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“Know Your Ranchers” – L Mill Iron Ranch

March is National Agriculture Month and right here on the South Dakota Beef Blog we will be show casing some of our hard South Dakota Beef Farmers and Ranchers from across our great state! Tag along all this month and learn about their commitment to bringing a high-quality protein to the table. First up, we head to Colome, South Dakota where we learn about the Kartak’s at the L Mill Iron Ranch.

1. Ranch Name & Family Members Involved?

Luke and Danielle Kartak operate L Mill Iron Ranch. Our daughter, Daci (2), takes every opportunity possible to be involved.

2. Segment of the Beef community?

Currently, we run our own cow calf operation with the goal of one day having a branded beef program. We’ve sold a few bulls to other local producers on a small scale but typically background and sell all our feeder calves at the local sale barns. When timing wasn’t right for Luke to come back to his family’s ranch, Luke had the opportunity to work on operations of all sizes and scopes, from feedlots to seedstock producers. Hellman’s Quiet Creek Ranch, his current employer, is a cow calf operation that also farms a few acres. We are fortunate to be able to winter and calve our cows alongside their herd. Danielle has a large bovine reproductive technology background. She worked at Trans Ova Genetics first as a Professional Services Embryologist in both the Great Plains and Southern Regions before assisting clients from across the globe as a Client Service Representative. She now gets to serve agriculture in south central South Dakota from the lending side as a Financial Services Officer with Farm Credit Services of America. She is also active in the local cattlewomen chapter, the Southern Belle Cattlewomen. Although we don’t work daily on either of our parent’s operations, we enjoy trading labor and helping each other out as needed.

3. Where is your ranch located?

We live on a fourth-generation homestead south of Colome, South Dakota near Wewela. Luke’s great grandfather built his claim shack here in 1909. Luke’s parents, Lynn and DeAnna, still operate on the original ranch. Although our cattle run on leased land currently, we look forward to operating on the ranch we recently purchased near the Sand Creek south of Winner.

4. How long have you ranched?

In Luke’s words, “We’ve ranched all our lives but on different places.” Luke grew up ranching and bought his first cows in 2011. Danielle bought her first cows in 2019. Later on in 2019, we started operating together. In September 2021, we were married and now officially utilize the same cattle brand.

5. Tell us a little bit about yourself, your family and about your ranch?

We are both fully employed while simultaneously expanding our cow herd. We’ve utilized rented ground and job opportunities to run cows. We were blessed to purchase our own ranch in October of last year. Our herd is predominantly angus based although we’ve recently started purchasing Simmental/ Angus bulls to capture some heterosis in our feeder calves. The last few years, we’ve been marketing our calves alongside Luke’s father and brother’s calves. Doing so helps each partner present more favorable commodity loads. Along with the cattle, we have a small herd of Spanish cross goats and a few horses.

Luke grew up a mile from where we live. Like many rural families, his parents had dairy cows until they expanded their stock cow and sheep herds. Luke is an avid outdoorsman who’s always loved hunting and fishing. Before having steady work in the cattle industry, Luke was a carpenter. He utilizes his ranch experiences and carpentry skills with Kartak Customs, his small business where he crafts knives, branding irons, custom furniture and leather goods. Luke has been working with Hellman’s Quiet Creek Ranch for nearly eight years now.

Danielle grew up in central Minnesota on her family’s cow calf operation. Like her uncles and grandparents, they raised Percheron horses for many years. Danielle showed cattle and goats in 4-H and FFA until her interests turned toward roping and rodeos in high school. Rodeo brought her to South Dakota State University where she majored in Animal Science and Ag Business. Danielle started back with Farm Credit Services of America as a Financial Services Officer in 2021 after working at Trans Ova Genetics for six years.

6. What do you want consumers to know about the Beef industry?

Oftentimes, ranching is referred to as a livelihood. You may wonder, “What’s that mean? Why is that important?” Ranching for the long-haul means being stewards to the land and keeping cows comfortable and taking care of the environment, we are blessed to manage our cows with respect and making sure they are content and well taken care of. In this lifestyle, the lack of responsibility and care of our animals would mean the demise of our way of life.

How can consumers help keep good producers producing? By learning from beef farmers and ranchers about where their food comes from, buying beef locally and supporting their local butcher shops, and if they can’t buy locally, we want them to know that beef is nutritious and a great choice of protein no matter where you choose to buy it.

7. One word to describe your life as a rancher and why?

We chose the word “encompassing”. Luke says “You better have a closet full of hats because you’re going to wear them all.” Each day, ranchers need to act as nutritionists, veterinarians, marketing specialists, and so much more. Goals need to be set, assessed and planned for. Ranchers are on call 24/7. Besides daily tasks, you never know when a waterline may break or an animal will go ill. Ranching encompasses our hearts. We have to love it or there’s no way we could put ourselves through all the highs and lows year after year.

8. Favorite Beef Dish?

Although you can’t beat a good T-Bone or Tenderloin steak on the grill with some onions, we love a meal of Stuffed Green Peppers. To feed a crowd, we go with Mexican Spaghetti.

Photo credit: Sandhills Blue Photography

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