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Chianina in the U.S., Part 2 | August 2023

Reprinted with permission from the American Chianina Association

by Heather Smith Thomas

Photos courtesy American Chianina Association

50th Anniversary Series

Part 2 - Sales, Shows, and National Steer Awards

The fledgling group of Chianina breeders in the U.S. began having sales of breeding stock early on, and soon were holding regional sales and then national sales. The first public sale of Chianina genetics was at Schearbrook Land and Livestock’s, Ozark, Missouri division in April 1972. This sale, like others that followed in 1972 and early 1973, consisted mostly of beef and dairy females bred to Italian Fullblood Chianina sires. The first exclusively Italian Fullblood Chianina sale in the U.S. was hosted in Dallas, Texas, on July 31, 1976 by Walter G. Mize’s Ranches at Cleburne, Texas and Pass Cattle Company in Dallas, Texas.

The first ACA National Sale was held September 8, 1973 at the Downtown Hilton Inn, Kansas City, Mo. ACA members nominated half-blood Chianina heifers in early 1973 with Dr. Jack Phillips screening the 55 females for this initial sale. The high seller was one of the earliest bred half-blood heifers in the U.S.; a safe-in-calf Diaceto I x Santa Gertrudis consigned by Italian White Cattle Breeders, Tannehill Ranch. She was bought by Twin Wheels Chianina for $27,000. The sale averaged $6,322 in front of an audience of nearly 1,000 people.

For the next 3 years the ACA regions hosted summer field day shows where halter-broken ACA registered heifers were shown and judged with ACA National and Regional sale candidates selected. For those regions not having sufficient numbers of nominated animals to hold field days, ACA staff members made on-farm selections.

John Coble, now 87, has been involved with Chianina cattle for 53 years and recalls working with those early sales. “I was one of the first breeders in this country; when the first semen became available from Italy, I bought some. When Jack Phillips was hired by the ACA, he hired me to help with sales,” John says.

One of the problems he dealt with was temperament of some of the cattle. “Sam Barr had a sale in Denver and the cattle were so wild that one jumped out of the sale ring and broke a leg. We had 4 or 5 regional sales that first year and I went to every one of those sales and managed them. After what happened with the animal that broke its leg, one of the criteria for bringing cattle to a sale was that if you can’t handle them, you can’t bring them. Jack Phillips said, ‘Never again!” John recalls.

“Then we had several national sales. Richard Koonce was one of the ACA staff members from 1972 through 1980. He and I put thousands of miles on the ACA car – a new Fiat that Jack Phillips bought. We went from farm to farm to look at cattle that were nominated for the national sale at Louisville. We practically drove the wheels off that little car!” Linda Work and Alice Burney worked in the ACA office for many years and did the registrations. They traveled with Richard and John to sales and kept all the books.

“There were a lot of really good bulls being used during those early years,” says John. “Ferrero, Friggio, Faletto and Lombard were great bulls. I raised some Fullbloods myself at that time. Breeders were having sales and sending cattle to the national sales. Richard and I were doing a lot of traveling and accepting cattle for those sales. The number one thing we checked for was temperament. Jack Phillips told me we couldn’t judge the cattle for people, but we could judge their disposition and we never did have another accident due to disposition,” he says.

He says one of the problems with disposition sometimes was the way the cattle were being handled. “It occasionally got out of hand because some of the guys at the sale barns would hit them with hot shots just to see if they could jump fences; they thought that was fun. That sure didn’t help, and we had to sort through some of that. When I went to work later at Willow Oak we had a bunch of wild ones and started culling hard. For 33 years we had zero tolerance for bad disposition and now we don’t have any wild cattle. It just takes selection, in any breed,” he says.

“Those early years, however, were an interesting time in my life because I’d never managed shows but I became a manager pretty quick!” John says.

The 2nd ACA National Sale was one of the highlights of the inaugural 1974 North American Livestock Exposition (NAILE), in Louisville, Ky. The sale offering was comprised of heifers that were 50% and 75% Chianina. Subsequent ACA National Sales conducted under this selection process were held at the 1976 Southwestern Stock Show in Fort Worth, Texas, and the 1976 American Royal in Kansas City, Mo. These two sales included the first sales of Italian Fullblood Chianina originating from Canada.

Beginning at the 1977 NAILE, the ACA had an Open Show for all ACA members. Breeders were encouraged to pre-nominate sale cattle selected from the Open Show entrants. The first sale was topped by the Grand Champion Purebred (Fullblood) Female, Logga White Lily I, purchased by Kohler Farms, Kohler, Wis., for $18,000.

