Joan Ruskamp describes the feed lot business: "It's like running a hotel. We have lots of rooms to put cattle and we want to keep them happy and well-fed while they're here."
It's a description that came to her while she was talking with a hotel employee at the Opryland Hotel during the recent Cattle Industry Convention in Nashville.
"She understood it immediately," said Ruskamp. "She understood that we were in similar businesses, that we have to work hard to take care of our guests."
Ruskamp migrated back to the business when she married her husband, Steve, almost 32 years ago. It was a return to her roots. Her grandparents had farmed in northwestern Nebraska years ago, but she was a city girl working as a veterinary technician when she met her husband at a dance. Their farm, near Dodge, Nebraska, about an hour northwest of Omaha, will celebrate its centennial this month.
"There must have been something I inherited from my grandparents in my genetic code. I've always loved cattle and I think I wanted to get back to it when I met Steve." Her vet tech training came in handy, too. She does the necessary vaccinations, doctoring and record keeping for the business which is now a feedlot with the capacity to handle 4,000 head.
"The place was empty when we started but we had a chance to build a business," she said as she described what it was like getting started soon after they were married. "The 80's were tough but we came through it and we're doing very well now. We work as a team and the balance Steve and I bring to the business is important.
"We have five children ages 20 to 31 and four of them are scattered all over the world - Peru, Austria, Chicago. Our oldest daughter, Ginger (31), lives near Omaha, is married and has a two year old daughter. Ginger is teaches English at Yutan High School. Our son, Scott (28), is a computer engineer in Santa Barbara with frequent business trips to Japan. Emily (26) lives in Chicago and is attending grad school for intercultural ministry. Jeff (24) is in religious formation in Lima, Peru with the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae. Our youngest, Kim (20), is a sophomore at Franciscan University in Stuebenville, Ohio, and is currently studying abroad in Austria. I helped them by being a volunteer 4-H leader for 20 years and being very involved in our church.”
In fact, volunteer work is a big part of her life. In addition to her Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB) activities, she's still a 4-H leader, a volunteer EMT, catechist, and a member of several farm organizations including the Farm Bureau Pen Pal Program, Nebraska Cattlemen, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, American National CattleWomen, Nebraska Farm Bureau, Nebraska Soybean Association, and the Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska.