Fall Cattle Journal 2022: The TC Outfit, Casteel Family
“We run a little bit different operation than most. When our son came home from college in 1992, he wanted to get back in the business and we tried to figure out a way to make more money without going into more debt,” Casteel says.
The demand for black cattle was high, so he and his wife Jo, and their son Travis, decided they would market proven Angus cows at their prime. They keep all heifer calves, breed the ones they like, and calve them three times. When they are bred with their fourth calf, they are sold. “By the time we get ready to sell them, they are pretty well hand picked […] We’ve sold cows into Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, Colorado, and eastern South Dakota. Our reputation has grown with it,” the Casteels say.
The TC Outfit also keeps and backgrounds all of their own calves, selling them as yearlings the following year in September. “We keep all the heifers that we think will make suitable replacements and breed them. Anything we don’t want to breed, we’ll spay them and sell them when we sell the steers,” they say. All of their cattle are marketed at Belle Fourche Livestock.
Green Mountain Angus Ranch, owned by Tim and Kris Todd in Ryegate, Montana, is an ongoing source of bulls for the TC Outfit. Tom and Jo have been pleased with their proven stock, and each year they buy roughly 15 bulls that stay with the same bunch of cows until the cows are sold. Since they are put on heifers, Casteels prioritize looking at birthweight and yearling EPDs when selecting. “Most of our yearlings in the fall will weigh between 900 and 1,000 lbs. which tells me that we’re on the right track,” Tom says.
The ideal cow they bring to market is one that has been sifted for three years, has a good disposition, is average in size (around 1,300-1,400 lbs.), and in good flesh. “That’s the most efficient size for ranchers in this area. The bigger the cow, the more grass she eats,” Tom says.
Last year, Tom and Jo celebrated their golden wedding anniversary. Jo says, “Tom is 77 and I’m 73 and we still work like we’re 40 because we like what we’re doing and we’re still in good enough shape to do it. We’d both be dead if you put us behind a desk in town.” When Tom was working alongside his dad, he was slowly allowed more responsibility in making decisions for the ranch. Today, Tom does the same with Travis. “He’s pretty much the boss anymore, and I’m just the hired man,” Tom jokes.
Travis, his wife Jessica, and their children, Haddie and Tapadero, live and work on the ranch. Branding is a singular highlight of the year, especially for Travis, who was “born 100 years too late” according to his mother. The TC Outfit hosts a head and heel branding for three days. Hands camp in teepees and bedrolls along the creek and two Peter Schuttler wagons are driven to the branding corrals. The chuckwagon is used to cook meals onsite. “It’s kind of like having Christmas in the summertime,” Tom says.
“We want to keep the old traditions alive as long as we can,” says Jo. She and Tom also have a daughter, Tommi Jo, married to Lucas, Rice, and they have five children. The Rices live in Bison, South Dakota, and Levi, Mesa, Lane, Mattie, and Mecarty are becoming skilled cow hands, so the TC Outfit’s traditions will assuredly live on.
The part of ranching that no one wants to do, according to Tom, is farming. However, they have the unique advantage of being located near enough to Orman Dam, the Belle Fourche River, and Nine Mile Creek to irrigate. With 13 pivots and flood irrigation, Casteels are able to get three alfalfa crops, chop corn for silage, and bale oats for hay and straw. “Everything goes to our livestock,” they say. The Casteel’s hired man, also named Travis (Byrne) and his wife Melissa, are a vital part of the ranch and are pretty close to being family. “He can do it all,” says Jo, and they appreciate him.
No ranch is immune to adversity. The TC Outfit may be faring better than some during dry years due to their nearness to water, but they suffered devastating losses during the Atlas Blizzard in 2013. “We buried 750 head of cattle that year–400 cows, 350 calves, and 10 bulls. We didn’t quit, though. We just built our numbers back up and we’re back to where we were, but we had to tighten our belts again,” Jo says. The 1980s were another difficult time for the couple, who were trying to expand during the economic hardship. However, they scraped by to make their payments and held on until things turned upward again. “When you ranch, everybody knows you’re at the mercy of Mother Nature and the mercy of the markets. Tom’s dad always said keep your operation like you planned on doing and take the good years with the bad. That’s what we do and it usually all comes out in the end,” Jo says.