Acquired: Worked with animal (didn’t own)
Posted Mar 20, 2013
Around my junior year of high school, my school gained a new student from Texas. I had been exhibiting cattle for about 4 or 5 years then and was already pretty active in our FFA club and the Alamance County Cattlemens' Association. I don't remember how the introduction occurred, but I was introduced to Tim, and also his 3 Shorthorns and a Crossbred steer that he had brought with him. This was one of my first experiences with Shorthorn cattle, and though it might not be the very first but it is the first that comes to mind. Tim didn't just have a couple of run-of-the-mill examples of the breed, he had a very striking bull and a pair of heifers that would prove their quality in the years following.
Tim won our local eight county show with his heifer “Cheerwine,” and won the steershow with his crossbred steer (if I may brag a bit I took Reserve with my Angus heifer). Tim and I took our picture with our heifers head to head and a line of trophies on the hood of the truck behind us. It was a good day for Tim and I, and a very good day for Alamance County, as we were it's only two representatives as cattle exhibitors and we had taken Grand and Reserve Heifer, Grand and Reserve Heifer Showmanship, and Grand Champion Steer. It was the start of the best year of showing cattle that I have ever had.
Later Tim and I attended the West Virginia State Fair, as he had family there. I remember pulling into the barn and looking around at the cattle in the barns. It was not a large show but it was loaded with high quality animals, and a ton of Shorthorns, more than I had ever seen together in one place. Tim took Reserve Heifer and Grand Champion bull. My heifer and I went along for the walk, and I was very happy to stand where I did in the middle of the class as the Grand and Reserve Angus heifer both came out of my class (the Grand Champion went on later that fall and took Reserve champion in the open show at the North American International Livestock Exposition).
I attended the North American International Livestock Exposition that fall, as did Tim, but this time I left my cattle at home. I watched the Shorthorn, Angus, and the Gelbvieh shows. Tim stood about fourth in class with his bull “Rockefeller,” and I don't remember how his heifer did but she didn't win her class. The bulls there where bigger, stouter, and deep red, in contrast “Rockefeller's” pretty roan pattern and his streamlined design. He was much cleaner fronted and was much smoother on the move than those bigger stouter bulls but was just overpowered by those other bulls.
When I left home to attend college at Iowa State University, I found myself with a good bit of time on my hands, and much lower fuel prices than now. I spent a good bit of time traveling around looking at club calves visiting cowherds throughout the Midwest. Sometime in my second year in college, Martin McQueen, a livestock photographer that took pictures at the North Carolina State Fair, had told my parents to have me look up Chris Wilson at Premier Cattle Services. I had been planning to arrange a visit for a couple of weeks when a dear friend of mine asked if I would cover for him on going to work with some club calves. He had a food science class with Cole Miller, which was looking for help to work on some cattle getting them ready for an upcoming pasture sale. Justin had committed to help him, but had over committed, as he had something else going on at the same time, and without very much direction at all I met Cole on a Friday bound for Creston, Iowa. It was only in transit that I discovered that we were headed to Chris Wilson's Premier Cattle Services. As we were turning onto the gravel that leads back to Chris's, I look on the opposite side of the road and up the hill. Behold a large herd of Shorthorns of which from just a glimpse I drew the conclusion that these were the same large, stout Shorthorns like I had seen in Louisville, but these were a good mix of reds and roans. Come to find out the herd that I was looking at belonged to Dale Studer, and he had won the Shorthorn bull show the very same year that I had watched Tim show in class at the North American.
The cattle at Chris's were predominantly crossbreds which at times seem like it's own breed at some times, encompassing the genetics of primarily Maine-Anjous, Shorthorns, Chis, and Simmentals. The exception was a pair of white heifers. These two heifers were daughters of DF Vegas, in which Chris had campaigned and promoted for Bob Duis. I never had the opportunity to see Vegas as he was not there when I arrived, and we never crossed paths afterwards. I made a habit of going down to Chris's to help with their sale and the next year brought my video camera as I had been experimenting with ways to show people what I had looked at on my trips, and inevitably the box camera just didn't do it for me. It always left the question of how they moved up in the air, and I wanted them to be able to decide this for themselves. When we caught a break of washing and drying cattle, I headed out to the lot and took some video. When I got back to Ames, I wondered if there was a way to edit the clips, and began a process of buying cables, and in trial by error finally had a break though. I had no idea what I was doing, but I finally got the right cable and discovered that my computer had a very simple video editing program that came pre-installed. I produced a video, with some very bad music might I add (which had also came pre-installed). Chris liked the potential of what I had put together, and asked me to video their bulls the following year, and over the course of the next year I had worked out many of the kinks from the first video. The same year that I produced this video was the year that Chris was promoting a Shorthorn bull, called “The Bookie,” which was a full brother to Bad Moon Rising. Chris asked me to go to the Purdue AGR show with them as they had the bull on display and wanted someone to sit with him as they got cattle ready to show. It was at this show that Chris asked me to investigate something. There was an emerging problem in some of the Shorthorn cattle, which was soon to be named TH, or Tibia Hemimelia. Vegas and another very popular Shorthorn cow had produced one. After studying their pedigrees, as I had recently done with Angus pedigrees when a new type of dwarfism had surfaced, just as I was preparing to graduate high school, I discovered a bull which I thought was the probable original carrier. As it would happen the work for the genetic test the case of dwarfism was put in the hands of Dr. James Reecy at Iowa State University, which was to become my academic advisor in the midst of this work, it helped me widen the pool of carriers to search their pedigrees. I did the same to test my theory with the Shorthorns, I contacted Bob Duis, which directed me to an embryologist in Prince Lay, Indiana, Dr. Chuck Hannon, which had been the first to report the condition. My findings were the same after widening the search, although it was beginning to become apparent that something else was boiling under the surface. In visiting with Sara Hunter in which I went to school with, which was on the Junior Shorthorn board, there seemed to be some confusion rising about the symptoms of TH and the source as two different seemingly unrelated bulls were being implicated. It entered my suspicions that we where dealing with two different conditions and before long the news began to spread about a second condition called PHA which originated in the Maine breed, whose primary influence to the Shorthorn breed was the second bull that was implicated.
