By Lura Roti, South Dakota Farmers Union
Shadowing an engineer for a few days his sophomore year of college was all the exposure Scott Kolousek needed to realize he would be happier building a career on his family’s Wessington Springs cattle and crop farm.
“That experience saved me a lot of time pursuing the wrong degree. I quickly figured out that I didn’t want an office job, so I switched degrees and graduated with a General Agriculture degree from South Dakota State University,” says the fifth generation farmer.
His dad, Dick, also an SDSU graduate, can relate. In 1976, he returned to farm with his dad, Pete, and brother, Raymond. “I enjoy the independence farming provides. I’m able to make my own decisions, work in the fresh air and watch crops and calves grow – this has been a good career for me – so much better than an office job.”
In 2000, Dick’s father passed away, and in 2002, brain cancer took Raymond, leaving Dick to buy out Raymond’s wife’s shares in the family farm corporation and take over farming on his own with Scott’s help. In 2010, Dick and his wife, Janet, and Scott and his wife, Amber, formed a new family farm corporation.
“It’s been wonderful having Scott and Amber join our family farm. If we don’t have smart, hard-working young people come back to our communities, there really isn’t any hope to sustain them,'” recalls Scott’s mom, Janet.
Today, the Kolouseks operate a 600-head Angus/Hereford cow/calf herd and backgrounding operation. The family utilizes intensive grazing to manage 5,700 acres of rangeland. They raise oats, winter wheat, alfalfa and grass hay on an additional 1,300 acres of farmland, and do some custom farming and hay moving to supplement their machinery budget.
In addition to calves and crops, the Kolousek farm has seen 20 miles of new fenceline over the last 10 years.
Each spring since 2005, Dick and Scott have installed an additional 2 miles of fence to break up their seasonal pastureland and allow for intensive grazing.
“For the last five years we’ve run our herd on a strict rotational grazing system – only once through each pasture – and they are never on a pasture for more than three weeks,” explains Scott, 39, who raises cattle and crops with his dad, Dick, on the family farm near Wessington Springs.
The men worked with Game, Fish & Parks, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Range Specialists to design their take half/leave half intensive grazing program. These programs also helped fund the installation of 9 miles of pipeline so each new pasture has access to well or rural water. “No relying on dams or dugouts anymore,” Scott says of the 41 tire tanks which provide water to the 47 pastures.
Although it took a large investment of time, labor and money to convert the 7,000 acres of open rangeland into 47 pastures, their efforts paid off. “During the bad drought in 2012, we didn’t have to sell any cows or buy any hay – and the pastures came out above average,” Scott says, adding that they are a bit concerned about available moisture this summer.
“We planned ahead and sold about 20 percent of our herd in February and March. We thought we’d sell them while the prices were high – I’m glad we did because prices are already on their way down,” he says.
In addition to grazing, the family raises all their own feedstuffs. Scott’s sons, Isaac, 13, and Jacob, 11, help put up about 3,000 bales of hay each summer; they raise alfalfa and feed about one-third of the corn they raise. The family markets the oats and wheat they harvest.
Intensive grazing isn’t the only change Dick has seen the five-generations-old farm undergo since Scott returned to the farm. A while back, Scott brought up the idea of introducing Hereford genetics into their Black Angus herd. “At the time we weren’t happy with our current breeding program, so we thought we’d try cross breeding. Scott did the leg work and it has really paid off,” Dick says.
He adds that partnering with his son has been a fairly easy transition. “I don’t just say ‘yes’ to all his ideas. I like to make him think about them for a bit – however, several of the things we are doing today were his idea,'” says Dick, who also has two grown daughters who are not involved in the farm, Laura Kolousek and Leah Richter. “I hope one of Scott’s kids takes over one day so this family farm can continue into the future.”
Crossbreeding has improved their herd’s overall performance and the calm disposition of the Hereford bulls has made working cattle a more family-friendly experience. “I’m amazed by how calm they are,” Scott says. “When I start working the bulls, I can run 30 into the yard, walk in on foot and use a sorting stick to move them.”
“Before, I remember when we were working the bulls, we didn’t dare get off our horses in the pen,” adds Amber, who owns her own website management business and also works from home for a title company. “I enjoy the flexibility it provides. Because it’s just Scott and Dick, when they need an extra hand, I am here to help.”
When the Kolouseks began crossbreeding, they also pushed their calving start-date back to the end of April – to give the weather a chance to warm up and the grass an opportunity to green up.
As they look to the future of their family’s farm, the Kolouseks have a lot to think about. Scott and Amber have four children: Isaac, Jacob, Abby, 9, and Ella, 6. However, they aren’t interested in expanding. “We want to maximize our efficiencies,” says Scott. “By managing our pasture resources better, we’re able to run more cattle and even in drought years, the grass is healthier.”
In addition to investing in their on-farm resources, the couples spend time giving back. Amber is a member of the Wessington Springs District School Board and Scott serves on their church Finance Council. Dick also served several years on the school board and has served 20-plus years on the Soil Conservation Board. Janet works full-time off the farm and volunteers time to church and community organizations.
As a family, the Kolouseks are active members of Farmers Union. In 2014 Scott and Amber attended the National Farmers Union D.C. Fly-In and in 2015 Dick and Janet participated in the National Farmers Union D.C. COOL Fly-In to encourage Congressional leaders to keep Country of Origin Labeling as a federal law.
“We are big believers in organizations like Farmers Union who support family farmers like us,” Scott says. “This farm has been in our family since 1905 and we hope it remains a part of our family for another hundred-plus years.”