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RancHER: Deb Brown: Creating a family- run pasture-to-plate enterprise

Published on 23 March 2022
Deb Brown

Deb Brown is the owner of Long Pines Land and Livestock. She was raised on a large registered Rambouillet sheep ranch in western South Dakota and, for the past 26 years, has served as the administrator of Preferred Home Health Inc. in Buffalo, South Dakota, which she and her mother founded together.

In 2004, Deb; her husband, Larry; and son Sterling established Long Pines Land and Livestock, north of Camp Crook, South Dakota, where they raise Irish Black and Irish Red cattle as well as horses. After Larry’s death in April 2021, Sterling handles day-to-day ranch work, while Deb remains very involved in strategic decisions, business/financial planning and genetic selection. In August 2021, they bought Over the Edge, the local restaurant and bar, to fulfill their goal of a pasture-to-plate enterprise.

How have your experiences working on your ranch influenced your growth, personally and professionally?

BROWN: Ranching means independence. That means responsibility, which can be a heavy load at times. I’ve learned to be a good long-term planner and try to anticipate likely scenarios, like extended drought, so we aren’t caught totally off-guard. I’ve also learned I really enjoy the process of researching bloodlines, genetic tools and measuring herd progress with metrics that matter for herd and economic viability.

What roadblocks have you run into, and how have you overcome them?

BROWN: Our hurdles are probably similar to those most cattle producers face. Personally, putting a plan together helps make problems more manageable, and oftentimes it helps identify opportunities. For example, we’ve been frustrated with not being able to showcase our cattle’s excellent meat quality and more meaningful data about how to improve our specific production practices for efficiency, feedstuffs usage and genetics to result in a superior product. Purchasing Over the Edge, our local restaurant, is giving us that opportunity.

Who has influenced you in your role as a rancher? Why?

BROWN: I’m grateful for my parents, although it took me some time to realize how much. They were definitely ahead of their time, putting the entire registered Rambouillet sheep flock onto a computerized production system in the 1970s. As kids, we assumed that everyone took the calculated risks our parents did, like importing a new kind of marking paint from Australia to improve our wool value when no company would. They were extremely progressive with genetic selection, evaluating and measuring herd productivity, and they worked hard at water and land improvements.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Dad said it was irrelevant that our flock was purebred. They had to prove themselves under commercial herd conditions because it was the commercial producer who was the cornerstone of any livestock production system, and our customer. Probably a close second was Mom telling us girls that if we did something the first time, we’d better be prepared to do it all our lives. For her, she never wanted to drive a tractor – she preferred doing ranch work on horseback. She drove a tractor only once that we know of when Dad wasn’t home, and then we were sworn to secrecy.

What advice would you give to other women in your field?

BROWN: Don’t waste your time trying to compete with anyone – man or woman. The goal is to compete against yourself by making improvements important to you.

Who are other female role models you look up to?

BROWN: The homestead and pioneering women who came before us. Can you imagine what it took to cook a meal? Take care of young children? No one else for miles? No electricity. No telephones. Little medical care. Hauling water from a well or creek.

Do you involve your family in your work? If so, how?

BROWN: When we bought Over the Edge, we knew workforce would be a major challenge. The restaurant business will always have a lot of turnover. In rural communities, having family step in to be the main workforce is really important. The timing came together. Sterling’s fiancée, Katie, is working on her doctorate in ruminant nutrition, with almost all the course work online now. The pasture-to-plate aspect really interested Katie when she moved to the ranch. She is now manager of Over the Edge and has also become a very skilled cook, which has definitely improved the consistency and quality of our meals. Sterling helps out by filling in as bartender, sous chef, doing repairs and keeping us in touch with what is likely to be successful with our community. Sterling and Katie are critical to our success. We had a lot of learning curves, but I’m very proud of the life they are creating.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

When we bought the Long Pines ranch, the rangeland needed some major rejuvenation. We did a lot of research and created a long-term plan that gave us some really good improvements in just a couple years on parts of the grazing and hay ground, which allowed the most damaged areas to recover. Our country remains in one of its worst droughts in at least two generations. The investment in solar livestock watering systems has really paid off. We actually built in a drought component to our land resource management plan, which has been so helpful. If we don’t get some major moisture in the next few weeks, we’ll need to make some hard choices.

What is your favorite thing about ranch life?

It has never felt like work. Preferred Home Health is what I call my work. Long Pines is almost a sanctuary to me. Driving to the ranch and seeing the cattle along the hills is when I can feel myself shifting into “ranch mode.” Looking out my window and seeing my “geriatric group” of mares, as Sterling calls them, and past that the Long Pines hills brings great joy.

What is the best part of your day?

The best part of the day is when Sterling comes in and we talk about his plans for the day, the week, the month and beyond that, too. He’s taken on a huge amount of responsibility, especially since Larry died in April 2021. Larry was having a lot of issues for several months before that, yet couldn’t be talked into a thorough medical visit. It was just two weeks before he died that we found out he had terminal cancer that had metastasized throughout his body. It was a very important time with Preferred Home Health, so it fell on Sterling to take on more and more of the ranch duties while standing back and letting Larry do what he could, knowing it was likely to not go well. It was pretty special watching Sterling have a cup of coffee with Larry and talk things over with him. Our morning talks are so much more to me than business discussions.  end mark

Photo provided by Deb Brown.

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