First-generation ranchers plant roots in eastern South Dakota
The average age of the U.S. farmer or rancher is 58 years old and climbing, according to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service’s most recent Ag Census.
In contrast, millennials (ages 18-34) are now the largest sector of the population in the U.S., exceeding 79 million people, yet this demographic operates less than one-quarter of the nation’s farms and ranches.
Considering the up-front capital and monumental risks that a career in production agriculture requires, it’s becoming more rare to hear about new young producers entering this business, much less first-generation ranchers like Tate and Calli Williams.
While many millennial ranchers have been grandfathered in with previous generations giving the next in line a step up, the Williams — who own and operate TW Angus in Mitchell, S.D. — are getting their start in the cattle business on their own.
“Instead of going to college and playing football, I chose to buy cattle,” said Williams, who graduated from high school in 2010 and started expanding his Angus cowherd shortly after.
Growing up on Lake Mitchell, Williams spent his youth playing sports, but in high school, he took a summer job working for family friend, Gary Bussmus, on his Angus ranch. He loved working outside, being around cattle, and his passion for the industry began to grow.
“Gary figured since I was out there working all the time, I should invest in a few head of my own, so I bought my first three cows from Bussmus Angus in 2010, and Gary let me run them with his herd.”
Tate’s years at Bussmus Angus taught him the basics of cattle handling and ranch management. He later expanded his knowledge of the industry working for Graesser Brothers Angus and Dan Forgey in Dallas, S.D.
“In 2011, I helped Graessers with their production sale, and I ended up staying to help through calving season,” said Williams. “Then in 2012, I purchased some pairs from TK Angus in Gordon, Nebraska and another group of yearling heifers from Forgey and ran them down in Dallas with Dan’s herd. These Angus females have become the foundation of the herd, and I couldn’t have gotten my start without these guys.”
When he wasn’t working in Dallas, Williams was spending his time back in Mitchell, working for his dad’s company, Williams Masonry.
“I continued to run pairs in Dallas until 2014, and I moved them all back to Mitchell in the spring of 2015, renting a pasture from the Bussmus family and from Andy Scott in Storla,” said Williams. “My dad used to joke that I had the largest cattle herd in the state with no place of my own to put them!”
As Williams’ herd grew, so did his need to find a place to call home. Opportunity came knocking in 2015 when family friend, Charlie Bailey, decided to move to town and sell his hog farm located on the north side of Mitchell.
Not only did he find a place to call home, but he also found someone to share his ranch life with.
“Tate proposed to me in December 2015 in Colorado, and when we got home from the trip, we finalized paperwork to purchase the farm,” said Tate’s wife, Calli Williams.
A South Dakota State Fair romance had blossomed the year prior in 2014 when Tate approached Calli to show his heifer for him in the Angus show.
“I grew up showing cattle, and by far, the highlight of my college years was my two internships with Certified Angus Beef in Ohio,” said Calli, who works at Fischer Rounds and Associates in Mitchell. “I was working in Brookings at a boutique and managing the South Dakota Beef Ambassador Program, and I was looking for my next step in life. I knew I wanted to stay involved in the beef industry, and when I met Tate and realized he was as passionate about the cattle business as I was, I realized we were a great match.”
With wedding and ranch expansion plans in full swing, Calli worked hard to utilize her passion for the beef industry in her career selling insurance. Initially working in health and life insurance, she approached her bosses at Fischer Rounds about expanding her focus to livestock insurance.
“My boss always says when I talk about cattle, I just light up, so having the opportunity to sell bull mortality insurance at sales allows me to be on the road and working in an area that I’m really passionate about,” said Calli, of her job.
The couple married in October 2016, and since then, have been juggling their full-time jobs with their responsibilities on the ranch.
“I’m fortunate that the construction business is slow during the winter time; it allows me to be home to calve out my cows,” said Tate. “My dad has been really great about helping us, as well. He’s really enjoying our life on the farm, too.”
Taking advantage of low market prices, expansion has been a top priority, along with improving genetics for a solid herd foundation.
“We received a heifer from Hugh Ingalls as a wedding present, and this fall, we purchased seven more bred heifers at the Ingalls Centennial Angus Ranch sale,” said Calli.
“Now that we have enough cows for the acreage we have available, we are working to get the herd in a tight 45-day calving window and continue to improve on the good foundation of cows that we currently have,” added Tate. “We’re culling the poorer producing females and using the low markets as an opportunity to replace with higher-quality bred heifers.”
Starting from scratch has its challenges, however. Utilizing FSA loans to purchase the land and cattle has allowed them invest at low interest rates. Meanwhile, innovation, creativity and a lot of elbow grease has been the key in improving facilities, obtaining equipment and building a business they can both be proud of.
“We don’t have dad and grandpa down the road who have been doing this forever to lean on,” said Calli. “What we have, we’ve built from the ground up, and we’re really proud of what we’ve accomplished so far.”
With a goal of growing and expanding their seedstock business, the millennial ranchers have a social media presence with a Facebook page, TW Angus. As first-generation producers, the Williams are placing a big emphasis on building their network and gaining name recognition in a competitive industry of well-established seedstock producers.
“We need more young people in this business because once the older generation of ranchers retires, whose going to still be around to raise cattle and do business with?” asked Tate. “Our goal for TW Angus is to breed cattle that are structurally sound, with balanced EPDs, good feet and style, and we plan to start attending more shows to get our name out there.”
TW Angus continues to market their bulls at Graesser and Forgey’s annual production sale March 18 in Dallas, but they also have bulls available for sale by private treaty.
Managing two off-farm jobs, the Williams are hustling to achieve their goals in the cattle business, and the extra income certainly helps them expand and grow. However, it’s their passion and commitment to the beef cattle industry that truly fuels their fire and has allowed their dreams to become reality.
“I know nothing in this business comes easy, and if we want to make this operation the best it can be, we’ve got to be around to put in the work,” said Tate.
“At the end of the day, we look at what we’ve built so far in this place of our own, and we are proud of what we’ve achieved and excited about the future,” added Calli.
For more information on TW Angus, find them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TW-Angus-1749710365267104/.