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Father, son drawn back to family farm

Photos by Sarah McNaughton Cattle at Ransom County operation
BEEF COMFORT: The Bartholomays aim to have comfortable and healthy cattle on their Ransom County operation in North Dakota, aided by their confinement feeding system.
For the Bartholomays, coming back to the Ransom County, N.D., operation wasn’t the plan, but now they’re partners in the ranch operation.

Neither Keith Bartholomay nor his son Karl originally planned to come back to their family operation in Ransom County, N.D., but after time away, both found their way back home.

“When I was a kid and in college, there was no way in heck I was ever going to farm and ranch in my life,” Keith says. “After eight years of working in other states, I couldn’t stay away and came back in 1982 to join my father and my brother. I liked the cattle, and we raised everything we could and integrated the cattle into it.”

Karl had a similar experience. “I went to Bismarck State College for two years and then transferred to [North Dakota State [University] and got my bachelor’s degree in ag economics,” he says. “When I first went to college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. It was when I went to Bismarck and I was away from home that I missed being home, seeing the cows, and then I knew I was going to come back when I was done.”

Keith originally ran their family farm with his brother but split the operation when his brother wasn’t ready to retire. “My brother had a son, and I went through all this transition planning and the plan was to step aside and turn it over to the boys,” he explains. “Only thing was, he didn’t want to retire, and I did. So, we split the operation, and Karl and I took over the cattle.”

Now, Keith and Karl operate Bartholomay Kattle Kompany, with Keith working part time, while the family transitions for Karl to take over the operation full time. “Karl came right back after college; he was ready to come back,” Keith says.

Hoop barn system allows more cattle comfort

HOOP BARN: Karl Bartholomay says this hoop barn allows for more cattle comfort, better rate of gain and an easier workload for him.

The Bartholomays run a cow-calf beef and feedlot operation, in addition to raising corn, alfalfa, beans, oats and peas.

Since Karl’s return to the farm, the Bartholomays have added a hoop-barn feeding facility. Built in 2017, the barn is 480 feet long and can feed 480 head of cattle. The barn is divided into seven pens — five 80-foot pens and two 40-foot pens on either end.

Karl says the design ensures that the cattle stay cleaner and have better access to feed. “The pen divisions are so 75 to 80 head can be in the large pens, and 35 to 40 head in the small pens. The cattle stay clean, and flies lie on the bunks instead of on the animals,” he explains.

Drive for future success

“We put this whole facility in a couple years after I came back, and this will be our fourth year with this,” Karl says of their hoop barn. They chose to put in the hoop barn due to their land being too wet and sandy to have an open feedlot. “The cattle are always comfortable; they rarely go off feed even in heat or bad weather,” Karl says.

Another benefit for this barn is that Karl can take care of most cattle-related chores on his own. “The barn day to day is mostly just feeding, and then scraping and bedding once a week, and then stripping pens once a year” he explains.

The new facility is an important piece of their operation for the next generation.

“Conservation has always been real important,” Keith says, “and I think I drove it home to him [Karl]. It’s been my life, and I’ve been supervisor of Ransom County Conservation District. With our system, there’s virtually no manure that gets in the water, but we still worry about potential runoff since we drink the water, too.”

Karl plans to keep up the day-to-day operations with Keith as his part-time help and look into potential help in the next few years.

“If we could get a hired man, we can raise more cattle and maybe put up another barn and be on that bigger scale,” Karl says.


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