For Tewes family, cattle are a family affair

Jeff Tewes knows the effort required to raise beef cattle.
His children, Meta and McKade, are quickly learning that.
“All livestock is labor-intensive,” said Jeff Tewes, who farms near Jackson with wife Jen. “Raising a cow/calf herd like we do is pretty consistent from year to year.”
Tewes said the most important — and difficult — part of the process is calving. While newborn calves don’t require as much attention as some other species of livestock, Tewes said producers still need to be on the lookout for any issues that arise.
“A majority of calves have no issues, but with around 10 percent, you have to help them out or get them to milk,” he said.
Like humans, Tewes said, cows have different personalities, some more ornery than others.
“Some cows are really nice, and some of them are pretty mean and they don’t like you,” Meta Tewes said.
A few will occasionally chase people around, especially if they’ve just calved.
“Some cows get extremely protective of their calves and they will try to chase you,” Jeff Tewes added. “Sometimes it takes two people — one to divert the cow and one to get to the calf.”
Fortunately, the family doesn’t lack personnel; along with the two Tewes kids, their farmhand, Logan, is an expert at his craft and Jeff Tewes credits him with making their current operation possible.
“We really couldn’t do what we do without him, because he’s a livestock guy,” he explained. “He’s a big part of our operation and our family.”
Raising cattle brings with it future aspirations as well, especially for kids who have been helping on the farm since they were little.
Meta Tewes, currently in 11th grade, is interested in pursuing agriculture and animal science as career options. She currently owns two breeding heifers herself.
“I want to continue working in agriculture and maybe major in animal science, but I’m not necessarily focused on a certain species,” she said.
McKade Tewes, meanwhile, has a small herd of his own as well. He recently won an award through the Security State Bank Junior Herdsman Program and has plans to pursue a career in livestock.
“I want to keep raising cattle and raise sheep, but I’m not sure yet,” he said. “I’m excited about expanding my herd.”
Jeff Tewes said people considering starting out in cattle need to keep their expectations in check and recognize Rome wasn’t built in a day.
“You need to have reasonable expectations,” he said. “Raising cattle is a long-term commitment.”
Meta Tewes added it’s important for people to learn about the process before diving in, especially on the cost side of the equation.
“You really need to do your research and know how much it’s going to cost in a year, especially for feed,” she said. “You need to know what you’re getting into.”

 

