranch following a rotational grazing plan which helps the animals get the best possible gains. These yearlings are marketed during the fall through the local auction barns with a certain percent of the animals hedged with the Chicago Mercantile Exchange to help guarantee profitability. Some are sold to the Demkota facility in Aberdeen.
Beginning of a Legacy
The legacy began when LeRoy and Joan Weiszhaar married in 1956. They farmed with LeRoy’s dad for several years, leasing from, and working for, E.C. Rhodes. In 1968 they bought their own place, the site of today’s ranch.
The Weiszhaars raised four children on the ranch: Wade and wife Judy; Kent and wife Deb; Pam; and Kristi and husband Dan; nine grandchildren: Chad and wife Tiffany; Heidi and husband Mitch; Brady and wife Katie; Wendi and husband Troy; Heather, Natalie, Nicole, Andrew and Aaron; as well as 10 great-grandchildren: Tucker, Teagan, Devan, Landon, Ashlyn, Kaden, Justice, Fenway, Lennon and one on the way. Last fall, the family was honored as the Farm Family of the Year at the Aberdeen Chamber Ag Banquet.
Taking interest in working with his dad in the operation, Wade attended Lake Area Tech in Watertown for production agriculture. He married Judy, and their two sons, Chad and Brady, are working with them on the family ranch. Judy is a preschool teacher in Leola. Chad and Tiffany’s children will be the fourth generation on the ranch.
In 2010, the family put up a 70 ft. by 170 ft. fixed-side hoop barn they use for working cattle. Wade likes the lighting in the hoop structure which minimizes shadows. Each week, October through April, they purchase about 100-200 head from area sale barns.
“We give shots and deworm about 80 to 100 animals an hour in the barn,” Brady says. “We use the barn for processing and calving. In the cold winter months, I want the syringes half-way warm. It also works well for branding. The roof peak is 33 feet high which helps with ventilation; there are also louvers and fans to help with air exchange.” Before heading out to grass, the family hot brands each animal on the left rib with “LJBar” which stands for LeRoy and Joan.
Wade said they practice gentle handling, and take care that they don’t abuse, bang or hit the animals. There are nine horses that help move the cattle from pen to pen and are great assets when sorting. The family is happy to host tours on the ranch for fellow farmers, ranchers and wildlife groups.
Brady, says, “It’s great to be your own boss but we do answer to each other.” Wade jokes that often it’s a “father knows best, son knows better,” discussion.
The workload is determined by the interests of the men. Brady is the crops guy, planning out how to handle the 2,500 acres planted and harvested for feed. And he’s the unofficial banker. Chad focuses on animal health and pen checking. Calving starts March 20 for the heifers and April 1st for the cows. Geothermal tanks allow the animals to drink from two flowing artesian wells 1,700 ft. deep. Wade says the water circulates at 75 degrees and the tanks stay ice-free through cold temperatures.
Brady shares, “We all lean on Grandpa LeRoy for his expertise. At 85, he loves the sound of a motor in his ears. He puts in most of the crop with the 535 hp tractor, using auto steer. He certainly has seen tremendous changes in the industry, moving from plowing everything to using 90 ft. corn planters.”
Wade focuses on marketing. “We want to be optimistic about the cattle market; we know there will be ups and downs in months to come. Right now we have much less in the cattle we purchased than we did last year. There is some money to be made but it’s a challenge. We use the Board of Trade and options with about 70 to 80 percent hedged. We work with a lot of zeros and we can get in trouble if we’re not paying attention.”
“Whether it’s finishing or backgrounding, we have to be flexible,” Wade says. “This is a great place to raise a family and instill a great work ethic. We never worry about what we’re going to do. We may lose some sleep over commodity prices and we know the risks that are out there. We’re ready to handle whatever comes our way.”
Connie Sieh Groop is a freelance ag journalist. If you have any suggestions for ag stories, email her at email@example.com.