A head start | TSLN.com

A head start

Laura Nelson

It wasn't an unusual visit.

The Wosepka family had bought Hereford bulls from Lester Longwood before. So when Alan Wosepka, his son-in-law Destrey Northrop, granddaughter Isabelle Northrop and mutual friend showed up at the Lemmon, South Dakota ranch to look at bulls for private treaty purchase, Longwood didn't think anything of it.

The unusual surprise came later, when Longwood received a phone call from the Sentinel Butte, North Dakota family. While Wosepka and crew had been there before, it was then-11-year-old Isabelle who had business to do with Longwood.

"She was very intent on her business," Longwood said, remembering that he noticed young Isabelle studying the bulls and their data while they visited. "She was quite aware of what she was seeing and what she was looking for, but she didn't really let on to me that she was personally interested in buying anything."

But, then a check arrived in the mail from Isabelle's personal account, and her first bull calf would soon be delivered to the enterprising young rancher.

"We were very honored," Longwood said, to be a part of a young start in the cattle business. "It's a bright spot to see someone with a positive attitude and with parents and family that are willing to encourage that."

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The Hereford bull calf would be one of Isabelle's first to be branded with the Turkey Track brand under her name.

"I really enjoy getting to brand my calves and put my own brand on them now," Isabelle said. "That's pretty cool, and it's been in our family for a long time."

The brand – on the rib, facing forward – has been in the family for decades, previously belonging to her grandparents, Alan and Carolyn Wosetka. The couple has passed more on to their grandchildren than the distinctive single-iron brand.

Last year, they set up a lease agreement with Isabelle and her siblings Cade, 10, and Nyxie, 6, to disperse the final bit of their herd and get the next generation started. A few years before, they had sold the bulk of their herd to another grandchild. Daughter Amy and her husband Destrey are now in the process of purchasing the ranch from her folks, and with 20 cows left, it was the Northrop kids' turn to get into the family business.

"They gave my kids a pretty darn good deal for a way for them to start," Amy said. With that little boost from grandma and grandpa, the rest is up to the kids – because while the cattle business is a family affair here, it's still a business. That's an important lesson Amy and Destrey hope to teach their kids as they get their start.

With a herd of eight pairs and four yearling heifers now, Isabelle runs the checkbook and accounts for vet bills, preg-checking, brand inspection fees and any other costs associated with her cattle. Cade and Nyxie don't have their own accounts yet, so Isabelle double-times as banker for the younger siblings, too.

"It's all their responsibility," Amy said. "They're learning and taking care of business. It's important to understand the whole picture if they want to be in ranching."


Isabelle took her bull calf to the county fair as a yearling this year, bringing home grand champion in the breeding classes with the bull and one of her heifer calves. The breeding classes don't get much participation any more – it's uncommon for a youngster to have a herd started.

But, it's the only way of life the Northrop family can imagine.

Her grandfather founded the ranch Amy and her family live and work on today, and she, Destrey and the kids live just a half a mile down the road from where she was raised and her parents still live. As the youngest of three girls, Amy got an early start in the family business, too. When she was Isabelle's age, she, too got her start with Bobby the bum calf. Later, as a teenager, she applied for a grant through the National FFA Organization to purchase her first registered Hereford heifer. She couldn't imagine any other life for her family.

"My dad never, never limited us. He never had boys, but he never acted like it," she said. "We could do anything we wanted to do. He never once said, 'No, you can't handle it, you're not tough enough.' I tell my kids that now, too – don't let anyone limit you."

That's not a worry for Isabelle.

The seventh grader is also involved in volleyball, loves hanging out with her friends and works hard at school, but her main interest remains on the ranch. She's saving up for a roping horse, and just got her own colt to work with and train.

"It's going to be a lot of work, but I think I'll be able to work with him a lot," Isabelle said. She figures she'll train horses along with ranching as a future career.

She also got grandma's baking knack for homemade buns – "That skipped a generation," Amy laughs. But that's about the only thing that did.


Like her mom and dad years ago, Amy and Destrey have a darn good crew, developing their ranch skills every day.

"I like helping my dad, and when we ride in the pasture – he's teaching me how to rope. I like calving season, and checking cows when he's working at the sale barn," Isabelle said.

They pulled bulls recently, where they learned patience and the value of stockmanship – "Don't push them, don't move too fast. They'll quit on you and start fighting," Isabelle explained.

"Isabelle has always been my husband's right hand man," Amy added. "Cade's getting to the age now where he can help out more, too."

Cade, too is learning and growing in the business. He loves branding season – last year was his first with his own brand, too. Cade's turkey track brand faces down, and Nyxie shares with big sister for now.

"I just like having cows. I wrestle sometimes, and sometimes I ear notch," he said. "My dad taught me – I got to sit in his lap and he taught me how to wrestle them and hold on."

And for now, Nyxie is along for the ride.

"I like to ride horses and play in the shop," the six-year-old said. She giggled – "I just like to go fast!"

And of course, the students soon become teachers on the ranch, too.

"When Nyxie's riding with us, I have to tell her to slow down, not to push them so they don't get too tired or start to fight," Isabelle explains.

She's passing her passion for agriculture on to friends, too – "One of my friends just bought some Hereford heifers from us so she could start her own, too."

Amy has plenty she and Destrey hope to pass on, too, with the examples set by past generations.

"My parents have been really great about helping the kids get started," Amy said. "Someday, I hope my husband and I get to do that for our grandkids."

That's the kind of hope for tomorrow Les Longwood saw in the bright young lady buying her first Hereford bull that day, too. After 20-some years selling bulls and many more in the cattle business, a private treaty deal directly with an 11-year-old was a first for Longwood, but he hoped it isn't the last.

For youngsters interested and passionate about the cattle business, he wished them the best– "If that's where their heart is – I say, go for it."