Van Newkirk Herefords is a family owned ranching operation dating back to 1892, when Lorenzo Van Newkirk started mating Hereford bulls to his long horn cows. He tried to find the darkest red Herefords he could to get rid of the spots on the calves," Joe explained.
In 1942 A.J. (Bud) Van Newkirk started the registered herd of Herefords with the purchase of 5 females from Erlewine’s in Ogallala, NE. Additional females were added over the years from several area breeders.
Today, the operation is managed by Joe and Kolby Van Newkirk. "This is a family operation," Joe said. "My wife and kids are just as much a part of this ranch as I am. They get right in there and help with whatever ranch work needs to be done.
The consistency and deep quality of the herd Joe attributes to a bull that has become the backbone "We bought JV General in 1997," When I saw him, I really liked his muscle, shape and the look of his mother. We started out using him as a heifer bull," he continued. "We really liked the heifers he sired, and kept quite a few of them for cows. He is in over half of our cow herd pedigrees now. It seems like everything that has him in their pedigree is heavy milking. He ended up being more of a foundation sire.
The Herefords suit our climate, and they do well for what feed we have available, so we have no reason to change. Joe explained the Hereford cattle have a thicker hide and adapt well to the heat and cold of western Nebraska. "What I like about them is they are very low maintenance," he said. "They are low input cattle that are very feed efficient."
To produce consistent cattle, Joe said they try to select for specific traits. "We try to select cattle with moderate birth weights," he explained. "We also like efficient, easy fleshing, thick, high performance cattle that gain. We like cattle that convert feed into gain. Since we feed a lot of our cattle out and realize that is what pays the bills, we want to produce cattle that grow well."
Joe said only the top half of the bull calf crop is retained for their annual bull sale in January. The rest are finished at a local feedlot. "We try to collect as much data as possible on them from the time they are born until they are slaughtered," he explained.
Since his grandfather and great-grandfather managed the operation, Joe said there have been some changes over the years. These days, they use a lot more technology on the family operation. "We still work cattle on horseback," he said. "We do a lot of other things the same, too. But, we use ultrasound to collect carcass data. We AI and do a little embryo transfer. We also work harder to gather EPDs on our cattle. I think all of this information helps us put our finger on the cows that are not producing as well as they should, and allows us to cull them more efficiently."
Joe said they usually sell around 150 coming two-year-old bulls at their annual sale. "We hold the majority of them until they are two because we are set up where we can do that. When we deliver them, we can put them straight into a pasture with other bulls and they can hold their own. They don't need to be babied - they are ready to go," Joe said.
These bulls are weaned as calves during the first part of October. "We wean them right here and feed them through the winter. We try to grow them through the winter," he said. "Then, they go back to grass the first part of June and we supplement them while they are on grass from June until November. Then, we bring them back here and put them on 50 acre traps and feed them ground hay and silage until they sell. They are never in much of a feedlot situation. They are pretty much grazing with a supplement all the time," he said.
Although the majority of the bulls they sell are coming two-year-olds, Joe said they also sell a limited number of yearling bulls. "The yearling bulls we sell are usually out of some of our higher quality cows," he explained. "We also have some criteria we use to determine which ones we will sell. They have to be February calves and have an adjusted 205-weight of 700 pounds. By January, they usually weigh 1,000 pounds. We try to keep them until April and then deliver them so they can continue to grow and the buyer doesn't have to worry about them."
Our business has really grown over the years, and we have built the backbone of this operation on our repeat customers. They make us successful," he said