Most calves are born in the spring. That’s the case, too, on Plainview Ranch near Berwyn, on the edge of the Nebraska Sandhills. But Michael and Michelle Clarke also breed some of their cows so they calve in the fall.
“Most people in our area spring-calve, and therefore all of their calves for sale are going to be in the fall when they’re weaned, or some people carry them over ’til after the first of the year. Calves that are ready to go to grass or to be weaned in the spring are in pretty short supply and it seemed to be a pretty good market at that time (of year),” Michael Clark explains. “We thought maybe we could capitalize on a little bit better market by having a fall herd and a few calves for sale in the spring.”
The weather’s better for fall calving, he says, but you’ve got to care for the calves during the winter and the cows take a lot more feed when they’re milking. That can get kind of costly sometimes.
Trying new ideas is one of the reasons the Clarkes were selected as the winners of Nebraska Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers and Ranchers Achievement Award back in 2002. They’ve grown their family and their ranching operation since then.
The Clarkes ranch with Michael’s parents. Some of the land has been in the family for 108 years. Michael and Michelle have some of their own land but also help work the elder Clarkes’ land, trading their labor for the rent on pasture ground.
In addition to their commercial cow-calf herd, they grow some irrigated corn and raise alfalfa and prairie hay for their cattle. They have several smaller dryland corn fields that won’t produce anything this year because of the drought.
The Clarkes have planted more than 4,500 trees in shelterbelts to protect their cattle from the weather; the shelterbelts also have some shrubs to provide wildlife habitat. They’ve used prescribed fire as a management tool for the past eight years and have really seen the benefits of fire in reducing the number of Cedar trees that are taking over a lot of pastures.
Michael and Michelle met at the University of Nebraska School of Technical Agriculture at Curtis (now the University of Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture) in 1986. Michelle, who’s from Nebraska City, studied veterinary technology while Michael majored in agricultural production. They were married in 1991. She’s a para-educator at Broken Bow High School during the school year and enjoys having summers off, but she helps on the ranch whenever Michael needs an extra hand to round up or sort cattle or do other chores.
The Clarkes have three children. Lacey is a sophomore at Chadron State College and while she hasn’t decided on a major, it will have something to do with agriculture. Son Laine is a senior and his brother Levi is a sophomore, both at Broken Bow High School. All the children work on the ranch and the Clarkes only very occasionally hire outside labor.
The family enjoys shooting sports and Michael is the assistant coach for trap, skeet and sporting clay shooting for a local youth organization. The Clarkes recently returned from the National Scholastic Clay Targets Program championships in Illinois where Laine’s team placed first in the varsity division in sporting clays and Levi’s team placed second in the junior varsity competition.
The boys also participate in 4-H shooting sports and join their Dad in hunting game birds, deer and coyotes.
“We’ve been involved in 4-H since the kids were old enough to be in it – showing cattle, but also baking, sewing, welding, entomology, wildlife – I can’t name them all,” Michael says.
Michael wishes more people outside of agriculture understood “the basic overall love and care we have for our land and our animals.
“We’ll pick up calves that are born during a snowstorm and bring them into our house and put them in our bathtub to warm them up.
“Day after day in below-zero temperatures, we’re outside trying to keep our stock alive and keep them as comfortable as possible.”
Continue to check back to the blog each Thursday to get to know more farmers and ranchers from across Nebraska as they share their everyday stories. And to read past farmer and rancher profiles, click here.