Miles Kuschel has always approached ranching with a combination of time-honored traditions and technology-forward tools. Long before digitized records became standard, Miles was creating Excel spreadsheets to track cattle feeding, feed mixture rations, pasture rotations and vaccine records. “I was always big into the technology side of things, whether it was aerospace or robotics,” says Miles, a third-generation rancher.

On his family’s beef cow-calf operation, Rocking K Ranch in Cass County, Miles has been able to pursue his interests in both cattle and computers. He and his wife, Sarah, were some of the first ranchers in the area to put a scale on their cattle chute to track weights and growth curves. They’re also a leader in aerial technology, using drones to monitor cattle and pastures, as well as spray and fertilize crops, which has been a game-changer for reaching rough pasture terrain and saving time.  

While evolving with technology is crucial to thrive in today’s digital-first environment, Miles and Sarah also believe it’s important to celebrate the time-honored practices—like using horses for most of their day-to-day activities—and people that got them where they are today.

“Miles’ grandpa would just look at you and say, ‘My gosh, you kids. There’s nothing better to do than to go out and look at the cows. Just go look at them!’” Sarah says. “I think that’s what’s really kept our family holding on to the traditions while still implementing those technologies for efficiency purposes.”

A Family Legacy

When Miles’ grandparents, Morris and Stella, first purchased their plot of land on the cusp of World War II, they started with dairy cows, which were more profitable in Minnesota at the time. Even as Morris was called to active duty overseas, Stella continued to operate the farm, tending to the cows and planting a garden to source food so she could use the money Morris sent home to buy additional acreage instead of groceries.

“Grandpa gave Grandma a lot of credit for basically expanding the ranch while he was gone,” Miles says.

The family continued to raise dairy cows until the 1970s, when their barn burned down and they were faced with a decision: either build a new barn or shift to beef cattle. “Grandpa was always a cowboy at heart,” Miles says. “So we made the transition to beef and started out as a registered Hereford ranch.”

After the USDA Certified Angus Beef program—the first USDA-branded beef program in the country—took off in 1978, there was more demand for Black Angus beef. The Kuschels once again transitioned their herd to keep up with consumer demand.    

Today, the Kuschels’ 3,200 acres are roamed by 500 head of cattle, most of which are Black Angus, with a few Herefords mixed in for crossbreeding. Miles and Sarah run the ranch with the help of their kids—Mackenzie (19), Kelcie (17) and Rohan (13)—and Miles’ parents, Tom and Linda.

“We really felt like this was a good lifestyle for raising a family and learning some of those core values and work ethic skills,” says Sarah, who also grew up on a registered Angus ranch near Nimrod, Minnesota, and got her first heifer at age 12 as payment from her grandpa for helping him with chores after school. “This has very much been a family adventure for us.”

A Heart for Advocacy 

Beyond their own ranch, high school sweethearts Miles and Sarah have been farmer and rancher advocates for decades. After graduating high school and earning their American FFA degrees—the highest degree achievable in the FFA organization—the two were approached by their local Cass County Farm Bureau.

“We were invited to come and see what the organization was about, and we quickly found that it possessed a lot of those same opportunities [as FFA] to share the agriculture story,” Sarah says. “It’s become a second family of people who have those same interests. They’re going through those same struggles of the agriculture cycle, trying to raise kids in the same space. The organization has been a really good fit for us.”

Since joining, both Miles and Sarah have served on the state and national Young Farmers & Ranchers Committee. Miles currently sits on the Minnesota Farm Bureau board of directors representing District 6, which encompasses most of North East and North Central Minnesota.

“One avenue I utilize in Farm Bureau is letting legislators and policymakers know how the laws are impacting us,” says Miles, who, during his tenure with Farm Bureau, has been involved with hot-button issues such as wolf management to help livestock producers who have been affected by wolves, federal government overregulation of water on farms and ranches, and, most recently, broadband access for farmers and ranchers to utilize tech-forward tools like GPS, autonomous tractors and drones.

Miles was recently part of a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) task force for reviewing the connectivity and technology needs of precision agriculture in the U.S. “Our goal is to make sure that every farmer and rancher who wants to be connected to the internet has an avenue to be connected,” Miles says. “It’s like a cell phone coverage map. It says you have coverage where you’re at, but you may never have coverage where you’re at. Our task force identified where there wasn’t internet and pushed for a tool that allows people to report whether or not they have internet.”

Through their advocacy, the Kuschels have been able to host and educate others, including state leaders like Senator Amy Klobuchar and Representative Pete Stauber, on the issues most pressing to farmers and ranchers.  

“I’ve always been a firm believer that if you’re not sharing your story and helping people understand what you’re doing, somebody else is going to try to do it for you, and they’re generally not sharing the story correctly,” says Sarah, who, as a Minnesota Agriculture in the Classroom curriculum specialist, also arms educators with agriculture literacy resources and facilitates elementary school field trips to Rocking K Ranch.

“We’re helping those kids get to know where their food comes from, and that the people growing and raising it are doing so with the utmost care,” Sarah says. “As much as we’re doing that for their families, we’re raising those same products to feed our own families, so of course we care about having safe and affordable food, and availability to food. We all eat. We’re all connected to agriculture in some way, shape or form.”

Tradition Meets Technology

On the Rocking K Ranch in Cass County, technology seamlessly weaves into the day-to-day operations: A scale on the chute tracks the herd’s weight and growth curves, while cameras in calving areas monitor cows and new calves without disturbing their natural instincts. The technology that has made the biggest impact, however, are the drones that rancher Miles Kuschel uses to oversee cattle and pastures, and spray dozens of acres in a fraction of the time it would normally take.      

“Spraying is one of those things where the timing has to be absolutely perfect. You have to have the right conditions, the right weather, the right temperatures,” Miles says. “That window is typically first thing in the morning, when you don’t have the wind or unfavorable conditions. So if you’re able to cover 50 to 100 acres every morning versus only being able to cover 20 [with a traditional sprayer], you’re going to be able to maximize your pasture.”

Despite his enthusiasm for implementing technology on farms and ranches, Miles emphasizes the importance of testing these tools before making an investment.  

“There are a lot of technologies out there that work in the lab or a university setting, but once you get them out in the field, are they going to be applicable? Are they going to be resilient enough to stand up to a cow rubbing on it, licking it, stepping on it?” Miles says, pointing to one example that may be on the horizon: a remote-monitoring herd dog. “I know enough about technology that I can see the drawbacks a lot of people are blinded by. I’m not skeptical by any means, but I also want the technology to actually be proven and hardened for agricultural use.”