When Bruce Troester, a dairy farm kid from eastern Nebraska, first set out on a hunting trip to the Panhandle several decades ago, he probably didn’t know just how it would shape the direction of his life, but it led him to eventually move to Dawes County to raise cattle and kids.
Bruce and Vicki Troester settled on their ranch east of Marsland in 1988 after renting land in Dawes County for several years after their marriage. Today, son Will works with them on the ranch, while their other two boys, Lane and Kelly live in the region and still help out on occasion.
Bruce was raised in Aurora on a Grade A dairy farm and discovered western Nebraska during an antelope hunting trip after studying zoology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
He bought cattle in 1982, married Vicki in 1983 and began the journey of building his herd. They lived on Squaw Mound for a time, but eventually were able to purchase their ranch just east of Marsland.
The couple raised black baldie cattle during the early years, using cattle out of Buford Fisher’s line, starting with heifers before eventually purchasing two and three-year-olds. He bred them to Gelbvieh bulls, later experimenting with Red Angus and some Simmental.
“I wanted a composite,” Troester said. Today, he raises his own bulls for breeding purposes and focuses on turning out a more moderate cow with good maternal aspects.
“I concentrate on the cow lines we really like,” he said. “I want a very functional cow. We concentrate on the maternal side. We want to keep our cows moderate.”
For a long time the beef industry focused too much on EPDs, higher birth weights and larger mature cows, Troester said.
“That’s just silly.”
That trend is starting to reverse itself, he continued, saying ranchers should be worried more about pounds per acre instead of pounds per cow.
An 1,100-1,200 pound cow can raise 600 pounds more efficiently and with fewer issues, Troester said.
“A smaller cow is more efficient,” he said. “You can’t select for growth alone. When you select them out of your own cows, it’s a lot easier.”
He’s also focused on improving the rangeland in the years since they purchased the ranch, dividing four large pastures into smaller ones, utilizing electric fencing mostly; nearly all of their interior fences are electric, which is a more efficient use of his time, Troester said. They graze the smaller pastures for a shorter duration, with cattle grazing in one place for no more than three weeks.
His cattle winter on his hay pivots, and are fed in bunks to prevent feed waste.
When it’s time to introduce new bloodlines into his herd, he will select his top cows and artificially inseminate them, though he hasn’t done any AI’ing in the last two years. They calved 380 head this spring, with 75 percent of the calves born in 21 days. They make decisions on when to sell based on the market, selling at weaning time in October some years, while waiting until January in others
“We basically look at the markets,” Troester said. The market performance also dictates how and where his cattle are sold, and over the years Troester cattle have been sold on video auction, by private sale and at various regional sale barns.
While he grew up on a dairy farm and working with crop production, he prefers cattle, and raises only hay for his cattle’s consumption.
“It’s either hay or it’s cows. My merchandise is cows,” he said.
Ranching in Dawes County has been a good place to raise his family, Troester said, adding that his kids were able to be very involved with the ranch when they were young.
“They learned a lot of valuable life lessons doing this,” he said. “It’s a good way of life. It’s a hard way of life.”
One of the challenges that makes ranching difficult is the continual increases in property taxes, which makes up his largest expense, one he has no control over. The way property is valued and taxed was fair when the country was based on an agrarian society and everyone basically had the same assets, Troester said. But society has changed and the tax structure hasn’t kept up.
That makes it difficult for younger generations to enter the agricultural industry, but Troester isn’t hopeless and still believes there are opportunities out there. His advice to younger ranchers is to carefully watch their expenses: don’t get caught up in believing you need to have the biggest, best or most expensive of everything.
“Get what you have to have to get the job done.”