Marlin Berg has been raising sheep for nearly 50 years

At 85 years old, Marlin Berg spends part of every day caring for his flock of Suffolk sheep at his home south of Pipestone. Lambing time finished up not long ago and Berg said that the 30 ewes that lambed produced 52 lambs.
“We had a good year,” he said.
Berg said one ewe had a set of quads, which is quite rare. He said it was only the second or third time that’s happened since he and his wife, Donna, bought their first sheep back in 1974.
“We bought some crossbreds, but then we bought 10 lambs,” Berg said. “We grew too. At one time we had over 125 ewes.”
That was in the late 1970s and early 1980s, he said. The most sheep they had at one time was around 275. That was when his sons were in high school and were able to help out.
Berg said the sheep were a part-time job, with his primary work being as an agriculture teacher and FFA advisor in Jasper and Pipestone. He started teaching in Jasper in 1959 and came to Pipestone in 1965 and taught there until 1994. He then did real estate appraising for about 25 years until retiring from that last July. Donna taught math at Jasper and Pipestone for 20 years.
Their sheep business was profitable enough for a time in the 1980s, Berg said, that it put their children through college. Today, their sheep operation is more of a hobby and consists of about 30 ewes, Berg said.
Berg said he and his wife got into the sheep business because they wanted to raise animals. They chose sheep because it was more affordable to get into and required less infrastructure than some other livestock.
They bought sheep while they still lived in Pipestone and built a house on the farm a couple years later in 1976.
Berg said they sell some of their sheep for breeding stock, sell some to market and keep some for replacement. He said the family focuses on production and efficiency, but they have had some success in showing sheep too.
They started showing sheep in 1974 when they took a lamb to the national lamb show in Albert Lea and earned champion out of about 400 lambs. It was the first time their son Philip Berg, who was about 10 at the time, had ever shown sheep.
“Then it became a family affair,” Berg said.
Their four children and 12 grandchildren have all shown sheep over the years. They’ve shown at the Pipestone County Fair, Minnesota and South Dakota state fairs and Minnesota Junior Suffolk Show. Berg said most of their family vacations when their children were young were planned around sheep shows.
“Sheep became our entertainment,” he said.
The third generation of Bergs involved with sheep have continued to have success in the show ring. Back in 2019 when the most recent Pipestone County Fair was held, his grandson, Isaac Berg, and granddaughter, Hannah Berg (Philip’s children), received the top honors. Isaac earned the trophy for Champion Premier Showmanship and Hannah earned the trophy for Reserve Champion Premier Showmanship.
Berg said most of his grandsons still help out at the farm.
“They’re all in college or out of college, but they still like coming back here,” Berg said.
One of his grandsons, Andrew Berg, who lives in Dell Rapids and works for Pipestone System, said he helps his grandfather with the sheep whenever he can and plans to eventually take over the operation.
“The plan would be to take over the sheep and add some commercial ewes,” he said.
He said working with his grandfather with the sheep is a great time. There are some challenges due to the generational gap between Andrew, 25, and his grandfather as far as how they see some things, he said, but they both care for the wellbeing of the animals and enjoy working outside, working together and bouncing ideas off each other.
Andrew’s father Philip raises cattle and is an instructor for Minnesota West’s Lamb and Wool Management Program, but he still helps his father with the sheep as well, including sheering all the ewes once a year.
Berg said the aspects of raising sheep he’s most enjoyed over the years is doing it with his family. When they get together for family gatherings, sheep are often the topic of conversation because it’s something they’ve all been involved with and know.
He’s also enjoyed meeting new people and introducing his students to the sheep business when he was a teacher and FFA advisor.
“You help them get started, you help them select and show them how to show,” Berg said.
That was one of the reasons given when Marlin and Donna and Philip and his wife Laurel Berg and their children were named the Pipestone County Farm Family of the Year in 2012.
“The biggest thing the Bergs have contributed is they have invested in producing the next generation of agriculture entrepreneurs,” said Pipestone County Extension Committee Member Sue Carlson at the time. “It’s nothing to do with cattle in the pasture or the sheep in the pen but everything about teaching the next generation.”
For some of Berg’s students, the sheep were projects. For others, it was the beginning of something more.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Berg said. “And now I’ve got a lot of people around who are in the sheep business.”
 

Nesseth raises large sheep flock in Jackson County

Matt Nesseth might have the largest sheep herd in Jackson County.
That’s not hyperbole. A quick look around his barn is all one needs to see a seemingly endless sea of sheep.
“I’ve been doing this for about 15 years, and our family’s been doing it since 2000,” Nesseth said.
Nesseth, who moved back to Jackson County from the Twin Cities to help with the family business, said the family’s move into the sheep industry began due to its involvement in 4-H.
“We were in 4-H and FFA, so we showed sheep, cattle and pigs throughout our careers, so we decided to raise sheep ourselves instead of buying them.”
Initially, Nesseth wanted the work to be a hobby, but he soon found it growing into a full-time job.
“This is technically my side hustle,” Nesseth said. “It really grew out of control.”
The family raises lambs for meat and to sell for animal shows. At this point, it’s more or less a break even proposition, Nesseth said, but, as herds get bigger, the opportunity to make a profit increases too.
Wool isn’t a major source of income for Nesseth. While the family does shear twice a year, and sells the wool, Nesseth said, trade wars and a preference for genetic qualities associated with success at the meat market prevent wool from being a major part of the business.
“I’m not selecting for wool traits so much as I am for muscular and structural traits,” Nesseth said. “The wool market has been terrible for the past four years thanks to the trade wars with China.”
Raising sheep does bring with it some unique challenges, Nesseth said. For one thing, sheep can’t have any copper in their feed, as it causes liver problems. Lambs are also more high maintenance than calves, as they have to be fed constantly and watched carefully, especially in the first few days after birth. The lambing process itself is equally intensive.
“The lambing process is the most challenging part,” Nesseth said. “I try to be there for all the births, and we have cameras so I can look at them on my phone, which has helped a lot.”
Nesseth said the other challenges, like the cost of feed and market volatility, are simply part of the natural challenges that come with raising livestock. Thanks to holidays, there are times when a good market can usually be counted on.
“The feed costs are always a big thing and you have to hit the market when it’s high,” Nesseth said. “There’s always a hot market during Easter, so you hit that if you can.”
Nesseth’s advice to would-be sheep farmers is to start off small and not bite off more than one can chew.
“I’d start with a small flock of about 10 to 20,” Nesseth said. “I’d be on the lookout to buy a flock from an established farm if they’re selling out.”
Few farmers raise sheep in the county anymore, something Nesseth attributes to the intensity of the lambing process and physical toll of the work.
“It’s less common around here; you have three or four show flocks and they’re pretty small, with between 30 and 40 ewes,” Nesseth said. “The lambing process just wears people out.”
Nesseth’s solution to that has been to do everything possible to streamline the amount of labor needed and make operations more efficient.
“I’m always concerned about improving the quality of the animals and improving the facilities we have,” Nesseth said.
That first part — figuring out how to breed sheep for beneficial traits — is actually his favorite part of the process.
“You feel like a mad scientist every once in a while,” Nesseth said.

