SD Farmers Union Celebrates Harding County Routier Family

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Bill was the gentle, old horse who babysat Jessica Routier during the day while her mom trained horses.

“I don’t have a first memory of horses. They were always there, and I was always on them,” recalls Jessica, a fourth-generation cattle producer and professional barrel racer.

“We grew up the same way,” explains her husband, Riley, a sixth generation South Dakota rancher. “Horses were a part of our everyday life on the ranch.”

Together, Riley and Jessica continue the legacy on the family’s ranch. Their five children spend the days with their parents, horseback in the training barn practicing for an upcoming rodeo or checking cattle.

“Our operation is a family operation,” Riley explains of their ranch near Buffalo, South Dakota.

“Neither of us would be able to do what we do without our kids,” Jessica adds, explaining that whenever possible, the entire family travels together to rodeos. And when ranch work keeps Riley home, she brings a grandparent or friend along so at least the youngest three can travel with her.

The Routier children are son, Braden, 14; and daughters: Payton, 12; Rose, 5; Rayna, 5; and Charlie, 4.

The couple met while Jessica was a collegiate rodeo athlete and working toward a Master’s in Business Administration from National American University in Rapid City. Both had a strong desire to build their life together ranching. “Ranching, in general is a great life, although it can be very frustrating sometimes,” says Riley.

Jessica and Riley lease most of the land they manage from Riley’s parents, Laurie and Terry Goehring. They purchased their first piece of land, which borders the land they lease about five years ago, utilizing a Young and Beginning Farmer Loan from Farm Service Agency.

“Nowadays, unless you have a lot of cash sitting around, it is extremely difficult to get started in farming and ranching,” Riley explains.

And although their end product is sold at weaning, Riley says grass is what they really raise. “We are more grass ranchers than cattle ranchers. Grass is the most important thing.”

To manage their rangeland, they nearly always start their seasonal grazing rotation in a different pasture and only graze half. “We are always looking for ways to manage the grass better,” he says. Over the years, the couple has also planted several acres of tree belts. “In Harding County, we always say a shelter belt is planted today for the next generation – so it’s important. There was a big old established tree belt here.”

They market many of their calves off the cow through Schiefelbein Farms buy-back program. “There’s no paying a commission and it fits our operation well,” Riley says of the Minnesota-based, family-run, registered Angus seedstock/feeder/finisher operation.

To ensure heavier calves, Riley and Jessica calve early February.

Juggling the ranch schedule and Jessica’s rodeo schedule can be challenging, but they wouldn’t have it any other way. “Our kids are raised to be flexible. The only thing we consistently do is we don’t ever do the same thing twice,” she says. “I try to coordinate my rodeos around ranchwork and family activities.”

Last year was the first year Jessica rodeoed in southern states during the winter months.

To help Riley out during calving and other times when Jessica is on the road, the Routiers have two employees.

She and Riley say traveling across the country for rodeos is a valuable experience for their children. “The kids have swam in both oceans and our older kids are more ‘street-wise,‘ than most,” Riley explains. “There are a lot of life lessons in rodeo.”

Their children agree. When they aren’t doing ranch chores, they spend most of their time practicing for rodeo events together. “I have gotten to meet a lot of people through rodeo,” says Braden, a freshman at Harding County High School.

In addition to barrels, poles, goat tying and breakaway events, Payton also does trick riding. “I saw a girl named Roz Beaton at circuit finals when I was 4. Before I saw her, I wanted to be a rodeo queen, but this (trick riding) looked way more fun.”

A career as a professional rodeo athlete wasn’t exactly what Jessica planned. “I always get the question, ‘When did you decide you wanted to rodeo for a living?’ Truth is, it was never something I decided. It is something I have always done, and I never thought of not doing it. Thankfully, I have had good horses come my way who allow me to make a living doing it.’”

She adds that the ranch is a perfect place for rodeo horses. “I like to let the horses be horses as much as I can. I don’t think they would be happy living in a barn all the time. Or to be cooped up. They get to be out, and they are happy that way.”

And like the horses they love, the Routier family is happy on the ranch as well. View more photos of the Routier family at http://www.SDFU.org.

–South Dakota Farmers Union

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