Hamilton Farms bring international flare to community
“You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” said Scott Hamilton, a featured speaker at SDSU Extension’s “Cattle Marketing: An Explorative Approach” meeting held in June 2012.
Hamilton’s family owns and operates Hamilton Farms near Hitchcock, SD. Scott, wife Paula and children Nicole, April, Grant and Kyle; along with Scott’s brother Jeff, and wife Suzanne, their children John, Mark and Kate; and Scott and Jeff’s parents Herb and Alice are all active members on the ranch, which includes a 1,100-head cowherd and a 2,000-head capacity feedlot. The family also raises row crops and hay.
“I’m different from everyone around me who is plowing up grass for crops; I just keep buying more cows,” said Hamilton. “The drought hasn’t forced me to reduce my cowherd yet; we have been able to maintain our size and have enough feed on hand.”
Hamilton Farms uses Angus, Balancer, Gelbvieh and Red Angus genetics, with a calving season that runs through April and May and weaning around Thanksgiving.
“By backing up our calving date, it matched our cows to our grass better, changed our marketing date, and helped us not to have to fight the weather,” said Hamilton.
Hamilton studied Agriculture Education at South Dakota State University, and his passion for learning is evident in the way he manages his cattle business.
“Collecting data on the cows is just like having a yield monitor in the combine,” he explained. “One thing I have discovered is questions create more questions. We are always trying to improve. For the markets we are trying to meet, I think I have been doing that.”
In 2003, Hamilton started focus on value-based marketing, adding EID tags for verification in 2005 and DNA testing in 2011.
“We individually sort, weigh and collect carcass data on each animal,” he said. “I’ve been working with U.S. Premium Beef for six years. I also work with a branded program called Naturewell. The cattle must be Black or Red Angus. For the final 120 days, they can have no antibiotics, hormones, or animal by-products. We are an approved feedlot, meaning I have to go through an audit to ensure for proper animal welfare and handling practices.”
Hamilton’s cattle are all age- and source-verified. Individual carcass data is used as a benchmark of information.
“We try to make management decisions based on those results,” he said. “By capturing the data, I’m able to use the information to choose herd sires and replacement heifers. In 2006, I was at 74.4 percent USDA Choice and Prime, and in 2011, I was at 90.8 percent USDA Choice and Prime. That’s pretty darn good for commercial crossbred implanted cattle. I believe it’s important to collect DNA samples, and although I don’t know how I’m going to use this information, I believe in collecting data to help make informed decisions. If you don’t collect data, you’re just shooting in the dark.”
Hamilton believes in embracing both new technologies and new ideas, from local friends and neighbors and from around the world. Scott and Paula both traveled abroad for an international exchange experience through the International 4-H Youth Exchange (IFYE) program. Scott traveled to New Zealand and Paula went to Denmark. Upon the completion of their trip, they were married in 1981. Since then, they have hosted more than 30 foreign exchange students.
“We have gone to visit some of the people we have hosted, which is really a nice experience,” he said. “Right now, we have one person from Moldova, a country near Poland. We are sort of unique in terms of hosts because we have both been on an international exchange ourselves.”
“I have always had an interest in international agriculture,” Hamilton added. “It’s a way to see the world without leaving home. One thing I have learned from my international experiences is that things aren’t wrong, they are just different. There are a lot of ways to do things, and I always try to understand why they are done differently. One thing about it is, learning a global perspective of different ways to do things really humbles you and shows you how to relate to the rest of the world.”
Meanwhile, the Hamilton family tries to show the exchange students what rural America is all about.
“Even if these students grew up on a farm in Europe, usually that means a couple of cows on a few acres, at most,” he said. “And, somebody from South Africa may be coming from a leadership position with a lot of workers. So, when they come to live on our farm, they are exposed to a whole new side of agriculture.”
Hamilton’s children and the community are introduced to a world of culture with the exchange students they host.
“It makes you appreciate what you have,” he said. “My children have been around foreign exchange students their whole life. So, will they want to stay around home? I don’t know. But, I do know they are gaining a greater appreciation for what they have and how they fit into the world. My wife and I have traveled to both Australia and Europe, right now, we are planning another trip with the whole family overseas.”
Aside from welcoming foreign exchange students into their homes with open arms and traveling the globe, the Hamiltons are also very involved in the local community. Scott, Paula and Suzanne are all 4-H leaders, and Paula is also the president of the South Dakota 4-H Leaders Association. The Hamilton kids are active in many 4-H projects and exhibit livestock including beef, swine, sheep, dairy goats, poultry and horses.
The FFA also keeps Scott’s oldest daughter Nicole busy, who is inspired by Paula, a past state FFA officer. She competes in land judging and meat judging.
Scott is also a member of the church board, county soil conservation board and South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association. He is a member and past president of IFYE, as well.
Although the Hamiltons might not realize it, they do much more than produce cattle and beef; they are raising kids – both their own and the many students who travel across the globe to live on their ranch. Without a doubt, Hamilton Farms will leave a lasting ranching legacy in their community and around the world.
This “Ranching Legacy” depicts individuals, families and businesses that have survived the ups and downs of agriculture and continue to contribute to thier community. Know someone that should be featured? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.