Wedge Tent Ranch Growing more grass in South Dakota
Published on Jan. 18, 2020
Ranching has been a lifelong passion for Bart Carmichael, who started leasing his grandparents’ place near Faith, S.D. as a junior in high school.
“They wanted to sell out, and I wanted to ranch. I leased it month by month for two years, then signed a five-year lease in 1992. Three years into that lease, Shannon and I got married. We realized payments to buy the place weren’t much more than the lease payments, so in 1996 we made a purchase deal,” he says.
The ranch was mostly pasture – a commercial cow/calf operation, with a little hay ground.
“When we started, it was four big pastures. After Shannon and I got married, the first thing we did was start dividing those pastures,” he says.
In 2012, they had a serious drought and decided to put the whole herd together and do more rotations, using 40-acre pieces with temporary electric fence.
“Our oldest son Kenny kept busy that summer moving and building fences. It helped stretch our pasture,” he explains.
They decided they needed more permanent fences to make it easier to divide pastures with temporary hot wires.
“Every week we were building about a mile and a half of fence,” he says.
The rotational grazing extended their grazing season and there are not many days they have to feed hay.
“We’ve never gotten by without feeding any hay,” he says. “The best was 33 days of feeding. This last year we had more snow and had to feed for 90 days. One year we had to start feeding Dec. 6, but by the first of February, we were grazing again and were able to graze all the way through.”
After a few years with commercial cattle, Bart and Shannon started raising registered Black Angus.
“Our initial goal was to raise good replacement heifers, but we also kept bull calves for our own use. It grew from there,” says Bart. “Some of the neighbors started buying a few bulls. We sold bulls private treaty for four years, then started having a public sale in 2005 at the sale facility in Faith, S.D.”
Their sale is always the last Wednesday in April.
“We sell yearling bulls and two-year-olds. Some folks prefer yearlings and others want older bulls. We moved our calving season a little later, and now it’s harder to have yearling bulls old enough for the sale,” says Bart. “But, most of our customers calve late spring like we do, so it’s not a problem for them. They aren’t breeding cows until July or August.”
“People don’t buy our bulls to have the biggest calves, they want our bulls because they sire good heifers that make the best cows,” says Bart. “Maternal traits are most important to us. Producers have to start with a good cow, then everything else falls into place.”
The cattle are grazed rotationally and are easy to move. The biggest chore is in July, breeding them AI.
“We synchronize and breed every female,” he says.
Bart has always been interested in grass and grazing. He went to the Ranching for Profit school in 2014 and again in December 2018, where he and Shannon went together. “Now, we’re in the follow-up program, Executive Link, with continuing education. It’s been an evolving process and a gradual change. One idea leads to another,” says Bart.
“This is how our grazing management evolved. All our pastures were fenced into half sections, and the cattle were grazing more uniformly and it worked,” Bart explains. “Then about two years later, we noticed the cattle were spot grazing again, so we broke those pastures up into smaller pieces.”
“Every time we’d do that we’d see a benefit. We didn’t just suddenly divide everything down into seven acres a day, it was gradual. Smaller pieces gave everything else more recovery time. Once we leave a spot, it’s 14 to 16 months before the cattle come back to it again,” he says.
All forage species have a chance to mature and go to seed. This has made a huge difference in forage quantity and quality. The long rest and recovery on rotated pastures has allowed some of the missing native plants to come back. One plant that appeared last fall, that he hadn’t seen before, is winterfat.
The important thing is to try to work with nature rather than against her.
“This includes our new calving season. That has been an ongoing process in itself. When I was in high school, I took every ag class available,” says Bart. “The teachers were telling us to not do things the way grandpa did it.”
“So, I was going to show my grandpa how to get it done the modern way. He calved the middle of April. The first year I was here we started calving on the first of March and we kept moving them earlier,” says Bart. “But now everything calves the end of April.”
“At that time of year, the weather is less likely to be really cold. Now that we calve later, all our calves are in the perfect shed during those storms, they are still inside their mother,” he says.
There is no perfect season for calving, however.
“We AI every cow, using heat synchronization, so the calves come in a short time,” he says. “During one spring storm in April we had 62 calves born in a three-day period. My youngest son was 18 and helping me that year and we worked our tails off, we had to get those new calves in out of the weather.”
He continued, “We had 22 new calves in 11 hours and my son and I were in the barn and really tired, and I asked him what time of year he’d prefer to calve – since some of these cows were his.”
“He said, ‘Dad, I signed a rodeo scholarship, and I’ll be gone every weekend in April. I won’t be here next year,’” Bart says.
It’s hard to find a calving season that works in every aspect. If we calve later, the cows are being bred later, sometimes during really hot weather, we have to wean later. It makes a difference in when you sell those calves; changing one thing affects everything else.
Bart says it’s important to have efficient cattle that can perform well without a lot of expensive inputs.
“I read something focused on increasing profit and it talked about increasing income by 20 percent. My focus has always been more on how I can decrease cost by 20 percent,” he says.
Bart and Shannon have four grown children. Their youngest son just graduated from high school and is going to Dickenson State College.
“They wanted to do things here on the ranch, but I told them they had to leave home first for a while and get more experience, to find out what they really want to do,” says Bart.
“I always said they would learn two things: One being they were right and Dad doesn’t know everything and two being Dad is not nearly as dumb as they thought,” he says. “They will have a much broader understanding of many things.”
Shannon teaches in Faith School District. Bart is a crop adjuster for Non-insured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) with Farm Service Agency (FSA). NAP provides financial assistance to producers of non-insurable crops when low yields, loss of inventory or prevented planting occur due to natural disasters.
“In drought situations this becomes a full-time job. I started this job in 2002, and I enjoy getting out and meeting people. All I do is forage rather than other crops, and I have enjoyed doing this job,” he says.
“Here on our own operation we’re always trying to think how to make things better and how to plan for the next generation,” he says. “With four kids, we need to figure out how that works and not wait until the last minute. It seems like many folks in the generations before us had trouble passing the farm to the next in line.”
“People have told us their dad won’t let go, or their grandpa won’t let go. We’ve been blessed that we were able to get a start so we want to be prepared to pass this on to our kids or grandkids,” says Bart.
For more information visit wedgetentranch.com.Heather Smith-Thomas is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.