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Fine time to ranch: Industry analysts say ND cattle market strong

Now is a good time for people in Dickinson to invest in a start-up cattle enterprise, said John Dhuyvetter, North Dakota State University Extension specialist for livestock systems Thursday.

An educator with the North Dakota State University Extension Service said now is a prime time for people to start raising cattle in the area.

John Dhuyvetter, NDSU extension specialist for livestock systems in Minot, said the cattle market is in good shape and those with enough land in North Dakota are sitting on an opportunity to build a small cattle enterprise that could grow to be profitable.

"The market is good now, and it's projected to be good for about three to four years," he said. "Demand is good for beef, and exports are good."

But the market was not always this promising.

In recent years, Dhuyvetter said a growing number of area ranchers backed out of the cattle game because of rising grain costs. As grain prices shot up, so did the prices of corn and fertilizer. The spike in costs left cattle operators with "small profits."

"That doesn't excite anyone," Dhuyvetter said.

Now that the market is more stable, it is easier for a beginner to rent a plot of land and fill it with a small herd, Dhuyvetter said. A person who works full-time and raises a few cattle on the side could see a profit.

"If you're satisfied to start kind of small or accept that you're going to be a part-timer, maybe that is a resource for you," he said. "If we learn how to balance work with off-the-farm work ... I think there's some quality for satisfaction."

Jarrod Steffan, of South Heart, is an example of someone who found a balance between a full-time job and cattle management. Working as a banking officer for American Bank Center in Dickinson, Steffan also raises cattle with his family.

In 2000, Steffan saw an opportunity to start a small cattle operation, and he purchased three cows. Today, he manages more than 350 head of cattle.

Investors should still be cautious, Steffan said.

"It's a good time to get in," he said. "On the flip side of that, you also have to look at the expenses of getting in."

Back when he purchased his first cows, Steffan said prices were as low as $600 per cow. Today, he said that price will run as high as $1,200.

Getting started may be pricey, but NDSU Livestock Research Specialist Garry Ottmar thinks even college students can get a head start with a cattle enterprise.

"A lot of college kids are doing it," Ottmar said.

Ottmar added that he thinks students are wise to start accumulating cattle early on in their career. He also said it is helpful for students if their parents can offer support right away.

"I suppose they're getting their dad to sign off on (cattle)," Ottmar said.

Bryn Brown, a senior studying integrated ranch management at Dickinson State University, said she purchased cattle in December. Buying her cows was a "good opportunity," she said, because her family has enough pasture for them to roam.

Brown had to pay a little more than she wanted to for her cattle, but she looks forward to working with them in the "wide open spaces" of her family's farm after graduating in the spring.

With the market as promising as it is, people who invest in cattle will set themselves up for success, Dhuyvetter said.

"There might be a neighbor down the road who wants to sell some cows," he said. "There's always opportunities."