 

Planting season is nearly here

“For everything there is a season,” as it says in Ecclesiastes, and the season to plant will soon be here.
The time to prepare for planting, however, started months ago. Producers start preparing for spring planting the previous fall and into the winter when they purchase their seed and start planning for things like chemical treatments.
“We try to get all the plans done all winter long to figure out what we’re going to do,” said Troy Altmann, sales agronomist at the Chandler Co-op Agronomy Center in Edgerton.
While seed is typically bought in the fall, Altmann said farmers sometimes switch to seed with different traits as planting season nears. That could be done for a variety of reasons such as if farmers get into the field later than expected. He said that’s something the Co-op can accommodate if needed.
Fertilizing is another preparation that some farmers do in the fall and some do in the spring.
“It comes down to the different products,” Altmann said. “Our phosphorus and potassium, most of that will go down in the fall because that doesn’t leach through our soil or basically degrade down. It will, but it will sink into the soil and we won’t lose that, whereas our nitrogen, if we put that on in the fall, once you start getting your moisture, that’s when it’s going to start going through the soil profile. That’s why we put all that on in the spring time.”
He said they might also add in some phosphorus and potassium in the spring and that some farmers prefer to put on all three in the spring.
“Some guys put anhydrous on in the fall and then we have a stabilizer with that,” Altmann said. “That’s a good practice too. Then we don’t have to put the nitrogen on in the spring if they do that. You can get all your nutrients on in the fall and ready to go, but not everybody likes to do that.”
Altmann said the cost of fertilizer had been low in the fall, but increased significantly during the winter, especially for nitrogen. He said that was due to supply and demand, shipping and transportation issues related to COVID, and higher commodity prices.
“Once commodity prices go up, all the different wholesale companies, whether it’s fertilizer or chemical, they all notice that and see that and everybody wants to get a piece of the pie, so they also push their prices up a little bit too,” Altmann said.
Once the weather starts to turn warmer as it has recently, Altmann said farmers start preparing their tillage equipment, planter boxes and planters. Typically tillage and planting is done in mid-April to early May.
“I’ve seen it as early as April 15 and two years ago we started May 6 and then got done about May 20,” Altmann said.
Usually corn is planted first, but if planting is delayed, Altmann said farmers might switch to a corn with a shorter growing period and soybeans could end up being planted first. They might also switch back and forth based on field conditions.
If seed is planted earlier in cold and wet conditions, Altmann said there is a higher chance of disease, so treatments might be used to prevent that. If planting is done in May, the soil might be warmer, he said, and there is less chance of early seedling diseases.
The timing of planting has much to do with when the frost comes out of the ground and the ground drying up so equipment can get out in the fields and not get stuck.
Based on the dry end to last season and the snow fall so far over the winter, Altmann said the subsoil was very dry.
“You look at the snow and the snowfall that we get and it always seems like it’s going to be a lot, but a lot of that just drains off into the ditches in the spring,” he said. “We’ve got the frost in the ground yet, so we’re not going to get very deep penetration with the water. We’ll have to see if we can get some rain before then, before we plant here, otherwise it’s going to be very dry again.”
He said a slow melt is also helpful. The perfect situation, he said, would be the snow melts and the frost comes out of the ground, then there is a reasonable amount of rain that soaks in, so farmers can plant into a drier topsoil. As always, the weather is the most unpredictable factor.
“That’s kind of the battle that we have every year,” Altmann said. “We can do everything right, but it depends on rainfall and weather. That’s the last puzzle piece that sometimes we get and sometimes we don’t.”