Weyer Ranch finds its way
August 30, 2013
An endless canopy of azure skies is suspended over acres of now-brown grass found on the Weyer Ranch at Howes, SD. It's here, in west central South Dakota, just 30 miles south of Faith, that Cody and Denise Weyer go about the daily chores that keep the multi-generation Weyer family's ranching legacy alive.
Cody, now fourth generation Weyer family rancher, notes that he and Denise have encountered plenty of challenges along the ranching path.
"We're a cow-calf operation. Denise and I came to the ranch in 1994, first leasing and then ended up buying it," Cody said. "My family has raised Herefords in the past but now, we're mostly Black Angus based."
About 270 cows produce calves each spring, providing the core of the ranch's income. Because hay is a critical resource at the ranch, any crop land is used to produce either alfalfa, oats, millet or sorghum. Ever since the ranch was established in 1895, the area's droughty climate has driven production plans.
“A lot of hunters who come here are hard-working business people who struggle with the pressures of their jobs. After they spend a couple of days in the peace and quiet here they routinely express a desire to stay longer. They find it hard to go back to their hectic pace.”
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"We're seeing some corn crops in our area now since there are better dryland hybrids," Cody said. "We may venture that way in the future."
It was Ray and Mallie Howie, Cody's great-grandparents, who married in 1915 and began their ranching activities where Cody and Denise now live. Cody can trace the journey of his ancestors back to their native Scotland roots and the first American home they made in Waukesha, WI. Cody's great-great-grandparents made a home in Nebraska. His great-grandparents, the Howie's, came to Marcus, SD, in 1895, and by 1941 his grandparents Merle Weyer and Addie Boyd Weyer began putting together their own ranching legacy.
"They all faced the obvious challenges of weather and markets," Cody said. "One thing that's different about the dry times they experienced and what we've just come through this past couple of years is the hay resource. Seems my grandparents were always able to find forage sources of some kind here and there for their herd size and they didn't have many cattle. Now, when hay is bought and sold so many miles from home, and ranches have to produce more and be more efficient, it's a real challenge in dry years to obtain what you need."
The conservation practices Cody's family established through the generations is proving to be a stronghold against drought and volatile markets. Hardy native grasses, grazed through a well-planned traditional rotational strategy, put weight on the Weyer cattle to get them ready for market each year. A 16-foot well Cody's grandfather dug along the Red Owl Creek running through their property has provided the water that becomes so precious in recurring dry cycles.
"It's not very deep, but the water comes from a spring. All these years it's held up even in the driest cycles, even with the intense drought cycles we've seen so close together in the last few years," Cody said. "And the buffalo grass is high in protein and it puts pounds on even after a frost."
After a round of jobs that supplemented their ranch income in the early years, both Cody and Denise now devote full time to their ranch and the hunting and lodging business they've created there. In addition to simplifying their daily routines, hunting and lodging adds value to their ranch, making it possible for them to spend more time with their daughters.
"Denise worked for quite a few years as a dental assistant in Sturgis, about 80 miles away," Cody said. "It meant she was only home on Tuesday nights and weekends. At that same time I drove a truck to earn some income, then later worked as an ag loan officer. We're very happy that our hunting business supplements our income now. It brings our family closer together and allows us to share some of the beauty of this area with visitors."
Hunters have opportunity to harvest white tail, mule deer, pronghorn, buffalo, turkeys, prairie dogs, upland birds and coyotes. Lodging accommodating up to six adults at a time is set in a quiet, picturesque location with the beauty of the South Dakota prairie right on the doorstep. Cody notes that the hunting experience is just part of what brings visitors to the ranch each year.
"A lot of hunters who come here are hard-working business people who struggle with the pressures of their jobs," he added. "After they spend a couple of days in the peace and quiet here they routinely express a desire to stay longer. They find it hard to go back to their hectic pace."
Cody and Denise are thankful their hunting business brings people who are unfamiliar with the agricultural industry face-to-face with the ranch's daily routine. They believe the experience helps urban residents better understand the challenges of producing quality food.
"The majority of people in our country don't understand where their food comes from," Cody says. "We work all year to raise calves to take to the sale barn. In the 15 to 30 minutes it takes to sell our harvest we find out what we made for the year. Most people don't understand that aspect of the ranching cycle. Bringing people here is one way we can help bridge that communication gap."
Tristen, Trinity and Tinley are all involved in the ranch activities. They're learning about the Christian heritage Cody's family has woven into each generation, too.
"The good Lord helps us every day with all the ups and downs," Cody said. "It gives us a peace of mind that we're doing the right thing. This is a wonderful place to raise children. We love being able to ride across our ranch and see nothing but grass and sky. It means a lot to us that we're able to share and touch others with what God has given."
Managing high input costs and finding a sustainable balance of stewardship, conservation and business guide the decisions Cody and Denise make for their family.
"Denise is not only my wife, she's my best friend and business partner," Cody said. "It's not easy to find all three of those characteristics in one person. Denise would tell you date nights are few and far between. But we're building something we believe our kids can be proud of. We enjoy this opportunity to keep our family's ranching legacy going. Hopefully our kids will feel the same way."
More information about the Weyer's and their ranch is available at http://www.cdoutfitter.com/lodging.htm.
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