2021 Black Hills Stock Show Stockman of the Year: Kammerer Livestock
Located in the foothills of Black Hills just north of Ellsworth Airforce Base near Rapid City, Kammerer Livestock, this year’s Stockman of the Year recipient, faces into the frost-biting winters and dry summers that characterize South Dakota to produce profitable cattle and raise the next generation of agriculturists.
With deep roots in the community, voluntary service has been a long-time hallmark for Matt and April Kammerer, along with their grown children: Amanda, Jake, Jessica, and Dillon — the fifth-generation to be raised on the ranch. The Kammerer family owns and operates a diversified 400-head Angus seedstock and commercial cattle operation, 250 sheep, and manages a custom grazing business in the summer, all while donating their time to livestock events in the ag community.
The family’s homestead dates back to 1882. The original home on the ranch was built by Matt’s great-grandfather, John. The original logs put into place on the house are still evident, but the building has been renovated and updated through the years. Similar to the original building, the enterprise has grown and evolved through the generations of Kammerers running the ranch.
“We’ve always raised cattle and sheep,” Matt laughs, “And kids too,” referring to his large extended family. Like the previous generations of Kammerers, diversification and tradition is at the heart of what they do.
Kammerer Livestock has always been commercially-focused with profitability top of mind. The operation concentrated primarily on backgrounding feeder calves until 1999, when they purchased their first group of registered Angus cows from a local breeder, Dean Linquist. Since then, they have split between developing registered seedstock bulls along with backgrounding feeder calves sold at a local sale barn.
In an environment where the weather can be unreliable year-by-year, Kammerer Livestock cattle are expected to have sound feet and legs to travel, a good temperament, and rebreed in a 60-day window each year.
Kammerer shares that balance is the key to success in their seedstock and commercial cows. They cull cows and heifers who don’t raise a quality calf each year, “If a cow can’t raise a calf out here in western South Dakota on crested wheat or brom then there isn’t much sense in having them around.”
By focusing on quality of grass in conjunction with sound calves, the Kammerers develop reliable bulls for their clients and wean off higher-weight steers to background before selling. To start, bulls are never creep-fed. Matt says, “I feel people are chasing numbers way too much and not looking at what grass they’re getting over corn, when it comes to feeding cattle. We don’t creep feed because if you do, the big and heavy bull that is weaned off doesn’t reflect how it will perform. It can also mislead producers on how their cow herd is doing for them too.”
The registered cattle are AI bred mid-May to calve in late February and March. The commercial cows are bull-bred before being moved out to allotments in the Black Hills National Forest for the summer, and they start calving the first of April and wrap up the end of May, in a 60-day window. For the last few years, heifers are not culled at weaning time, but developed through spring when they can be pelvic measured and culled for disposition before breeding starts.
This upcoming April marks the 15th annual bull sale Kammerer Livestock has hosted with the CK Bar Ranch and additional guest consignors in St. Onge. Each year 25-60 Angus yearling bulls are sold. For many buyers, feed efficiency is the buzzword for genetics that will convert feed into pounds at lower inputs. For Kammerer Livestock, efficiency is proven.
Kammerer says, “Efficiency is talked about a lot, but our cow families are being tested. Our registered and commercial cattle are run together, and the bulls can perform in any environment.”
Many of the other consignors in the sale represent other breeds like SimAngus and Hereford, but Kammerer is sold on Angus genetics in and out of the show ring. Kammerer shares, “It’s the nature of the cow. They’re just the old English breed, but unlike a lot of these continental breeds that have just gotten too big or the show ring dictates what they do with them, Angus is functional — out on the grass and calving on their own.”
When Matt and April started raising cattle, they purchased additional property off the ranch and utilized the national forest allotments during the summer for grazing their cattle. A little over eight years ago, custom grazing was added to their business plan to move around investments and add more cash flow between the bull sale and selling feeder calves in November. Matt says, “We take in about 300-head of cattle each summer for five to six months. As cattle producers, we have so much capital wrapped up in cows and equipment, whereas, the added income helps pay many operation expenses and we don’t have as much invested in inputs.”
Working a diversified operation calls for all hands on deck. The three oldest children, Amanda, Jake, and Jessica have graduated college, while the youngest, Dillon is still in high school. Amanda works as livestock/marketing director for Black Hills Stock Show (BHSS) and helps out on the weekends. Jake, who owns about 40 head of cows, helps throughout the week on the ranch and also splits his time working on a fencing crew. Jessica runs the 250 head of sheep for Kammerer Livestock and also is building her own preg checking business. As the youngest, Dillon puts in wherever he can.
“Everyone knows what needs to be done, even when they are working off the ranch, they step in and help out whenever they’re available,” April says. Most of the day-to-day work is handled by Matt and April, who also manages the paperwork.
A big part of Kammerer Livestock’s year is the local cattle shows. Not only is the family a staple at the Central States Fair (CSF) and the BHSS exhibiting cattle, each year the family dedicates their time to help the respective shows get-off without a hitch — no task is too big or too small.
Ron Jeffries, BHSS General Manager, says, “Kammerer Livestock has been involved with the Central States Fair and the Black Hills Stock Show their entire careers. Matt has served as the Angus breed representative for many years. They raised their family showing cattle, sheep and pigs at shows throughout the Midwest. They’ve been strong supporters of the livestock shows at CSF and BHSS and have two generations showing championship cattle.”
April estimates that it was 2004 when they first showed cattle at BHSS and in 2005, they received BHSS Champion Angus Heifer for the first time. She recalls coming back every year to exhibit cattle and volunteer, “It’s such a close show for us that it is silly to not go in and volunteer. Good organizations like these shows require a lot of volunteer work. It’s inexpensive to go have a little family fun and help out.”
Kammerer Livestock was selected as this year’s Stockman of the Year. The award, started in 1992, recognizes the family for their contribution and growth of the BHSS and CSF livestock events. A committee selects recipients who are nominated by the board as well as the industry.
Lori Maude, chairman of the livestock committee, shares that the Kammerer family has been a big part of the shows and volunteering, essential to making the livestock events possible. April ensures that the volunteers are fed and watered. Matt’s always helping weighing calves, checking calves in, getting a show lined up, making sure people are ready to go in the ring. Maude concludes, “It’s very much a family thing. They do so much behind the scenes and, you know, and I think that’s a big part of what makes events successful — volunteers like them.”
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