While other ranchers are plowing up pasture to be planted as row crops, Daybreak Ranch located north of Highmore, SD, still celebrates wild pastures with native grasses. Owned and operated by Jim and Carol Faulstich, along with their daughter Jackie and son-in-law Adam Roth and their two children, Alexis and Caleb. Daybreak Ranch consists of 8,000 private acres of native grassland, CRP, cropland, wetland sloughs, food plots and tree plantings.
“We are predominantly a cow-calf operation, and we try to be really flexible in our business,” Jim Faulstich said, who adjusts his management protocols based on the year. “Usually, we custom-graze yearling heifers, but last year we had so much grass under water that we didn’t take any custom-graze cattle. And, we didn’t this year with the drought either, but we do have the capability to do so. All of our heifers stay either in our operation or are sold to return customers each year. They enter a breeding program, no matter what. We are also flexible with our weaning plan, too. In the dry summer of 2006, we weaned calves early; the calves were only 60 days old. But, in a good year, we will wait until December or January, depending on the available grass and weather.”
Faulstich cross-fence weans, which is a low-stress method he believes works well.
“The calves are able to drink the same water and eat the same grass they are used to, and we find that we don’t have health issues with the calves later on,” he said. “It’s also a lot cheaper as we don’t have to feed a lot of expensive feed. Once weaned, we keep them on grass for a few weeks, and then we bunk-break them before selling them. We keep these weaning pastures just for that purpose. We have grass available even in a drought year.”
Faulstich admitted that while the drought has put a lot of stress on many cattlemen, he has an excellent drought management plan in place and has plenty of grass and forage available to get through it. CRP is planted with warm-season grasses, so that when it’s released late in a summer drought, the grass has adequate nutrition and growth to be of use. He also pays close attention to the cattle for better management in a drought.
“Each year at calving time, we identify cows based on old age, poor disposition, bad structure, poor performance, and we have a list of those females,” he said. “Calving time is a time when we are very critical because we are able to observe them closely. When we are in a year like this, it’s very easy to identify those cows that need to be culled. We keep the calves and get rid of the big forage consumers.”
The Daybreak Ranch has a commercial cowherd with a Red Angus and South Devon base. A selection of purebred South Devon bulls are available by private treaty each year.
“The South Devon and Red Angus cross is a very desirable English cross,” Faulstich said. “It’s a very complimentary cross as far as carcass quality, mothering ability and fleshing ability goes. They are a grazing breed, which works well for us.”
While Daybreak Ranch is primarily used a commercial cattle and crop operation, the natural habitat is also managed to nurture the wildlife known to the South Dakota Plains – pheasants, sharptail grouse, prairie chickens, hungarian partridge, ducks, coyotes, antelope, fox, whitetail and mule deer. Cattle is his livelihood, but the land is his passion.
“We take pride in the quality of our livestock, but in order to have that quality, you have to have quality natural resources,” he said. “Often times, the importance of preserving natural resources is overlooked. We are seeing that now in the drought with many producers who aren’t prepared. It’s a real pleasure to have a plan, even in a drought year, where we don’t have to stress so much in this drought because we have the resources. With a plan, we are able to use a holistic, cost-effective approach to care for the soil, water, livestock and even family. It’s all important – not just one phase of it. Since we use that approach, I feel a lot friendlier to the environment.”
Daybreak Ranch has been recognized for its efforts to care for the land. In 2010, they were honored with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s Region 7 Environmental Stewardship Award. The South Dakota Cattlemen’s Beef Association also recognized them with the Commercial Beef Producer Improvement Award.
In 2000, as part of the South Dakota Grassland Management and Planning project, the Faulstich family implemented a grazing system on 21 pastures, working with NRCS to install a water system with an above-ground pipeline and tanks and one-wire electric fence. By 2002, all paddocks had access to water via pipeline.
Daybreak Ranch measures everything and keeps records on economics, animal performance, climate, vegetative conditions, wildlife, and water quality. This intensive management program has lead to great success for the Faulstich family. And, it’s because of their attention to detail that another project naturally fell into their lap – hunting.
“We kind of fell into hunting by accident,” Faulstich admitted. “We started using a holistic approach to our management when we realized we were spending too much money and time putting up feed and then feeding it. We were also being hard on the biodiversity of the soil. We try to graze year-round, and obviously the weather doesn’t always allow it, but when you make it your goal, you try to think differently about the way you do things. As we took better care of the land, so we could graze our cattle longer, we in turn, were taking care of the wildlife, too. With so many wildlife around, we decided to turn this into a cash opportunity. In 2000, we opened the ranch up for hunters. We have developed great relationships with folks who appreciate what we do for the land and the wildlife. We also started getting requests for deer hunting, which we opened up in 2008. People really appreciate being able to have a quality hunt on natural habitat, and they can see that ranchers and farmers do care about the land and the environment. It’s a great opportunity to reach out and educate urban folks about the land and how we take care of it.”
In addition to his work on the ranch, Faulstich believes it’s important to be active in the community. For over 30 years, Jim and Carol have been active in conservation issues from local groups such as 4-H Livestock Committee and the Hyde County Weed Board, conservation districts to state and national groups such as the NRCS State Technical Committee, the Conservation Security Program Sub-Committee and the Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative. Jim is currently serving as the South Dakota Grassland Coalition (SDGLC) vice president. He is also a strong supporter of the Leopold Conservation Award.
Without a doubt, Faulstich is leaving a lasting ranching legacy with his strong cattle operation, his preservation of the land’s natural resources and wildlife and his leadership on a local, state, regional and national level. But, all the success in the world is nothing without family, and Faulstich is a family man.
“What is the point of doing this if not for the next generation?” he asked. “My grandson Caleb is only 6 years old, but he is already very interested. He’s got it in him to be the next rancher, but he is going to have to work hard and want it. We do have provisions in our estate plan that will enable him to have the opportunity if he so desires.”
Faulstich took a ranching-for-profit course nearly 30 years ago that he credits for his success. The instructor asked the students to write down their goals and their vision for their ranch.
“It was the 1980s, and I knew we were on the ropes and something had to change,” he said. “At the time, I was kind of disgusted for spending a lot of time and money in a course that seemed kind of elementary, but looking back, it was the best thing I have ever done because it made me look closely at what I was doing. Part of my mission was passing on the ranch to the next generation, so that it was better than it was before. At the time, I didn’t realize I would have the opportunity to bring a son-in-law into the business. It’s been a blessing to have him be a part of it.”
With a lifetime of seasoned wisdom in his backpocket, he offered some advice for other producers, particularly couples just getting started in the business.
“Number one: be involved.” he advised. “Go out and glean the information available on farm tours, in seminars, at conferences or even on the internet. There is value in learning from others and taking those lessons home to your operation. Number two: find mentors. Talk to successful people. SDGLC has a mentor program, where veterans teach others how to better care for the land. Number three: go to the South Dakota Grazing School. I go each year as an instructor; there is real value in listening to people with experience. Number four: don’t forget economics. Don’t over extend yourself. It’s a challenging time to be in the business, but it’s also a rewarding time. It’s probably not for the faint of heart.”
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“We take pride in the quality of our livestock, but in order to have that quality, you have to have quality natural resources. Often times, the importance of preserving natural resources is overlooked. We are seeing that now in the drought with many producers who aren’t prepared. It’s a real pleasure to have a plan, even in a drought year, where we don’t have to stress so much in this drought because we have the resources.”