By the next year there was a test for TH. Chris had a clean son of Vegas in which I was to video. This bull was CSI. This was around the same time that I was introduced to a flood of good Shorthorn bulls of which I saw most of them in my random trips to Hawkeye Breeders, Salute, Radioactive, Sin City (Vegas' full brother that I saw at Goretska's), to name a few. Chris asked me if I would be interested in selling some semen for them. It was this experience that took me through some very good herds of Shorthorn cattle, in hopes to sell them some semen on CSI. The one experience that really stuck out, was a visit to Eastern Sky Farms, that was located around Hillsboro, Ohio and was owned by Melinda Wells. It was here that I was introduced to CF King Kong, the National Western Stock Show Grand Champion bull. There is really no other way to describe him other than he was a man! He carried himself very confidently like a bull should, and he had a good bit of lean muscle expression, in an appealing package. He was not long haired like I was used to seeing in Shorthorns. I also looked at another cow that had come from Cates Farm in Indiana there. Sometime prior to this trip I had helped Marc Hardy, which was helping the Vogel family at the Shorthorn Junior Nationals in Des Moines, Iowa. I had become fond of the daughters of one particular bull, HD Bloodstone, which was owned by Cates Farms in partnership with a few other farms. I decided then and there that I needed to visit Cates Farms and so I did on that very trip. I didn't move a lot of CSI semen but I did get to see, HS Bloodstone. He was hardly an impressive bull, like King Kong had been. I remember looking at the pedigrees of the heifers that I had come to like at the Junior Nationals, and remembered that they were out of a variety of different cows, but all with the same lineage of sires. It was an example of pedigrees that complimented in a synergistic way, by themselves the bulls were a bit plain, together they where anything but plain.
At several points I contemplated owning a shorthorn, the closest that I got was a shorthorn bull out of WHR Sonny by Sherwood's Queen's Trump Cow. Queen's Trump was the best Shorthorn cow that I ever did see in person, although I admit I did not see many mature cows in the Shorthorn breed. I had also considered buying into his older brother that became known at Trausch Farms, simply as Queen's Trump Double Vision, the name of his sire and dam. I had the money to buy the Sonny son, but I didn't really have a place to keep him and decided against buying him.
I would not recommend the Shorthorn breed to a beginner, as they take some skill to feed effectively, and can have some larger birth weights. I would be weary of trying to raise them on fescue because they are notorious for growing thick soft hair coats, which doesn't like to shed, and it is not uncommon for Shorthorn breeders to slick shear their cattle prior to hot weather, although there are some lines that do shed very well, which are a little more commercially accepted. TH and PHA has drastically changed the face and genepool of the breed. I credit the American Shorthorn Association and their breeders in the handling of both of these genetic abnormalities.
Saying this, there are few things as appealing to me as seeing a good herd of Shorthorns, with a nice mix of Red and Roan cows grazing on pasture. The overhead of starting a herd of Shorthorns can be a little more expensive than buying into a breed like Angus, simply because they are not as common, and many of the breeds best genetics are tied up in a small number of herds, which command good prices. In general the cattle I have been around are larger framed, with a muscle pattern more like that of an Angus, but with a bulkier skeleton, more reminiscent to that of a Maine-Anjou. The white haired cattle are a bit rarer, as there is a small bias against white, as they are sometimes associated with lower fertility, and largely because they are not as commercially acceptable as the more common reds.
I have fell out of touch with the Shorthorn breed in recent years, but I would be more than happy to share my experiences with anyone that would like to know more. If you are thinking about starting a herd I would be glad to provide you with places to begin your search and things to look out for.
As always I also recommend building the needed infrastructure before trying to breed or care for cattle. If you live in a cold climate cattle will need a means of shelter and a good supply of feedstuffs to account for their nutritional needs when grass is not readily available. You should have a working chute so that you may restrain cattle for vaccinating or in cases of emergency. Good fences are a must for the safety of your animals.