Russ Peard: A steward of cattle, family (2023)

Cheyenne RoweAurora News-Register

Editor’s note: Each year, the York-Hamilton County Cattlemen honor two producers, one from each county. The York News-Times creates the feature for the York County producer, the Aurora News-Register creates the feature for the Hamilton County producer. This is the piece written for the Hamilton County producer who will be honored on Jan. 31 during this year’s Cattlemen’s Banquet in York.

PHILLIPS — Faith, family and feeding cattle.

Living now in the house he grew up in, rural Phillips resident Russ Peard is dedicated to these three pillars in his life. He is being honored for the latter by the York-Hamilton County Cattlemen at the end of the month.

“Our family always had livestock. We were very diversified,” Peard began, telling the story of his start in the world of cattle. “We had the whole gamut. I had done chores before I ever went to school. I gathered eggs and would bring them to the house and helped my mom wash them.”

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This was his way of getting a taste of the responsibilities of the farm at an early age. His first real “involvement” came around age 7 to 9.

“I wanted a bicycle,” Peard said with a laugh. “And my dad said, ‘I’ll buy a bicycle, but you need to earn it.’ He was always really big about teaching me the lesson around everything.”

In order to spend money, you have to earn it and have it, he added.

“So he bought a handful of Holstein steers, because he knew they would be very gentle,” he said. “I had them in a little pen with a feed bunk in there and a hay rack, and I would pitch hay up to them and bucket corn and pellets out to them and stir it around by hand. They would push me around and lick me.”

Peard’s eyes lit up recounting the early memory.

“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “I don’t know if they made any money or not, but I got the bicycle. I was hooked from then on.”

The producer’s life in cattle continued as he grew, as he participated in 4-H and was a regular face showing cattle at the Hamilton County Fair.

For most of his life, Peard was an “only child,” until his sister came along 17 years later, so he spent the rest of his free time hanging around his father — Louis “Swede” Peard.

The late cattle-master taught Peard a lot of what he knows and inspired a deep-seated passion for land stewardship.

Swede was honored for his life feeding cattle in 1996 when he received Hamilton County Feeder Association’s long-time feeder award.

Peard furthered, noting his dad, alongside longtime friend Bud Jeffries, had a thing for Holstein heifers.

“The dairy business is just an all-together business, or it was at that time,” he said. “So while all of my buddies from school were playing football or shooting basketballs, on Saturday and Sunday afternoons I was riding around in the back seat of a car with my dad and Bud, driving around to different dairies in the northeast part of the state learning how to negotiate and buy cattle.”

This was another affirming time for Peard.

“I thought to myself, ‘Wow, if you can do this and earn a living doing it, count me in,’” he said with a laugh. “So that’s how everything started for me.”

After high school graduation Peard wanted to stick around the homeplace and farm with his father, but Swede insisted his son get a college education. Peard tried it for a year before deciding it really wasn’t the best fit for him. Swede, ever the teacher, told his son that that was fine, but he needed to figure out how to make a living on his own.

“We had a little pasture and it would hold (maybe) 27 cows,” he said. “I went to AI, artificial insemination, school and that’s what I did. I took those 27 cows, he sold them to me, and AI’d them to really high-powered bulls and we raised club calves out of those.”

In the meantime, Peard got married, starting on another tract of his life that holds high importance today. Peard’s family consists of wife, Randyce, sons Andy and Ben, and daughter Chrissy, as well as a number of beloved grandchildren.

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“Dad and I (eventually) went into a partnership with each other,” he continued. “We kind of went from grazing club calves and trading dairy heifers, to raising registered bulls so we could. We did that for a few years.”

This included buying a bunch of yearling heifers and turning them out into the pastures with the bulls.

“We would use our own bulls on these heifers and raise bred heifers,” he said. “And the heifers that weren’t good enough to turn out and make cows out of, we took them and fed them. That’s when I started feeding cattle.”

Peard decided around this time that feeding cattle, getting them ready for slaughter, was what he wanted to concentrate on — outside of the production agriculture side of his life and farming food-grade white corn.

“I sold the last set of his heifers after he passed away in 2002,” Peard said of his father. “I had started feeding before that, I started in 1994, but Dad was never interested in that so I had to feed cattle someplace other than right here.”

This pointed Peard in the direction of commercial feedlots and after 2002 he pushed the business in the main direction of feeding cattle, including on the home place, and the herd grew over the years. After his children came along, Peard voiced that the boys followed his path in deciding they wanted to come back home after school to farm.

Peard was also quick to include words of gratitude toward longtime farm hand Alan Carriker.

“He worked for me for years while the kids were younger,” he said. “He was a really big part of everything that I had done.”

Not being able to expand the cattle operation in Phillips, Peard pushed his operation outside of Nebraska.

“We decided that in order to sustain three families, we needed to feed cattle somewhere,” he said. “So if it wasn’t going to be here, we had to kind of look around and figure out somewhere else we could go and do that. A friend of mine pointed us to southwest Kansas.”

The Peards started feeding cattle down there in 2013, he said, and they’ve had cattle on feed there ever since.

“It’s a pretty large scale operation down there,” he said. “We go down about three times a year.”

It was always a goal to have the family together on the farm, Peard said. And now that they are, the whole process is very rewarding.

“We don’t really feel like this is a job,” Peard affirmed. “We’re very church based and we feel like we’re actually stewards of the land and keepers of the cattle. We feel like if we approach it with that kind of an attitude — that’s the first thing we’ve got to do is have our priorities right, and when we do that, a lot of the things just fall in place for us.”

Peard noted that he is very humbled, but surprised, to be honored by the York-Hamilton County Cattlemen.

“There are so many people in this industry, in our county and surrounding areas, who are outstanding stockman and outstanding stewards,” he said.

Peard was quick to pay tribute to those who are part of the process as well, like veterinarians and buyers and the integrity that surrounds them all.

“This honor just gives me great pleasure,” he said. “I feel very honored to be amongst them.”

His family all agreed that their patriarch is deserving of this honor.

“I am incredibly thrilled that they have decided to honor Russ with this award,” Randyce said. “He is very deserving of it and I feel that his hard work and work ethic that he has instilled in our family is so valuable.”

His children agreed.

“I’m just really proud of him,” said daughter, Chrissy. “My dad is the first to stand up and clap for everybody else and I’ve watched him be very humbled by this, which I’m not surprised, and even struggle a little bit with the attention. But he has been a Christian role model for all of us and the way he approaches life is how he approaches his work.”

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