National Steer Awards

In 1974 the ACA Board began a National Steer Show Award program. At a few nationally chosen shows, the grand champion steer over all breeds, if it was a registered Chianina, was awarded $5,000. This was the highest steer show prize money ever awarded by an American breed association. Eligible shows the next few years were the International Livestock Exposition in Chicago; the American Royal in Kansas City, Mo.; the National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colo.,; the North American Livestock Exposition in Louisville, Ky.; the Southwestern Stock Show in Fort Worth, Texas; the Grand National Exposition (Cow Palace) in San Francisco, Calif.; AK-SAR-BEN in Omaha, Neb.; and the Eastern National in Timonium, Md.

Richard Koonce says 1975 was the breakout year for Chianina-sired market show steers. “Chianina steers captured championships at 7 state fairs. Jeff Gropper, Grinnell, Iowa was the first exhibitor to receive the ACA $5,000 National Steer Award for his American Royal grand champion. This was the first ‘clean sweep’ of the other national show with grand champion winners by Kraig Schilder, Malcom, Iowa (North American); Greg Gruhn, Lanark, Ill. (Chicago International); and Greg Hilbert, Algona, Iowa (1976 National Western). From these 1975-76 winners – until the program was discontinued in 1980 the ACA presented twelve $5,000 steer awards to steer owners.”

The ACA National Steer Award program ignited interest in using Chianina semen on other breeds – mostly Angus or Herefords. “Italian Fullblood semen was first used, then more black percentage Chianina/Chiangus sires as the 1970s progressed. This ACA national program greatly increased interest in the Chianina breed, spawning an entirely new energized club calf industry,” says Koonce.

“At the 1973 Chicago International Expo, a pen-of-5 half blood Chianina x Angus steer calves bred and owned by Rocking J Ranch and Vic Gentry, Cody, Neb., were grand champions of the feeder calf show. Another half-blood Chianina x Angus pen entered by Duane Exline and Lavern Massman, Exline, Iowa, were reserve champions. Chianina-sired steers throughout the 1970s and beyond dominated feeder calf shows at the Chicago International, North American, American Royal, the National Western and Arizona National shows,” he says.

A strong club calf market was created for Chianina-sired steer calves led by nationally recognized cattlemen including Jerry Adamson, Rocking J Ranch and Larry Hollers, Cody, Neb.; Fred and Mike Hartman, Wood River and Tecumseh, Neb.; Ty Hullinger, Harris, Mo.; Gib Yardley, Beaver, Utah; Knic Overpeck, KO Cattle Company, Clinton, Ind.; Horsley Brothers, Toulon, Ill.; Jack Stoltz Exotics, Elgin, Neb.; the Dick Carlson Family, Mile High Chianina, Denver, Colo.; Hilbert Bros., Algona, Iowa; Lautner Farms, Jefferson, Iowa; Paul Clapp, P Bar C, Searsboro, Iowa; Bobbie May, Mineral Point, Wis.; Charles J. Burk, Panhandle, Texas; Jensen Cattle Company, El Reno, Okla.; Howard King, Holly, Mich.; and Jeff Miller, Cutler, Ind..

National Shows…

At the 1977 North American International Exposition the first ACA open cattle show was established. “It remains the annual ACA National Show, these last 45 years. The original show drew over 300 entries dividedinto 2 divisions – Percentage Chianina (1/4 to 3/4 Chianina) and Purebred Chianina (7/8th to Italian Fullblood). Over many years several different show division methods have been utilized reflecting the ACA members’ breeding and marketing endeavors,” Koonce says.

In conjunction with the 1978 and 1979 ACA National Shows, the first ACJA Junior Heifer Shows were held. The 1980 ACJA heifer show was at the Missouri State Fairgrounds, and these annual ACJA Junior Heifer Shows were held yearly at varying show venues across the country.

The first state fair open show was held at the 1978 Missouri State Fair in Sedalia. Next was the Southwest Region Show that Fall during the Texas State Fair in Dallas, Texas. Moving into the early 1980s, other state fair open shows were started at the Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska and Ohio state fairs.

“In 1982 at the National Western Stock Show, ‘On-the-Hill’ Open and Junior Heifer Shows were established. Another popular national show venue for ACA members hosting similar breeding cattle shows is held during the Southwestern Stock Show, Fort Worth, Texas,” says Koonce.

Dr. Jack Phillips created the ChiAngus Classic Show in 1986 with a futurity style format sponsored by 20 ACA Chiangus breeders. Show entrants were nominated through these breeders. The 20 sponsors each contributed $5,000 toward the $100,000 show purse.


