While some may argue that Antelope County has always been livestock friendly, it’s official now.
Lt. Governor Mike Foley was on hand Thursday during the Thiele Dairy Open House to designate Antelope County as Livestock Friendly.
“This is a very important day for Antelope County, and it’s a big deal for Nebraska, which is all about agriculture,” Foley told the Antelope County News following a private tour of the new facility at Thiele Dairy.
“We’re very proud of our farmers and ranchers. Agriculture is a $25 billion industry and dominates our state’s economy,” Foley said. “Just in Antelope County, it’s more than a half billion dollar in sales. Again, more than half of that is in livestock.”
Earlier this year, the Antelope County Supervisors applied for the state designation after Robert Johnston and Allan Bentley approached the board. Johnston, who serves on the Nebraska Soybean Board, was on hand for the ceremony and said he was proud to have the supervisors unanimously approve the application.
Supervisors Leroy Kerkman, Ed Schindler and Charlie Henery accepted the designation by Foley on behalf of Antelope County.
Both Scott and Luke Thiele, who returned to Clearwater to farm with their family, said livestock has provided them with the opportunity to raise their families in a rural setting. Thiele Dairy is a four-generation operation ran by brothers Bill, Tom and Ron Thiele, along with Ron’s wife Karol. Scott is Tom’s son, and Luke is Ron and Karol’s son.
“Dad, Tom, Bill and Mom—that opportunity was given to them from their parents, and I feel like they took it and ran with it,” Luke Thiele said. “I hope that’s what Scott and I can do from here out. Whether it’s more expansion or maybe it’s in another industry, but hopefully bring more business back into the county. I think that’s where it comes back into play with Antelope County being Livestock Friendly. It promotes and lets us grow as a business, whichever way we want, knowing we have the support from the community and the county to do those things.”
Mat Habrock, assistant director of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, said the Livestock Friendly designation truly is a wonderful way to recognize that the Nebraska economy is built on agriculture.
“There are tremendous opportunities for growth in our ag economy through the advancement of the advancement and expansion of the livestock industry. My hat is off to everyone in Antelope County that recognized the value and importance of agriculture,” he said.
Habrock said the Livestock Friendly program is a commitment from the county not only to the current producers of livestock, but also to those looking for opportunities in agriculture in the future.
He pointed out the dozens of Elgin Future Farmers of America students who could be seen in their blue corduroy jackets touring the new Thiele Dairy facility.
“(This designation) says, ‘We want you here. We want you in operation in our county. We want you to call Antelope County home.’ Your future is bright thanks to the leadership and dedication of the county supervisors in bringing forth this designation,” Habrock said.
Scott Thiele agreed and pointed out that there are currently 15 students in the Clearwater-Orchard school district who have parents employed at Thiele Dairy.
“There’s been an increase in the younger generation moving back to local communities, and I think a lot of that has to do with livestock,” Scott said. “I personally feel that livestock in the community plays such a huge role in so many things. Because of livestock and the younger generation moving back, we’ve seen an increase in school students and local businesses.”
Both Foley and Habrock pointed out the local revenue generated by the livestock industry as proof to its importance to the area. Every dairy cow brings about $5,000 of revenue back with a majority of that staying locally through the purchase of feed, products and equipment.
Daniel Schindler, president of Automated Dairy Service in Clearwater, played a vital role in the new facility at Thiele Dairy. Schindler said he assisted with several remodels of previous barns with the family. A key to the success of their operation, and agriculture in general, has been looking to the future.
“I’ve worked with three generations of the Thiele family,” Schindler said. “The common thing that was always part of those negotiations was what can I do better, how can I improve my business and they always looked at the next level. This is just a stepping stone to get to the next level, and the next, and the next and the next.”
Schindler said Thiele Dairy reserved 14 units, so they can add to the parlor in the future and milk even more cows at the 24-hour operation.
Habrok said that outlook, as well as the outlook by Antelope County’s leaders, continues to provide a strong foundation for the future of agriculture and livestock in the area.
“Thank the Antelope County Supervisors for their leadership in steadying the program and ultimately voting to apply,” he said. “It’s easy to take livestock for granted, but these supervisors have stood up and recognized that they want to leave their footprint in supporting livestock."
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