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The Road To Retirement

Living Out Principles
Words are hollow when they stand alone with no resolve behind them. They are strengthened by careful planning, and they spring to life through actions. Words must lead to effort, and effort must be sustained. Grit then becomes the active ingredient for change because greatness is only possible for those who put words into action.

By Courtney Leeper, Writer

Posted Oct. 18, 2019

Brent and Sheri Kuehny begin building a cow herd in order to better achieve their goals.

Brent and Sheri Kuehny had enough of cold winters in Kansas.

An unrelenting season of snow, ice and freezing temperatures in the early 1990s wreaked havoc in the 30,000-head feedyard Brent managed. It took until 1997 to right the operation, and, by that point, the couple was ready for something new.

Brent Kuehny cleans his cattle’s water tanks as part of his morning routine.

Brent and Sheri wanted to move south, and they wanted to start their own operation — one that wouldn’t require the dozens of employees like the feedyard.

The couple sat down one evening and drew a circle on the map. They started investigating estates within that region, which stretched from southern Kansas to Texas. Within months, a real estate agent found them a place right in the middle of their search zone: a ranch near Elmore City, Oklahoma.

“We knew almost immediately this was the place for us,” says Sheri, adding that the town’s school color was even purple, the same as Brent’s alma mater, Kansas State University.

Moving South
Brent and Sheri Kuehny moved from Kansas to Elmore City, Oklahoma, in 1997. They buy calves from the local area and other southern states and feed them on wheat pasture and a specially formulized diet before selling them to feedyards in Kansas and Nebraska. They are also building a cow-calf herd, upon which they plan to focus their operation’s future.

They moved with their children, ages 2 and 5 at the time, to the property, which had a house, one barn and a primitive set of pens, in May 1997.

They intended to raise stocker cattle on grass pasture, which Brent had grown up doing with his father on both sides of the Oklahoma-Kansas line. However, they quickly found that calves gained only about 1 ½ pounds on their southern Oklahoma grasses compared to 2 ½ pounds in Kansas. And, in 1998, a soured market meant the new Okies needed to find a different way to pay the mortgage.

Brent and Sheri always ask questions and seek the latest information in hopes of learning something to improve their bottom line. Once they have decided what will work for them, they put their words into action. They are optimistic and forward-thinking, making them a delight to work with.”

Dan Childs
Senior Economics Consultant

They fell back on what they knew and began building a facility with partially covered pens and feedbunks. Today, the facility holds 4,000 cattle and they fill it two to three times per year with newly weaned calves from the local area and other southern states. The cattle have access to wheat pasture and eat hay and grains, a diet formulated by a nutritionist, before going to feedyards in Kansas and Nebraska.

“We saw the opportunity that geography and climate offered us,” Brent says. “We could gather cattle from here and send them north, but, to efficiently meet our production goals, we would need to haul feed to them. And there went our initial plan to scale back on labor.”

Brent Kuehny checks stocker cattle as part of his morning routine.

In addition to the stockers, Dollar K Ranch has been home to a few cows since 1999.

Brent is quick to say mother cows require a different set of skills from those he developed over a lifetime of tending weaned calves. However, in time, he and Sheri became increasingly aware that the cows may be their opportunity to finally reach the goal they set when first moving to the Sooner State — slowing down. Cows would not require as much supplemental feed as the stockers, which would significantly reduce labor and other costs.

“Our grasses and soils are better suited for mother cows than for the yearlings,” Brent says. “We just didn’t have a lot of experience with cows.”

Another drop in cattle prices, in 2008, gave Brent and Sheri the courage to become more serious about building a herd. They kept 150 of what they thought looked like the best heifers from a group of stockers that winter and leased a new pasture. They extended an invitation for Noble Research Institute consultants to visit, hoping to learn what they could do to improve the land and how to get started.

Brent and Sheri Kuehny doctor a stocker calf, which, afterwards, would be led to a secluded pasture to reduce stress.

“We leaned a lot on Noble Research Institute for the cows,” says Brent, who discovered the organization in the early 2000s at the recommendation of neighbors. “We’re not native. We needed to learn what our soils were capable of, what the grasses were good for and how to take care of it all.”

One of the consultants’ recommendations was to pay attention to genetics. While Brent and Sheri did not know the genetic history of their females, which came from as far away as Mississippi, they could know their bulls’ genetics. Noble livestock consultants taught them how to read EPDs, or expected progeny differences, which provide a basis for selecting bulls based on the traits, like weaning weights and carcass qualities, they want to see in their calves.

“Brent and Sheri always ask questions and seek the latest information in hopes of learning something to improve their bottom line,” says Dan Childs, senior economics consultant. “Once they have decided what will work for them, they put their words into action. They are optimistic and forward-thinking, making them a delight to work with.”

Caring for Cattle
Brent Kuehny rides his horse Elvis to check cattle as part of the daily morning routine he has done for 22 years. Sheri, Brent’s wife, says he can tell just by looking at the cattle if any of them are beginning to develop illness. In such a case, the animal is immediately pulled and treated before being led back to pasture.

Brent and Sheri have gone from 40 to 400 cows in the past decade and ultimately plan to add 200 to 300 more while phasing out the stocker operation.

“If you had told us this is what we’d look like 20 years ago, we wouldn’t have believed you,” Sheri says. “But there’s nothing more fulfilling than looking out at the green grass and the cows and calves. At the end of the day everybody is fed and life is good.”

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