I had the absolute pleasure of connecting with Nate Belcher a little over a year ago and Del Ficke shortly after at a Healthy Farms conference. I now have the honor to work with and learn from them as well as help promote the incredible efforts and fruits of their labor. When you sit down with either of these guys, you know you’re in good company. Their drive to educate and share their work, and make a lasting impact in agriculture and the experience of food is infectious. Below is an introduction to their collaboration and the story of what drew Nate to the partnership. You can find Del’s story below:
Del’s Story . . .
From left: Del’s son Austin and Alyssa with their daughter Attley with Del’s wife Brenda, their daughter Emely and Del Ficke.
Del Ficke Shoots Straight…
I am not the Graze Master™ but our family herd that is five generations in the making is and now we’re making some serious headway into a more holistic approach on our farm and ranch.
Why? Because, it’s the right thing to do for my God, my family and the soil.
We’re getting back to our roots. We’re doing things the way my ancestors did, my Grandpa, before industrialized agriculture. We’re bringing back the wisdom of the past and weaving in modern innovation.
My Graze Master philosophy was born in the words of my Great Grandfather H.F. He would say, “I never starved any animal to death, but I dang sure fed a lot of them to death.”
To this day we take how and what our herd is fed seriously.
There’s a reason I have preferred to use the term “composite” since working to build the “perfect beast” ever since I was a boy being mentored by my father, Kenneth Ficke. Ficke Cattle Company and our Graze Master™ composite herd is an extension of a story that began to be compiled thousands of years ago back to the ancient herds of wild aurochs that used to live on the grass plains of Asia, Africa and Europe that led to the domesticated cattle of today. It begins with the knowledge that all cattle are derived from that original herd and only the best must be compositely bred for a better future for the beef industry and most importantly our neighbors who consume our Graze Master beef.
As the earth’s economies have grown increasingly localized and global in nature it is vital that we deeply study and understand our own environments as we continue to work to attempt to build the “perfect beast” and more perfect systems for producing all food for our neighbors. The Graze Master Composite is a brand regarding both cattle genetics and people. It’s about discovering, uncovering, igniting and uniting the best of breeds and the best of all of us to design healthier farms, ranches, communities, states, nations and ultimately – a healthier world.
Composite is a word describing an architectural design of something. Our Graze Master Composite herd is just that – a holistic foundation of genetics we have tirelessly given our attention to for generations in order to build the most efficient animal. Ours is a strategic approach at a targeted end product using breeds that complement each other. Just as an enticing, sound structure cannot be built with mortar and bricks alone, cattle are built best from the best within each breed.
Early on, my father Kenneth turned me on to the potential of composite cattle when he was selling bulls for then Pioneer Beef Cattle (a division of the DuPont Pioneer seed company we know today). Pioneer was experimenting with the use of multiple breeds. Early on I witnessed the composite bred calves were always producing better. The vigor at birth was evident, weaning weights were higher and they were gaining easier on less feed.
Then, in 1984, I met Frank Padilla who was doing amazing things managing operations at Schroeder Cattle Company in Palisade, Neb. Frank’s expertise on composite cattle heightened my interest and deepened my knowledge. Frank really pushed the value of composite cattle, especially from the maternal heterosis side. I learned and witnessed composite cows reaching puberty earlier on with fewer inputs, breeding sooner, calving sooner, breeding back sooner and lasting longer in the herd than the straight-bred cows.
This was the nurturing and knowledge I needed to develop my now time-tested theory, if a composite cow is ideal, a composite cow bred to a composite bull is even better with his attributes of also reaching puberty earlier, lasting longer in the herd and breeding more cows. Ficke Cattle Company has been a proving ground for this. We have tried every different variation imaginable to test the breeds that work together and those that do not.
Today our Graze Master composite consists of two variations that still look identical through careful selection. The first is a Red Angus, Simmental, Hereford cross and the second is a Red Angus, Simmental, Hereford, Aubrac cross. We are also working on a four-way cross that will include South Devon.
Grandpa would always say, “The day the tractor came and the horses left was the day we replaced community with competition.”
Today, I am looking forward and never looking back. There is no excuse not to do the right thing. I’m not where I want to be entirely, but we’re on our way.
- We have reduced chemicals in our pastureland by 95 percent with controlled grazing.
- We are inter-seeding pastures with legumes that will produce the nitrogen needed so there is no longer a need for commercial fertilizer.
- We are taking highly-erodible cropland out of corn production and putting it into grazing situations to help return the soil closer to its original potential.
- We have been blessed to welcome honeybees back onto the farm that are taken care of by a Russian immigrant and his son.
- We are welcoming the community, our neighbors – consumers of food, to come out and visit a working farm and enjoy God’s great creation.
- Most importantly – we are focusing on the family. My wife Brenda, daughter Emily, son Austin and Alyssa with our granddaughter Attley are all at the heart of what I am doing and have an important role to play.
While I have 30-plus years of experience building composite cattle programs across the country that are suited for an array of environments in states such as South Dakota, Alabama, Colorado and Missouri, I never stop learning. It all begins with that “composite” theory, not just in cattle, but when it comes to all of agriculture, its people and potential. It’s about looking at the bottom line in a different way and doing true cost accounting that recognizes the health of the system in its entirety is most important — everything from the family, to plants, animals and ultimately the soil and water. The foundation of the “perfect beast” and the ideal agricultural community is a composite of the best of beef breeds and the best of all of us.