When Dan and Susan Ladenburger met in the Fall of 1969 at Fort Hays State University in Kansas, Susan had no intention of moving back to the Stratton, Nebraska, farm she grew up on.
“I was never moving back home. I would never live on a farm,” says Susan, now 65.
But as fate would have it, the two married in 1971, and in 1975, they packed all their belongings into two vehicles and headed back to Stratton. Susan says she cried the whole way.
“I dragged her back to the farm kicking and screaming,” jokes Dan, 64. “But the farm was a good opportunity for us. Susan was an only daughter, and I had grown up on a farm in Kansas.”
Dan worked different jobs before farming, first making farm equipment for Miller Manufacturing Co. and then doing some well drilling. In 1980, they built a house on Susan’s parents’ farm and rented nearby land to begin farming.
“My parents were aging and had health issues, so it was great to be just across the way from them,” Susan says.
When Susan’s dad retired, the couple took over his farm, borrowing his equipment to get their business started.
“It was tough at first,” Dan says. “We didn’t have much. It took time to acquire our own equipment. My folks gave us a cow as a wedding gift, so that’s how our cow herd started. Farming was in my blood, and my degree was in ag business, so even though it was challenging, I enjoyed it.”
Growing A Nebraska Farm
Over the next four decades, Dan and Susan raised wheat, corn, grain sorghum, alfalfa and cattle. Their farm has grown to 5,000 acres of land they own and rent, and their livestock herd has grown to include 175 cattle.
Their family has grown over the years, too. The Ladenburgers raised four children on the farm – Lori, Bret, Dustin and Nick. They each had responsibilities and helped contribute to the family business.
“Everybody had chores – bottle- feeding calves, raking hay, moving irrigation pipes by hand,” Dan says. “There was no center-pivot irrigation in those days, so we’d have to pick them up and move them. That was probably their least favorite job. When the kids got older, they helped us with wheat harvest. Lori drove the combine at age 14 and was a big help.”
The kids were active in 4-H, where they showed calves. One year, the family hauled 16 calves to the county fair.
“They’d sell their calves, and that helped them earn money for college,” Dan says.
A lot has changed since the kids were young. Lori, Bret and Nick are married with kids of their own. Dustin now lives in his grandparents’ 1930s farmhouse and loves farming – especially the cattle. Nick, his wife and their five children live just a mile away, and Nick enjoys working on the crop side of the farm.
“We’re blessed that our kids enjoy farming. Dad can just boss people around now,” says Dan, chuckling. “I always hoped to incorporate my boys into the farm operation – it’s a dream I had. We never said it was easy, but we never discouraged it either. We always said if they decided to come back, we’d share the equipment and labor and do things together. No need for written contracts.”
Susan has fond memories of raising their children on the farm and juggling all their schedules, from chores to sports to school and church activities.
“Farm families are just like other families. We want the best for our kids, and we do what we can to feed them healthy, pure foods,” she says. “We eat everything we produce, and we feel confident our products are safe and healthy.”
Giving Back to Stratton
Dan says one of the keys to their success has been community involvement.
“Stratton has been good to us, so it’s important to us to give back,” he says.
Susan is a substitute teacher and a volunteer EMT, while Dan is president of the Stratton Chamber of Commerce and spent 12 years on the school board. They are also active in their church.
“We’re so thankful our kids had a drug-free, alcohol-free childhood in our little community,” Susan says. “We all looked out for each other’s kids and rooted them on. This is a great place to live, with clean air to breathe, colorful landscapes, crops growing and wildlife.”
Some of the most rewarding moments for Dan are those shared with his grandchildren.
“My grandson and I were recently out in the milo (grain sorghum) field, and we’ll have the best milo crop this year I’ve ever had,” he says. “We also have a super good calf crop this year. That makes you feel good.”
There’s a strong chance the grandkids will be working the farm in a decade or two.
“Nick’s son Scot is 6 and loves the farm,” Susan says. “His little brother John is 2 and just idolizes Papa. He can’t get enough of the tractors. And our granddaughter Haley adores the animals. We’d love to pass the farm on to future generations.”