NIMROD, Minn. – Sarah Kuschel is happy to share the positive message of Minnesota farming and ranching.
Recently chosen as the very first Farmfest Farm Woman of the Year, Sarah ranches alongside her husband, Miles Kuschel, on the Rocking K Ranch in north central Minnesota. Her days are spent working with the cow/calf herd on 3,200 acres of grass, forest and cropland in Cass County.
Miles and Sarah work side-by-side with Miles’ parents, Tom and Linda Kuschel.
The Kuschels welcomed Sarah into the ranching operation when she and Miles married 18 years ago. The younger generation has three children, Mackenzie, 15, Kelcie, 13, and Rohan, 9, who all work at the ranch, as well.
When she’s not a ranch wife, Sarah works as a Minnesota Ag in the Classroom (MAITC) curriculum specialist for northern Minnesota. She provides agriculture materials and training to teachers across the region.
Rancher, mother, MAITC curriculum specialist – Sarah finds all her “jobs” complement each other.
“It’s a great job for me off the ranch, because I truly do believe in the future of agriculture and the importance of ag literacy,” she said. “We’re helping our youth today – who are going to be our consumers of tomorrow – understand where their food comes from.”
Farm advocate from the start
Sarah grew up as a “farm kid” with her dad, Charles Funk, a well-respected ag teacher and FFA Advisor at Motley, Sebeka and Menahga high schools. Charles and his wife, Cheryl, owned cattle and sold bulls while their children were growing up.
Miles was one of “Mr. Funk’s” top students. He was awarded the Stars Over America in Ag Placement, and also completed an FFA ag exchange program at a dairy farm in Australia.
Sarah and Miles were high school sweethearts. They intend to never forget the story of how Miles’ grandparents started their ranch in the 1940s.
Married in 1941, Morris and Stella Kuschel moved to a small farm until Morris was called to serve in the European Theater during WWII. He served 38 months.
“He sent home money from the Army with the instructions to, ‘Use this to provide for you, or if you have everything under control, buy land.’”
Stella and their firstborn child held down the home front and were also able to buy 40 acres while Morris was fighting for the U.S.A. When he returned home, Morris and Stella gradually developed a large and successful cattle operation. All four of their children became involved in agriculture, and Morris was also a founding member of the Minnesota Cattlemen’s Association.
“Grandpa wanted to ranch in the mountains, but he was a very good cattleman and looking at the economics involved, he believed he could raise more cattle per acre in Minnesota than he could in the mountains of Montana,” Sarah said.
Morris saw the value of setting up rotational grazing, and the Kuschels still use the paddocks he designed today. The herd in 2020 includes Purebred Registered Black Angus, Red Angus, Charolais and Hereford breeds that are kept on pasture year around.
Calving starts at the end of February and feeder calves are sold in the fall.
“We market them via private treaty or on video,” Sarah said. “This year they will be sold on the Tri-County Stockyards video sale on Sept. 16 for delivery the end of October.”
When there is branding or fall roundup to be done, the Kuschels rely on a large network of family and friends that show up to help. The Kuschels also help their neighbors, too. A lot of the cattle work is accomplished with horses, and both men and women help move the cattle via horseback.
“We work hard together, but we have a lot of fun together,” she said. “I am always inspired to put my best foot forward to make sure the memories we are making will last a long time, because our time here is never guaranteed.”
The Kuschels are very involved in Farm Bureau and served on the Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee. Through Farm Bureau, Sarah has had the opportunity to travel around the United States teaching youth about agriculture
As an advocate for agriculture, Sarah will often tell teachers and youth about the joys and discomforts of farming. She talks about the beautiful sunrises and sunsets, as well as drudgery of going out to feed and bed cattle in freezing rain or temperatures well below zero.
The whole family loves to talk about and work with cattle, but they’ve also experienced the uncertainty of the markets and plant closures during the pandemic.
There’s nothing like seeing a baby calf take its first halting steps toward its dam’s udder, but there is also the threat of wolves coming to the pasture.
“For us to have all of the joys we have now, there were people who went through a lot of discomforts and struggles to get the ranch to where it is today,” she said. “That is always in the back of my mind as we go forward, to try to carry on the legacy and the family traditions. The fact that I was able to marry into this family, and they took me as one of their own, and let me continue to share and spread the legacy that was created here, is extremely important to me.”
Sarah was nominated by a fellow rancher for the Farmfest Farm Woman of the Year Award. Tuning in digitally on Aug. 6, she learned that she was selected as this year’s winner from five deserving finalists.
Sarah intends to use her platform to remind her children that hard work and enthusiasm for agriculture does pay off. She also hopes that many young women have the opportunity for mentorship within agricultural careers.
“Your story doesn’t have to be just like mine, and my story doesn’t have to be just like yours, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be leaders in agriculture and proud of what we are doing in establishing those strong connections with our consumers, our peers and our neighbors,” she concluded.