Richard Waller forges ahead with the help of Faith, Family and Friends.

By Patti Wilson  Contributing Editor

Life can be hard; we all have experienced bad times. Richard Waller of Holdrege, Neb., has endured his share of tough times and, thankfully, come through with a glowing attitude about life.
Waller is just a tick shy of 80 years, being a 1944 model. He is the third generation to live in the farmhouse his grandfather built on homesteaded land in Phelps County. Thirteen little Waller children have grown up there since the home was established 132 years ago.

A Return to the Farm

Always interested in the cattle business, he pursued a college education at the University of Nebraska. When his father developed heart problems, Richard relocated to Kearney State College in Kearney; close proximity to the family farm enabled him to help his dad on evenings and weekends. He never did graduate; three years into his college career he returned to the family farm permanently. That is where he was most needed.

At that time, the Waller family owned 800 acres of land and fed 400 steers annually, always Herefords. When Richard came home, he insisted on starting his own enterprise, a herd of 20 Angus cows. In the ensuing years, the blacks have morphed into 250 head of Red Angus, a project Waller clearly enjoys. He keeps replacement heifers and feeds the remainder of his calf crop.

The 37 Brand

Richard explained that his dad’s brand, which included a reverse R and connected W, left a blotchy mess on calves. Conversations with neighbors led him to a rancher from Broken Bow who had a good, clean 37 brand for sale. This tickled Waller, whose pickup wore the 37 license plates of Phelps County. In addition, he explained the family post office box was 37 and their phone number ended in the same digits. “It’s my magic number!” he declared.

Richard’s Red Angus bear the 37 Brand on their right rib. His spring calvers give Waller a great deal of enjoyment. “I love the babies and love watching them run,” he says. The families are summered on leased pasture near Anselmo and Callaway.

“There is nothing better than being a good neighbor and having good neighbors.”

– Richard Waller


The Waller farm has grown to include 3,000 acres. Richard’s dad’s feedlot has expanded five times over the years and now has a 7,000 head capacity. Richard explained that his love of cattle feeding and demand from clients to increase commercial business led to steady growth. He likes best the challenge to do well, saying that some of the cattle coming into his lot are southern, and he likes to watch them change and improve over time. He emphasized the importance of keeping customers long term and is especially proud that his family has fed the calves produced by Hanna Cattle Company at Thedford continuously since 1958.

Waller said he sells all the fed cattle by packer bid, with four to six buyers showing up at the feedlot weekly. Grade and yield pricing is seldom used; Waller said he, “Prefers to be a market maker, not a taker.”

He’s at his best while running the feed truck, observing the cattle and reading bunks, suggesting that every feedlot manager should do the same.


Feedlots take feed, and the Waller farm raises mostly corn, 90 percent of which goes to a wet corn pile and is ground for use in the feedlot. Silage is chopped off 300 acres, totaling six to seven thousand tons per year. Wheat is grown on 250 acres and put up as wheatlage while in the boot stage. Waller says the crop is a favorite of newly weaned calves and arrived feeders. It mixes well with wet distillers grains. He emphasized that he starts calves slowly during the first 30 days on feed. Low gain at that critical period boosts good health; calves started this way will stay healthy throughout the entire feeding period.

Talk of the farming enterprise led to a sad chapter in the life of Richard and his wife, Susan. He explained that their son, T.J., was an up-and-coming member of their family business. Not particularly interested in livestock, he loved the farming operation. T.J. attended Southeast Community College, becoming a welder, and headed back to Holdrege to take over crop production. He passed away 13 years ago, a result of asbestos-related cancer. The loss of their son has left an enormous void in their family and farm.

Waller said that the lesson he’s learned from their loss was to trust in your faith, family and friends, in any order you wish. Remember that, sometimes, friends are better than family.
The lesson was learned secondarily when a large barn housing the Waller cow herd burned during a blizzard in the 1980’s; an electrical fire destroyed the entire herd. Waller said he is forever grateful for his neighbors, who came through for him during a tragedy he does not like to remember.

He is also proud of his five employees. Mike Potter has been with 37 Cattle Company for 26 years and Dan Killough for 18 years. Initially an intern from the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture at Curtis, Dan has taken over the farming responsibilities vacated by T.J.’s passing. Other employees have been with Waller from four to 12 years, a testament to his managerial skills: Cody Kelly farms with Killough; Shelly Barnes, a pen rider who can “do it all;” and Kelly Kamler-Staggs, secretary.


Richard and Susan have a daughter, Penny Skovly, who lives in Brookings, South Dakota, with her husband, Ron, and their second-grade daughter, Hannah Jo. Penny is employed by an electronics company, Daktronics, in charge of hiring interns in the HR Department. Ron is the rodeo team coach at South Dakota State University.
T.J. left two daughters, now 15 and 20, who reside in Colorado. The Wallers attend volleyball games whenever possible, where Allison is a member of the Colorado Mesa University team in Grand Junction. Trista is a sophomore in high school.The Wallers are a veritable moving target. When asked what they like to do, it seems to encompass everything. They hold season tickets to the University of Nebraska football, baseball and volleyball games as well as attending college rodeo. They also enjoy high school sports.

Waller has seldom missed a National Wester Stock Show in Denver. Both T.J. and Penny showed cattle and hogs successfully there as 4-H youth, as well as the Nebraska State Fair, Ak-Sar-Ben and Kansas City. Denver seems to hold a soft spot for him, saying he can see more people he knows there than anywhere else. Attending cattle sales at the local auction markets is a regular practice.
Waller has spent 35 years on the Phelps County Ag Society Board of Directors. He’s been a member of the Livestock Feeders Association, his church board and supports 4-H and FFA. Not surprisingly, he emphasized the importance of being active in one’s community.

The Future

He and Susan, married 51 years, don’t really have a plan for the future. “Losing T.J. changed things,” he says. They are grateful for their faithful employees and enjoying their time together. Waller wants to continue to “get up at six a.m., read bunks and run the feed truck.”

His final thoughts were, well, several: He maintains that “dedication to any business is very valuable to your piece of mind.” He likes to be able to say “Yes, I have put in a full day’s work.”
He believes he lives in the best place in the U.S. to feed cattle. There’s water, feed, good markets and access to ethanal plants for wet distillers grains. Weather is always a factor and, in the long run, Waller says they have better weather than almost anywhere for feeding cattle.

Finally, and my personal favorite, he says, “There is nothing better than being a good neighbor and having good neighbors.”

Sage and true advice from one who knows.