August 9, 2021
After working full time off the ranch, Calli Thorne took a leap of faith away from a stable career to work on the ranch with her children. Shortly after, her husband, CJ, also transitioned to work full time on their fourth-generation cattle ranch in Watford City, N.D.
“I had a 2-year-old and a brand-new baby, and I made the hard decision to leave my job,” Thorne says. “I think a lot of women probably struggle with that at some point if they have kids. I told my husband that he should keep his job for health insurance purpose. Well, he quit his job a few months later, so since we've been in our 20s, we have both been home full time.”
Thorne originally went to North Dakota State University and graduated with a degree in animal science and went on to work for NDSU for five years before deciding to come back to the farm full time.
“I grew up in Watford City on my family's farm and ranch, and my grandparents were only a few hundred yards away. We were always a cow-calf operation, and our crop side has dwindled down from what it was before,” she says.
Pivoting for profit
While originally a cow-calf operation, Thorne says she and CJ were always willing to make changes as needed. “If people watch us from the outside, they’d say we’re open and willing to tweak our enterprises to treat it like a true business. We were cow-calf for our entire life until we went down to the Ranching for Profit School,” Thorne says.
The Ranching for Profit School through Ranch Management Consultants helps to teach business ideals and assists producers in determining profit margins on their operations.
“You really crunch numbers on your enterprises, whether it's the feedlot or the cow-calf operation or the beef business. You split them all out and see some true numbers. Then we realized cow-calf, as much as we loved it, wasn't profitable,” she says.
With the amount of money cow calf required for hay, feed and the location of their ranch, they needed to look into other opportunities to turn a profit. “We have such a willingness to pivot. When CJ moved here and we got married, he built what we call a backgrounding feedlot,” Thorne explains.
Alongside their backgrounding feedlot, the Thornes run additional businesses with their entrepreneurial mindset. In the midst of COVID-19, they began direct meat marketing of their cattle.
“Prices were skyrocketing, and the grocery store plus shelves were looking empty. It was almost like this perfect storm. The markets were bad, too, for cow-calf still, and we needed to figure something out to make some money as business owners,” Thorne says. “It was a win-win, because we could profit and offer customers a good price for quality product from the ranch.”
Aside from their meat marketing, Thorne is involved in Mary Kay cosmetics, and is a certified coach with the John Maxwell team to offer speaking, training and coaching.
“It focuses on personal and professional leadership development, which is fun because I work with the at-home mom who's trying to ranch,” she says, as well as with “banks and dental offices, and oilfield companies on leadership training.”
Preserving ranch's future
As with most ranchers, the Thornes’ work to ensure their three children have the opportunity to take over and be the fifth-generation ranching.
“We've worked hard to be more regenerative in our fields and do cover crops. It helps the soil but then it also gives us a feed in the fall or winter for our cattle,” Thorne says. “We just always want to be improving the land, because it benefits us, benefits cattle and benefits generations to come. So we work hard at those things.”
They also stay invested in their local community, and are involved in numerous causes ranging from the township fire department to local, state and national stock associations.
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