Custer County Family Farm Going Strong for Generations
By Steve White, Grand Island Bureau Chief - bio | email
A seven generation family farm builds for the future – the Cooksleys of Custer County say they’ve been blessed with good land and good fortune, so they say it’s only right to pay it forward.
Mending fences, caring for cattle, and protecting the land – three generations work together on Cooksley’s Clear Creek Farm.
“It’s a hard life, but a good life,” says Shannon Cooksley.
She moved to Custer County sight unseen after marrying her husband Kevin 39 years ago. He’s the fifth generation on their land, dating back to 1878.
Their son Casey works with them, and their daughter Leah and her husband Matt returned to the ranch to raise generation seven: their daughter Maggie.
Kevin says their success through the generations is one part sacrifice, one part luck as they weather storms, both natural and economic .
“I’ve never seen cattle prices as high as they are today, never seen hay prices as high as they were two years ago, never seen corn prices as high as they were two years ago, and look at where they are today – back down like ten years ago,” says Kevin.
Drought forced them to cut back 20% on their cow-calf herd. Kevin says his approach to ranching is to always have a Plan B.
“Somebody said one time you hope for the best and expect the worst and you won’t be disappointed,” says Kevin. “You’ve got to have a great banker, somebody who’s not a yes or no man, but acts like a sounding board.”
Just as the generations before him did, Kevin believes in serving the community. He’s served locally on school board and township board, at the state level on the rural radio board and Nebraska Farm Bureau, and even on advisory councils for the governor and Congressman Adrian Smith.
“Actually that’s my therapy,” says Kevin. “I love doing this, but I like getting out serving the public. My grandfather had a saying: public service is the rent you pay for your time here on earth.”
They do it with granddaughter Maggie in mind, keeping their success in perspective.
“Seems like a lot of people have the misconception just because you have a lot of land, you’re rich, but you aren’t rich, you’re rich in the memories you make,” says Shannon.