1986 Inaugural Show

• Big Bull Ranch - Canadian, Texas

• Black Champ - Waxahachie, Texas

• Boone Farms - Ardmore, Alabama

• Chadbourne Ranch - Bronte, Texas

• ChiArrow Cattle - Silesia, Montana

• Circle E Farms - Fort Deposit, Alabama

• Greenwell Chianina - Decatur, Alabama

• Horsley Brothers - Toulon, Illinois

• Jensen Cattle Company - El Reno, Oklahoma

• Keller Ranch, Brewester - Nebraska

• Kennard Land & Cattle - Mt. Calm, Texas

• Kissee Livestock - Springfield, Missouri

• Liberty Lanes Ranch - Dallas, Texas

• McMorries Farms - Hereford, Texas

• P Bar C - Searsboro, Iowa

• Pleasant Valley Ranch - Ogden, Utah

• Rocking J Ranch - Cody, Nebraska

• Stanford Farms - Lebanon, Tennessee

• Talmo Ranch - Talmo, Georgia

• Walco Farms - Stanford, Kentucky


1978 - Louisville, KY

1979 - Louisville, KY

1980 - Sedalia, MO

1981 - Lawton, OK

1982 - Waterloo, IA

1983 - Platte City, MO

1984 - Louisville, KY

1985 - Springfield, IL

1986 - Oklahoma City, OK

1987 - Rapid City, SD

1988 - Lima, OH

1989 - Murfreesboro, TN

1990 - Manitowoc, WI

1991 - Omaha, NE

1992 - Minot, ND

1993 - Sedalia, MO

1994 - Richmond, IN

1995 - Dubuque, IA

1996 - Lawton, OK

1997 - San Antonio, TX

1998 - East Lansing, MI

1999 - Murfreesboro, TN

2000 - Louisville, KY

2001 - Lincoln, NE

2002 - Minot, ND

2003 - Kewanee, IL

2004 - Athens, GA

2005 - Richmond, IN

2006 - West Monroe, LA

2007 - Bowling Green, KY

2008 - Kansas City, MO

2009 - Murfreesboro, TN

2010 - Springfield, IL

2011 - Kansas City, MO

2012 - Lima, OH

2013 - Grand Island, NE

2014 - Louisville, KY

2015 - Springfield, IL

2016 - Grand Island, NE

2017 - Hutchison, KS

2018 - Grand Island, NE

2019 - Des Moines, IA

2020 - Sioux Falls, SD

2021 - Chickasha, OK

2022 - Louisville, KY

2023 - Grand Island, NE

National Western Bull Shows & Sales

Chianina female sales were conducted at the 1973 to 1975 National Western Stock Shows. “During 1975 the ACA Special Activities Director, John Coble, was hearing increasing interest from cattlemen seeking to find percentage Chianina bulls. Coble lobbied for adding bulls to the next Denver female sale. Only 15 three-quarter Chianina bulls of breeding age were cataloged for the January 1976 sale. Though the morning sale order show was sparsely attended, having to compete with the market steer show, by that evening’s sale the Livestock Auction Arena was filled to capacity. Thirteen bulls were sold, averaging $1,123 with a top of $5,000 for a three-quarter Chiangus bull,” Koonce says.

The die had been cast; farmers and ranchers from all across the U.S. wanted to have Chianina bulls presented at Denver. “So, from 1977 through the 1980s the ACA National Western sales were all bulls. From 57 bulls in 1977, and 80 bulls in 1978, the number of sale entrants exploded over the ensuing years to over 250 bulls by 1981. With increased numbers, a greater sifting of bulls occurred, yet over 100 bulls sold annually from 1980 to 1985 with the most at the 1981 sale – 161.92 lots (partial interest bulls). The two highest averaging sales were the 1980 sale (101 bulls at $4,665) and 1982 when 121.5 bulls averaged $4,855. Over the first decade of National Western ACA Bull Sales, over 850 individual halter-broken and fitted Chianina bulls were merchandised.”

Showing is Often a Family Affair

Over the years many families, and multiple generations, have enjoyed showing Chianina cattle.

Ventura Farm – Ken and Deb Geuns have participated in many shows. “I personally have been involved since 1977,” Ken says. “I was in partnership with Dr. Harlan Ritchie, and this was the main reason I ended up in Michigan. I was from Illinois and decided to go to graduate school at Michigan State University because of people like Dr. Harlan Ritchie and Dr. David Hawkins. I started grad school in 1976 and Harlan and I developed a close friendship. He already had some Chianina cattle in partnership with Myron and Kathy Danner. That was the beginning of Ventura Farm. Ventura Farm’s ACA number (486) is the fourth earliest of all active ACA members.”

