Diverse operation Bar 69 Angus offers more than just high-quality cattle
Published on Jan. 18, 2020
Deb and Craig Kukuchka, owners and operators of Bar 69 Angus, are both fifth generation cattle ranchers. In fact, Craig grew up raising Herefords in Dayton, and Deb spent her younger years on her family’s Angus operation.
Craig ended up buying bulls from Deb’s father, Bob Sitz, which is where their story begins.
“Craig and I met at my dad’s bull sale, and as the saying goes, the rest is history,” Deb laughs. “After Craig and I were married, we learned to artificially inseminate (AI) and started raising a registered Angus herd.”
Deb notes, to this day, over 90 percent of their herd traces back to her two
In 1988, the Kukuchka’s moved from Montana to Belle Fourche, S.D. and leased a ranch 25 miles north of Belle Fourche. In 1993, they purchased this ranch, and the where the Bar 69 Angus headquarters now sitson the Belle Fourche River between Belle Fourche and Newell, S.D.
“When we moved here we realized we really liked this area. It’s such a friendly ranching and farming community. It’s also a big advantage to have the three sale barns, the wool warehouse and all the businesses supporting agriculture nearby, so we decided it would be a good place to settle down,” Deb says.
This is where Deb and Craig raised their family, which includes their son Chase, his wife, Ashton and their daughters, Ellie and Cora, their daughter Callie, their daughter Chelsey, her husband, Michael and their children, Hanna and Jackson and their son, Tyler, and his son, Trey.
“Callie just graduated from South Dakota State University, and she is back on the ranch. Chase and his family are also back on the ranch,” says Deb. “Chelsey and her family live in Raleigh, N.C., and Tyler and Trey live in Sheridan.”
The exchange program
Besides the help of the family, the Kukuchkas have also been involved with a student agricultural exchange program for many years. The program sends over young people, ages 18 to 28, from other countries to gain experience in agriculture in the U.S.
Deb explains the family became involved in the program because of her sister.
“Back then, my sister ran a bed and breakfast, and she started getting trainees to help her,” explains Deb. “She ended up talking me into it, and we hosted our first trainee in 1991.”
“Finding labor can be tough. It is so hard to find people who want to work as hard as we have to work on our ranch,” Deb adds. “But these young people come over, and they want to learn and they want to work.”
Over the years, Bar 69 Angus has housed nearly 40 trainees from all over the world, including Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
“They usually come over at the end of February through the first of November, so they get a pretty good feel for most of the cycle here on the ranch,” Deb explains. “They see shearing, lambing, calving, AI, vaccinating and shipping. They also get to do a lot of riding because we do almost everything in the saddle. They really learn a lot.”
While their trainees have the opportunity to learn about the ranch, Deb notes the Kukuchas have the opportunity to learn about the world.
“It is not only a good experience for the students, it has also been a good experience for us,” Deb says. “After spending time and visiting with these kids, we learn so much about the world and realize how blessed we are.”
The Angus operation
Presently, the Kukuchkas run about 300 registered Angus cows.
“Our goal is to raise cattle consistent and sound in all traits,” the Kukuchka family notes. “We know what it takes to make cows work in our environment, which is very similar to the commercial cattleman’s environment. This gives us insight into our customers’ needs.”
Bar 69 Angus strives for easy keeping cows with good dispositions, according to Deb.
“We do all of our sorting, gathering and working horseback, so our cattle are really easy to work with and be around,” she says. “Nobody has time to put up with cattle with poor dispositions.”
“Our pasture ground is north of Belle Fourche and half of it is Bureau of Land Management (BLM) ground,” she adds. “The environment we run on is native grass with rough draws, deep creeks and sagebrush.”
“We bring the cattle home before calving then take them right back out to pasture post-calving, when the weather permits,” says Deb.
The operation’s cows are AI’d through natural heat detection for three weeks, after which bulls are turned out and then pulled at the end of 45 days. Their heifers start calving at the beginning of February, and their cows start calving at the beginning of March.
In the fall, the calves are preconditioned, pasture weaned and then brought home to be fed on home-grown feed consisting of corn silage, oats and hay. The commercial steer calves and one-third of the heifer calves are sold on Superior in the fall.
“Fifty of our heifers are sold through our annual production sale and the rest are kept for replacements,” explains Deb.
She also notes they market their bulls through their annual bull sale. This year the sale will take place on April 2 at Belle Fourche Livestock in Belle Fourche, S.D. and marks the family’s 32nd annual sale.
The sheep operation
On top of their Angus operation, the Kukuchka family runs nearly 1,000 head of Targhee ewes.
“When we first started out, we were just a young couple trying to make payments,” says Deb. “I used to be a vocational ag teacher, and I started talking to one of my students who ran a lot of sheep. We figured out we could run more animal unit months (AUMs) with sheep and cattle, and we are better able to utilize pasture because the sheep eat weeds and forbs while the cattle eat the grass.”
After deciding sheep would be a good fit on their operation, Deb, Craig and Craig’s father headed to Wyoming to buy some Targhee ewes.
“We didn’t know a thing about sheep, but Craig’s dad knew a little, so we took him with us,” laughs Deb. “We bought some ‘open’ ewes that ended up lambing in February.”
“We had one open faced shed, nothing else we probably needed, so we hung some tarps and learned all about sheep and lambing very quickly,” she continues.
Deb explains they decided to raise Targhees because they are a dual-purpose breed.
“Our Targhees have really fine wool. We sell our wool at Center of the Nation Wool and it all goes out to export. Our lambs sell at Newell Sheep Yards, with the ewe lambs in demand as replacements,” Deb says. “We are blessed to be able to work together as family and provide profitable genetics for both our Angus and sheep customers.”
Please visit bar69angus.com for more information.
Hannah Bugas is the assistant editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org