From her University of Nebraska-Lincoln dorm room as a 19-year-old sophomore, Shaye Koester recorded a podcast that has spiraled into a growing global rancher education business called Casual Cattle Conversations.
A rancher-to-rancher podcast, Casual Cattle Conversations hosts producers to share experiences, stories and information to empower ranchers to create profitable operations and improve their lifestyles through RancherMinds, round table discussions.
With listeners in all 50 states, Canada, Australia and Mexico, Koester has jumped head-first into podcast production to produce one episode per week, as well as a weekly blog, newsletter, social media marketing and one live event per month.
Her path was nearly very different. The senior animal science major with minors in Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship and Nebraska Beef Industry Scholars at Nebraska planned to attend college in her home state of North Dakota — that is until she arrived home from the national Future Farmers of America convention to find a scholarship notification from Nebraska.
Koester grew up a fifth-generation rancher on her family’s commercial cow calf and registered operation, Koester Red Angus, near Steele, North Dakota, in the south-central part of the state.
“I’ve learned to do anything on the ranch from feeding, tagging, putting mineral out, working with horses and dog, DNA sampling and vaccinating,” she said. “My parents made sure we could do everything — run every piece of equipment, make sure we could handle it if we had to treat a calf, and even making mating decisions.”
Koester’s passion for innovation and ranching roots complements her values of being a student of life, and of helping others to learn. Learning about raising cattle and ranching alongside her parents, and both sets of grandparents on the northern plains instilled a great deal of grit in Koester. She says her family has guided her, but also allowed her to be very independent and learn on her own, too.
Koester says from the time she was young, she knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur, because her family is made up of entrepreneurs in the cattle industry. After watching her older sister succeed in her college years and career, Koester loved her hometown and rural life but ultimately decided to break the mold and explore what the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources had to offer.
“It was time to do something different, it was time to bust out,” Koester said.
After her family friends connected her with the Engler program, and its director, Tom Field, Koester traveled the 600 miles to East Campus for a tour, had a lunch meeting with Field, and spoke with two current students.
Although Koester had been on campus once before for a livestock judging competition, Koester said East Campus immediately felt like home, and she knew Nebraska was the place for her. Koester sealed the deal by immediately sticking a big red “N” sticker on her laptop, phone case, and anything else she could brand with Nebraska.
“East Campus feels like a family, you feel right at home and the opportunities — there was never a resource I didn’t have, or a person I couldn’t go up to, ask a question and get pointed in the right direction, Koester says.
“You look at people on the highest levels at Nebraska — Dean (Tiffany) Heng Moss, Mike Boehm, even Ronnie Green — they’ll always greet you, and the whole organization is down-to-earth and offers that family feel.”
While Koester dug into her time within the Engler program and continued ideation, she also hesitated to take the leap of starting the podcast. She says it took five emails from Field that summer that basically encouraged her to “just start.”
That following August, Casual Cattle Conversations was born.
Coming up on three years since its founding, Koester has big plans for Casual Cattle Conversations. What was once a frustration where she saw an opportunity for ranchers to educate themselves on management practices and a better way to meet other ranchers has led her to create a platform for rancher-to-rancher education and storytelling.
“I love my podcast, doing interviews and seeing that I have listeners globally,” Koester says.
After graduation Koester will continue to support others in the industry with Casual Cattle Conversations part-time. Koester will also work remotely in marketing and communications with New Stockyard Group, a company that developed a calving book and data management application designed to make working on ranches more efficient, which she interned for last summer. Koester looks forward to returning to her home state and growing her herd alongside her family.
“Nebraska is such a good institution, and I hope Nebraskans understand what they have in their own state,” Koester says.
“From the beef industry standpoint, Nebraska has all the segments too and that has been very valuable for me coming down here.”