The Palm family includes Conner, Gordon, Olivia and Nathan Palm. The Palm operation is located in the Hidewood Valley near Estelline, S.D.
The Palm family includes Conner, Gordon, Olivia and Nathan Palm. The Palm operation is located in the Hidewood Valley near Estelline, S.D.

By Connie Sieh Groop

May is the optimal month for calving, especially this year. At Nathan Palm Angus near Estelline, S.D. the cattle graze in open fields and pastures where they drop their calves. 

Calving barns are non-existent on the farm in the Hidewood Valley near Estelline in the eastern part of the state. Palm says the only way it works is for his 225 cows to calve in May and in August. “It’s Nature’s way. I’ve told people that if I calved in January, my calves would have no tails or no ears. I don’t want that and neither would they.”

“I don’t like to calve in the cold weather. When it’s cold and snowy, that’s not an easy start for the little ones,” he says. “A few were born in April but with nearly 40 inches of snow falling in the area, it made getting around extremely sloppy.”

“We’re a small family and ranching operation, consisting of myself and my dad, Gordon who turned 80 last fall,” Palm says. “We work together but he lives and farms where I grew up in Canby, Minn. My son Conner is a senior at SDSU and is working and studying in France. My daughter Olivia is a fifth grader and is my big weekend helper. I trying to make this corner of the world a better place when I’m gone.”

Palm says the snow wasn’t needed, but he scooped out and moved on to the next jobs. The best thing the precipitation is doing is greening up the grass. He uses 4-wheelers to check the animals in the pastures, sometimes joined by his girlfriend Stephanie Broderson. 

After graduating from SDSU himself, Palm worked with his dad and purchased this Estelline location with 1,500 acres in South Dakota in 1994. He started with a commercial herd and got into registered animals with help from friends. The biggest influence on his herd is Assman Land & Cattle in Mission, S.D. 

Palm converted 400 tillable acres back to pasture or grasses. He tills some acres for feed for the cattle, growing alfalfa or corn.  The first week in May it was still too wet to do much in the fields.

Palm takes water quality seriously. As the snow melts, he checks structures he put in place to control runoff. With the hilly terrain, he wants to make sure the waste from the animals doesn’t get in the water supply. With the rough ground, he uses a variety of techniques including manmade dams and water retention structures. “The excess water means I’ll have fixing to do.  I can see the dams slowed the water down and saved it for future use for the cattle.”

“The most satisfying thing for me is trying to figure out what genetics to use. I spend a lot of time trying to figure that out. It’s a real Catch-22 for me. I enjoy the genetics but I hate how inconsistent the genetic information available on that particular cow or a bull can be. I don’t think you can just rely on EPDs. I’ve been in business long enough that many customers have calves sired by my bulls. It’s exciting to see those calves go through the sale barn and top the market for the day.”

The outstanding characteristics of Forever Lady 1429, dam of Musgrave Aviator is what is strived for in the base herd. Palm knows his customers want bulls bred and tested for calving ease, growth, maternal traits, carcass merit and docility. The registered Black Angus bull calves will run on grass and be sold as virgin coming 2-year-old bulls. 

The foot and leg structure of the cows and maternal traits with udder quality are key to the calves. “We don’t have the time to wrangle a cow into a headgate and to get the calf to suck. The calves have to be ready to go once they are born.”

Palm is working toward selling bulls that pass on those qualities He uses a mix of new AI sires to sample plus older proven AI sires. 

Palm stresses, “We have to realize the consumer is the ultimate market goal. We have to produce what they want and what they will purchase. Producers need to sell to the consumers that California is not the only state that has happy cows. We must provide animals/product that the consumer wants.”