Jaynes lynn
Emeritus Editor
Lynn Jaynes retired as an editor in 2023.

Return to ranching through diversification

Sarah (Switzer) Sortum, from Burwell, Nebraska, grew up on a farming, ranching mixed-operation that at one time had supported three families. About the time Sortum left high school, Switzer Ranch struggled to carry even one family, so Sarah and her brother, Adam, left the ranch in search of a “better life.”

Sarah Sortum from Burwell, Nebraska
A tornado in 2001 that killed 50 head of 2- and 3-year-old cows changed that. It forced the ranch to look at alternative revenue sources. That’s where Sortum entered the ranching picture again.

One drastic change in management was the decision to move the ranch from a cow-calf operation to three business lines: custom grazing, backgrounding and short-term cows. This decreased the financial risk, facilitated advantageous reactions to market trends and allowed more flexibility in management decisions.

Sarah Sortum Switzer Ranch
Another major shift was when Adam created Calamus Outfitters on the ranch. This business allows Switzer Ranch to generate additional income from the same acreage through lodging, hunting, river trips and jeep safari tours, giving more value to those resources. One area of particular interest for the ranch is the development of the Nebraska Prairie Chicken Festival. During the spring, Calamus Outfitters offers viewings of prairie chicken breeding grounds on Switzer Ranch.

Through diversification, Switzer Ranch now once again supports three families. Although Sarah and Adam are not generally considered first-generation ranchers by most definitions, coming home to the ranch would not have been an option if diversification had not come into play. It could technically be argued that they are first generation operators.  FG

Click here to read Part 3 of this series, about dairyman Jacob Shenk.


TOP: Without ranch diversification, Sarah Sortum and her brother, Adam Switzer, would not have been able to return to the family ranch.

MIDDLE: Through management changes and the introduction of three new business lines, three families have begun ranching together.

BOTTOM: Sarah Sortum and her sons move cows on Switzer Ranch in Burwell, Nebraska. Photos courtesy of Brian Baxter.