American agriculture is unmatched around the world. Yet with this success comes an even greater challenge: Who will replace the half-million farmers and ranchers who plan to retire over the next two decades? Look no further than our next class of America's Best Young Farmers and Ranchers. They are among the best of their generation. They embrace the future of agriculture and are developing the technical and managerial skills to build their own successful businesses.
Calving begins on the Stacked Lazy 3 Ranch just as the most rugged days of winter sweep onto the High Desert of Colorado. The first calf born in February and the last born by April are the best–excitement for the first replaced by the exhaustion of the last. In between are sleepless nights searching for new life hidden by their mothers against icy winds and hungry predators. Even with the backbreaking work, 8% did not survive. It was a disheartening and unsustainable result.
Six-thousand feet above sea level, a half-hour east of the Denver International Airport, the 50,000-acre ranch lives with bitter winters and sizzling summers. It supports 550 cows, roughly one cow/calf pair for every 45 acres. Its native grass pastures are brushed with green when the rains come. But, rain is never assured. The ranch recorded just 1.3 inches of precipitation over an 18-month stretch ending in 2012.
The calf losses fell onto Tyler Turecek to resolve. "Our operation has calves in open pastures close to the house," says the son of ranch owners Keven and Sandi Turecek. Close is a relative term. A visitor soon learns that "just a mile over that hill" in eastern Colorado is far longer compared to a "mile on the other side of that corn field" in Illinois. "It was a trek from the home to the cows at all hours of the night and day," Tyler says. Calf losses rose to that 8% level as distance and lack of facilities took their toll.
Tyler thought it would be more efficient to calve in corrals located closer to home. "We [now] bring springers into the corral after careful sorting once a week during calving season," he says. Calving problems are managed in a more hospitable environment.
Death losses fell to 3%. It was a remarkable turnaround. "[We've] improved the quality of calving for not only the mothers but for the calves," Tyler explains. "We've been able to save calves by being able to assist a cow in the calving process."
Tyler is married to Page. Both are in their early 20s. They live at one end of Stacked Lazy 3 in a renovated ranch-style home near Agate, Colorado. Keven and Sandi Turecek live just outside Deer Trail on the other end of the ranch and are well-respected cattlemen and conservationists. They are gradually shifting day-to-day control of the operation to their sons, Tyler and Travis, Tyler's old brother. Travis manages the wheat side of the operation.
Tyler and Page met at the University of Wyoming and have settled into a remote place. "It's given Tyler and me time to bond, to strengthen our marriage," Page says. Tyler admires his wife greatly. "[Page] works unconditionally, and her love is the same way. That's something a lot of people don't get. I'm grateful for that."
"Tyler's and my goal is to honor and build upon what Keven and Sandi, and their parents started," Page explains. "The legacy Tyler and I would want to leave with the ranch isn't just stewardship. But, it is what we are able leave for the generations after us, so that future generations can be successful."
Tyler took his first step into the cattle business when he was 10. He reared three bottle calves–two heifers and a steer. The steer paid for breeding the heifers.
Page is a native of Parker, Colorado, a suburb of Denver. She has acclimated to ranching life. "I try and pull together all of the loose ends," she says. Page is responsible for keeping the books for her and Tyler's individual herd and fat beef sales.
The couple ran 55 cows in 2017. They added another 111 first-calf heifers earlier this year. "This is where we need to be to be self-sufficient on this place," Tyler says.
The couple are also developing a feeder beef business. Selling 30 head a year, they want to triple the business. "We are trying to branch out further into the farm-to-table market," Page says.
Stacked Lazy 3 Ranch is cutting a memorable legacy. Keven and Sandi were awarded the 2016 Colorado Leopold Conservation Award for their work in restoring native grasses, building terraces, restoring waterways and planting thousands of trees for shelterbelts. Today, the ranch has the unique distinction of being the largest intact grassland ranch operating as close to a metropolitan area, as does this one to Denver, of any other in the United States.
"We don't do this for the awards," Tyler says. "We do it because it's right. We don't want our legacy to be a rundown ranch." The operation grazes 50% of its grass resource in a year. Cows and calves come off grass at weaning.
The search for improvement never ends. Tyler talks about an effort to more intensively manage 2- and 3-year-old cows. First-calf heifers are always in need of attention during calving season. Rebreeding 3-year-olds is difficult. The cows lose teeth and lose weight while they are trying to provide for their growing calves.
"We have initiated a program that allows us to pull calves off the first-calf heifers a month earlier than the remainder of the herd, so these young cows are able to better maintain body condition for the upcoming breeding season," Tyler explains. The rebreeding percentage has risen. "This was a great result," Page says.
Page and Tyler author a blog targeting the consuming public. It's called The View from Under a Cowboy Hat (theviewfromunderacowboyhat.com). "We sacrifice our health, sleep, and energy to provide the most comfortable environment for our livestock as possible," they wrote in one entry. "Calving season is one of those times of the year that exemplifies that sacrifice perfectly."
Tyler explains the foundation for that ethic.
"We never work for ourselves. We work everyday to be a little better. We strive everyday to put God first, the family second and the place third."