BOWMAN — Skeeter Brooks is getting an education not only in ranching, but also the often unseen business that happens outside of the corrals.
The 25-year-old is part of the sixth generation at Brooks Chalky Butte Angus Ranch, and said her ranching education is growing every day — particularly through her father Steve Brooks’ role as North Dakota Stockmen’s Association president.
“We learn a lot from it,” she said. “Every day, somebody might call and they’ll have a question about brands or something, so that furthers us in our education. You meet so many people too. There’s always people stopping by. When you go somewhere, you always run into somebody.”
Steve Brooks — who runs Brooks Chalky Butte Angus Ranch north of Bowman with his brother, Ryan, and their families — has spent a lifetime ranching. But for the past year and a half, he has also taken on the leadership role among cattlemen in the state. Though the position forces him to balance his time between working on the ranch and on behalf of his peers throughout the state, Brooks said he’s pleased with what he’s been able to accomplish — even if it keeps him very busy.
“Being president of Stockmen’s has involved a lot more than I realized,” he said with a laugh, noting he was also president of American Angus Association in 2003. “That was a big job, and I thought this was a step down and a lot less time consuming, but it’s not.”
During last year’s legislative session, Brooks said he drove from Bowman to Bismarck a dozen times. He’s taken trips to Washington, D.C., to meet with the state’s Congressional delegation and others in the agriculture industry.
And he does all of it while operating the 109-year-old ranch that’s gearing up for its annual production sale April 2 in Bowman. They’ll be selling about 180 bulls that day, as well as 1,000 of their customers’ bred heifers.
“It’s a lot harder to get away,” he said.
As Stockmen’s Association president, Brooks has lobbied against government overreach in the country-of-origin labeling (COOL) program for marketing U.S. beef, helped ensure a beef checkoff rate increase from $1 to $2 a head to help with the program’s long-term sustainability, represented southwest North Dakota landowner interests in a debate against the Bureau of Land Management over the classification of the sage grouse as an endangered species, and lobbied against the controversial Waters of the U.S. rule that would allow the federal government, namely the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, jurisdiction over most of the nation’s bodies of water — including waters on private land.
The most recent issue he’s working through is how a change in state tax law has affected the way counties can charge property tax on those leasing state school land, which is done mostly for use as pasture.
“We’ve been working on some of that to get that straightened out,” Brooks said, adding the Stockmen’s Association is seeking the state attorney general’s opinion on the matter.
He also said the Stockmen’s Association is aiming to increase brand fees 50 cents soon because of increases in its health insurance and salaries that help keep the association competitive in the job market.
Brooks said it’s a good time to be an established cattleman in North Dakota.
“Last year was the best market we’d ever seen in the history of cattle in the U.S.,” he said. “We turn around and it’s dropped 60-70 cents a pound and we’re still in the second-best market we’ve been in.”
And at the end of the day, that’s who Brooks is — a cattleman who is doing what he can to ensure more family ranches and farms stay afloat.