County: Charles Mix
Tom Varilek’s passion for raising purebred Black Angus is innate.
“It’s in my blood,” explains the third-generation Geddes cattleman. “Every day, I get up and get to go look at cows. If I’m away, I miss chores. I always want to get back home to my cows.”
At 68, only a few life experiences – college and Vietnam – kept the 2017 Eminent Farmer/Rancher from cattle chores.
“Like they say, ‘If you enjoy what you do, you never work a day in your life.’ Even after all these years, bringing new life into the world at calving still gives me a warm feeling.”
Upon his dad, Elvern’s urging, Varilek began building his own cattle herd at a young age.
“In seventh grade, Dad said, ‘If you will be showing 4-H calves, then you need to buy some of your own.’ I went to the bank, borrowed the money and bought some.”
4-H was also the motivation behind his decision to pursue an Animal Science degree at South Dakota State University. “During my 4-H days I used to go up to SDSU for judging and 4-H events. I liked SDSU and really saw no other reason to go anywhere else.”
College life was a good fit for Varilek. “I am one of these guys who always wants to learn more. I want to know why.”
He judged on collegiate livestock and meats teams and in 1971, shortly before he was drafted into the service, he was elected to serve as Little International Manager for the annual agricultural exposition put on entirely by students. “I like working with people,” he says. “Back in my day, there were 110 staff.”
Throughout his career, Varilek has continued to put his leadership skills to good use serving South Dakota’s agriculture industry. He has served on many boards and is current chairman of the Council on Agricultural Research, Extension and Teaching. “If you reap the benefits of an organization or industry, you need to be involved.”
Varilek planned to go on to veterinary school after graduation. Two schools had accepted him. But neither were willing to hold his slot when he was drafted into the Army.
So, instead of vet school, when he was discharged, Varilek returned to Geddes and together with his first wife, Carol Meurer (now deceased), partnered with his brother, Mick and dad, to raise registered Black Angus cattle and irrigated wheat, row crops and dryland hay. “Cattle are our main interest. Most of the crops we raise are sold through our cattle.”
In 1985, Varilek and his brother decided to go independent. “I couldn’t imagine a better life. There were days we put in long hours, but our kids were with us all the time. There was no daycare; we did everything together as a family.”
From the beginning, Varilek CT Angus continued the family legacy to raise bulls who would work well for commercial cattle producers. Unlike many registered operations, Varilek CT Angus does not sell any bull younger than two years of age. The bulls are raised on the open range – conditioned to perform.
“Waiting until they are 2 increases their longevity. I feel sorry for a young bull that gets pushed so hard it falls apart. If you let them grow up naturally, they seem to do well for us.”
The result is happy customers. About 90 percent of buyers are repeat.
Today, Varilek’s daughter, Tess, and her husband, Duke Starr, farm and ranch with Varilek and his wife, Bev. “I have always been one of these guys that on this operation it’s we or us, there is no “I” in what we do here. Just like a coach, I hope they do better than I have done.”