South Dakota Farm and Ranch Life in Poetry


Anytime I discover something that becomes a part of my “favorite things” list, I want to share it with others. I met farmer and cattleman Bruce Roseland of North Central South Dakota at the South Dakota Festival of Books back in September in Sioux Falls.


Bruce writes free verse poetry about everyday things that pertain to rural life on his South Dakota farm, the land, the people, nature, and the wildlife that inhabit it.

I like his poems because I can relate to many of them since I’m a South Dakotan, I’m involved in agriculture, and I have seen or experienced some of what he describes in his poems. Some of them remind me of the way my husband thinks, and others express or describe similar feelings or observations I’ve had about the land here in South Dakota, the wildlife, and our lifestyle.

The following is a poem of his that I really liked because my husband and I feel the same way about any black baldies we have in our herd but it also describes the way I feel about any Herefords and red brockle or bald faced cows or heifer calves that I can talk my husband into keeping.

The Standouts

by Bruce Roseland

My cows pretty much look all the same,

the result of years of buying all black Angus bulls.

but I still have those cows

with individual markings,

throwbacks to years ago of past crossbreeding.

Showing up as a spot of white

on a face or throat, or a curly swirl of hair

that makes one of them stand out

from the crowd.

These I notice, and keeping track

of their life histories

is a bit easier than for all the other black cows,

who are distinguished only by a numbered tag.

I find myself cheering a little when these

uniquely-marked cows, in the fall, are pronounced,

“pregnant” by the vet

because they’ll stay another year

and hopefully drop a live, healthy calf.

And in the spring, I catch myself smiling

a bit as I realized that this isn’t merely a business

of dollars and pounds of beef.

I find myself rooting for the individual.


You can find more of Bruce’s poetry at his website Heart of the Prairie, where many of his poems are put to photography by Susan Melius, who also lives and farms in South Dakota. Bruce has published three books of poetry: The Last Buffalo, which won the 2007 Wrangler Award for “Outstanding Book of Poetry,” A Prairie Prayer, and winner of the 2009 Will Rogers Medallion Award for outstanding western literature. His poetry in Church of the Holy Sunrise is set to beautiful photographs of South Dakota by his neighbor and photographer Susan Melius. His book Song for My Mother is poetry written chronologically about his mother’s last two years in a nursing home.

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