From the Farmer's Tractor
June 25, 2014
Shannon Douglass, 30, is a cattle farmer along with her husband, Kelly Douglass. Shannon is a first generation farmer. She raises beef cattle as well as specialty seed crops like sunflowers, melons, squash and lettuce on their family Douglass Ranch.
How did you get into farming?
My husband was raised on a dairy, but I was raised in a pretty suburban life. We had enough land for me to do 4-H and FFA projects which got me excited about agriculture. Then I headed off to college to study agriculture where I met my husband. We started with day old dairy calves that my husband could buy and then sell later as yearlings. He could invest a fairly small amount and was able to build it over time. Eventually we sold all the replacement dairy heifers and got beef stockers and then sold the stockers to get beef cows. It enabled us to start farming without any loans.
How have your farming practices changed over the last 10 years?
We farm more and ranch less is the major change. The row crops are much more profitable so we focus on those. We have found a niche that works for us. Surprisingly it isn't organic or at a Farmers market (but we do sell some of our beef that way). We have found opportunity in growing specialty seed crops.
How will farming evolve in the next five years?
We hope to continue to grow our enterprise. We enjoy growing new and unique crops, but we are very concerned about continued drought.
What is your greatest challenge as a farmer?
Our biggest challenge is acquiring land – to lease or purchase.
How does a farmer know what a retailer will want a year from now?
We have no clue. A couple summers ago the hanger steak was the “it” cut at the Farmers market because Matt Lauer had cooked with it on the Today Show. Trends before that were for bones and tail. They seem to come and go.
What steps are you taking toward conservation on the farm?
We are doing a combination. We are working on a major water conservation project that would install a pipeline for our irrigation and save us a great deal of water. We also do low and no till practices.
Do you sell any of your products locally, and if so, what is the process?
Sure do. We sell our beef direct to customers and at the Farmers markets. This summer we are on break due to the drought. Not enough rainfall means no food for cows, so we had to cut back. Beef is a long process to get to the freezer. The steers are about 18 months of when they are butchered. The beef dry ages for 21 days – we use a USDA inspected butcher to be able to sell legally. We have a whole set of regulations to be able to sell at the market. Our customers buy by the individual cut or by the half/side of beef.
What kinds of reactions do you get from consumers when they meet you in person?
Our customers are amazing. They love getting to know their farmer. I think some are surprised I don't wear overalls or a cowboy hat.