Cattle rancher Dennis Jilg lives and works 30 miles south of the Niobrara River near Newport in Rock County.
Dennis lives on the family’s home place, which includes two tree claims his great-grandfather and great-great-grandmother filed in 1885-86. He ranches with his younger brother Mark. They have a predominantly Angus cow/calf herd ranging from 200 to 300 cows. They retain ownership of their calves and buy additional lightweight calves during the winter. They market the calves the following year as yearlings. A portion of the calves are custom-fed.
Unlike many ranchers, the Jilgs don’t keep their own heifers for their herd.
“You can buy a second- or third-calf cow for little more than the cost of keeping a heifer from the time she was born until she has her first calf,” he explains. That approach enables the Jilgs to run more cattle on their land.
Many people think “farmer” and “rancher” means the same thing, but Dennis is clear that he’s a rancher: “We plant no crops, and we don’t irrigate. We rely totally on the gifts of God. It kind of rubs the furs the wrong way to be called a farmer,” he says, because their work is very different.
Dennis and his wife Barbara have three children. Barbara is originally from Oregon but graduated from Ord High School. They met through mutual friends in Lincoln after Dennis returned from military service in Vietnam. Their older son, Kit, is the assistant manager at O’Reilly in Columbus, their daughter, Stephanie, manages Sally Beauty Supply in Norfolk and younger son, Tad, is the parts manager at Green Line John Deere in Norfolk. The kids help on the ranch when they can, but coordinating their schedules isn’t any easier than when they were in high school, Dennis says.
Dennis is a past president of Rock County Farm Bureau. He’s also a county commissioner and past president of the Leafy Spurge Working Task Force. He has a message for consumers:
“Don’t believe everything you’re told by the media. They only pick out the sour apples and try to hold them up as an example, when we work with livestock – we truly care about their well-being.”