Sadie Bolze loves getting her neighbors thinking.
The founder of Bolze Beef said when it comes to finding a way in the beef industry you must, “Never stop learning and never be afraid to try anything crazy.”
Bolze and her boyfriend Tanner Nielsen are dedicated to doing just that – learning and raising cows near Chadron in western Nebraska.
“We should be married by now. But we’re too busy with the cows,” she said.
They are perfectly fine with that, too. They both hail from strong cattle backgrounds. Bolze is the daughter of Dr. Ron Bolze and Becky, who have a long history in the cattle industry, livestock associations, and academia. Nielsen’s parents are, Tim and Teresa. He comes from a commercial cattle background.
“I love my girls,” she said.
The “girls” are a seedstock black Angus herd raised on all grass and no grain. They originated from 11-head from her dad’s family farm in Pennsylvania. They have been breeding on them for 43 years, line breeding two different groups of cattle – Emulation and Shoshone. Through those two batches of cows, they are achieving lower input and maternal function, Bolze said.
They calve April 20 through May. They sell the steers at the sale barn, but they hope to grass-finish those eventually, too. The top bulls are sold in their annual bull sale.
Bolze usually doesn’t preg check the cows.
“In fact, they rarely go in the chute,” she said.
They retain our opens, expect for those that are too old, to put them in their beef business, Bolze Beef.
Bolze aims to breed maternal, functional cattle with a focus on fertility.
“Our Bonsma-shaped cattle are built for longevity,” Bolze said. “I strive to get my ‘granny cows’ up to at least 15 or 16 years old.”
Bolze began learning the ins and outs of the ag industry growing up in northwestern Kansas. She grew up in the Colby area. “John Deere country,” she said. She was involved in 4-H and then her dad got a job with the American Shorthorn Association, moving the family to Blair, Nebraska.
“Thankfully, my folks were able to hang onto the cows through leasing them out to other producers,” she said.
From high school, Bolze headed to Dordt Christian College in Iowa on a basketball and softball scholarship. She started her studies in accounting then switched to ministry and animal science the second semester.
During college, she lambed out some ewes and loved it. Her dad suggested an internship with Vern and Marjean Terrell. They had never had an intern, but they agreed to take her in.
“I lived in their basement for the summer and left with more knowledge and life-long friends,” Bolze said. “I loved it so much that I transferred to Chadron State College.”
During college registration, she took note that a Chadron ag professor was retiring. She called her dad and said, “Wouldn’t it be ironic if they called you to come teach here?” While he didn’t think they would take him back into academia, they did. He became “the cow guy” professor at Chadron and Bolze’s mom works in admissions.
Bolze also took an internship on the Winecup-Gamble Ranch. She helped move 600 head of yearlings grazing under irrigated, cross-sectioned pivots. They moved them every other day, if not every day.
“That was my first taste of ‘regenerative ag,’” she said.
In May 2016, Bolze graduated and took a job with the ranch that was managing their cows in Sidney, Nebraska.
“I loved working with our own cowherd again, but being a hired hand is very different from being the manager,” she said.
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Bolze eventually convinced her mom and dad to bring the cows up to Chadron. They will have been running them there for five years this fall.
One of the biggest challenges is finding leases, but they have gained a state lease that has both its obstacles and blessings. They build polywire fences and move cows at least every three days.
“We haul a lot of water and run fences in places you can only walk to, but we’re making it work,” she said.
The state lease land is benefitting from their practices because they are grazing in such a way that it leaves the land healthier.
“The pastures are coming up thick and green,” Bolze said. “The positives of these types of grazing practices are healthier soil and increased diversity with grasses springing up that weren’t there before.”
It comes from the impact of the herd, trampling and manure. While seeds like big bluestem have always been in the seed bank, they’re fostered from dormancy into life with proper management, Bolze explained. Careful, managed grazing year-round makes all the difference, she said.
They move the cows to the next section while the back section is recovering. In the winter, they subdivide the land heavily to gain more grazing days.
“If you just turn the cows into a huge pasture because you want them to be there for three months, they are only going to pick what they want to eat while over and under grazing at the same time,” Bolze said.
With a regenerative approach to cattle, producers can also increase their cattle numbers.
“It’s a lot of labor setting it up, but it’s worth it,” she said.
Every fence they put in is torn out again. The set-up uses step-in posts, polywire and blue poly water tanks. While Bolze said she never would have thought to haul water, Tanner grew up doing it. They use a pickup truck with a 450-gallon tank and haul a 650-gallon water trailer behind that. They aim not to haul too much water in the winter.
They supplement their cattle feed with apple cider vinegar.
“Those cows suck that stuff down,” Bolze said.
They feed it in different ways. The first winter, it was put on their hay bales and processed. They ate a third less hay than usual, Bolze said. They also don’t itch on the fences as much, which helps greatly since they don’t use any pour-ons.
They feed apple cider vinegar year-round now, if not on hay, in plastic tubs with salt. In the summer, they dump it into their water source.”
This year they plan to wean by the end of November when the May calves are around seven months old. They don’t cull bulls at branding. They keep every one through weaning, then they have two more months to prove themselves. They cut bulls around Jan. 15. Every heifer gets an opportunity to breed unless they are born late. Whatever does not breed is used as a grass-fed animal the next year.
When it comes to finishing, she said, “They are done when they’re done.”
When they have the fat behind that tail head is when they go. Often that’s not until they are 2 and a half years old.
Bolze and Nielsen also have “inside jobs.” She enjoys working for the non-profit Grassfed Exchange. Nielsen is a leatherman, horseman and western cowboy artist whose work can be found on Instagram. His handle is Remuda 18.
But their cows are the center of everything else, Bolze said.
This summer the couple plans to try migratory grazing to give them more time in the saddle and allow them to get to areas we haven’t before. They’ll let the cattle out in the morning and put them in with polywire at night.
“Improving the quality of the grass and soil health is the main goal,” she said. “It’s about letting the cows do the best job at what they are bred to do.”
Bolze said she’s grateful for the long list of people who believed in her and gave me a chance. That included her parents for hanging onto the cows and taking the leap of faith to bring them home; Tanner for his grit, patience and acceptance; and all the mentors that constantly encourage her.
She had a message for young people dreaming of running a herd of their own: “Don’t be afraid to do the things other people are not. Do all the internships you can. Buy a little camper, travel around and learn from as many different producers as you can. Learn everything you can and take home what works best for you and your dream.”