When Myron and Kathy moved to Nebraska with the mature cows, Harlan retained the 1978 heifer crop at Ventura Farm. “We started a partnership with those young females and a package of Simmental cows Deb and I bought,” Ken says. “We bought Ventura Farm after Dr. Ritchie passed. This farm has always had Chianina cattle — and still has Chianina composites. It gives us great satisfaction to know that we can trace most of our current cow herd to those original bloodlines,” Ken says.

“There were very few years since 1979 that we’ve not taken cattle to the North American in Louisville for the National Chianina Show. We’ve spent most Novembers in Louisville. Now we are getting on in age and this year we just went to watch the shows. We were fortunate to be very successful with our cattle — whether through luck or skill. The farm has been involved with 8 National Champions or Reserve National Champions,” Geuns says.

“Our heart has always been with Chianina, though we’ve had Simmental, Salers, Maine-Anjou and a variety of breeds. There were many years in Louisville that the Chianina show had the most spectators. People were curious and interested in this very different breed. The grandstands were packed, and we’d have 300 to 400 head of cattle in those shows,” Geuns says.

“Unfortunately, that’s not the case now. There are many reasons, and one is that it’s gotten so costly to go to the shows. We used to go to Louisville and be there for 10 days. That’s harder to do now, with motels costing more than $200 a night, etc. The Chianina open show has become quite small.”

Yet through the 1980’s it was very exciting, regarding what those cattle could do. “We’ve always been committed to them. My wife Deb has been extremely active in the Ladies Auxiliary for many years. I was on the ACA board of directors for 6 years and served as chairman of the board for 2 years. As a family, we were very active. Our daughter Christina was a member of the National Junior Chianina Association board when she was a youth,” Geuns says.

Christina won Champion Chiangus Female at the National Junior Show in 2001 and Champion Bred and Owned Bull in 2004. “She had several Champion and Reserve Bred and Owned Females. When she had an opportunity to show at other breed junior nationals, Christina was determined to stay with the Chi’s. She was selected “Herdsman of the Year” at the National Junior Chianina Heifer Show in 2004,” Geuns says.

The Culp Family – Ken Culp III has been involved with Chianina cattle for many years and these cattle became a family project. “On August 31, 1980 I drove to Kearney, Mo., and purchased a ¾ blood Chiangus bull calf from Blue Sky Farm. They were preparing to disperse their herd. It was a father and son team — Sam and Jack Barr — and Jack was going to be CEO of the ACA. The board of directors determined that he could not own Chianina cattle; it would be a conflict of interest,” Culp explains.

“On September 1, Blue Sky Farms would inventory their herd and catalog them for a dispersal sale, so on August 31, I purchased a bull we named Blue Sky Senator. We showed him at Louisville that fall and he was Calf Champion. Back then, there were two divisions — fullblood and percentage. He won the junior calf division of the percentage show. We kept that Chiangus bull until he was 8 years old; he started the basis of our Chianina herd.”

In 1994 Ken was asked to judge showmanship at the National Junior Heifer Show in Richmond, Ind.. “I had so much fun with that, and had such a good impression about the junior program that I decided my kids were going to be junior members when they got old enough. In 1995 I went to Iowa and judged showmanship again, along with several other contests,” Culp says.

“In 2000 our oldest daughter was 11 and had a Chiangus heifer. The Junior National was held at Louisville, Ky., at the Exposition Center. I officiated at the livestock judging contest at that show. Our kids participated in many shows; we’ve attended every Junior National heifer show since then. Our three girls (Brittany, Kelsey and Laurel) participated in 19 consecutive National Junior heifer shows, all three were National Queens, and all three served two terms on the junior board,” he says.

“We believe that the best way to repay service is to provide service; we’ve all been active in events that support the ACA. The girls were busy showing cattle and we’ve shown Chianina and Chiangus, but primarily Chiangus. Laurel’s last year as a junior was 2018; she showed a bred and owned Chiangus heifer that was Reserve Grand Champion at the Chiangus Classic, Reserve Grand Champion in both the junior and open show at the North American, Grand Champion Bred and Owned Chiangus Female at both the National Junior Heifer Show and the North American International Livestock Exposition, and was 5th overall at the National Junior Show. Laurel also won showmanship that year. It was a good way for Laurel to go out and a great way for the Culp sisters to end their 19-year run in the National Junior Chianina Heifer Show and junior program. Laurel and her sister Kelsey raised that heifer and showed her mother.”

That was the beginning of the next generation involved with the breed. “Laurel’s last year was 2018 and in 2019 the next generation (Kelsey’s daughter Kennedy) entered the show ring.

Editor’s Note: This is Part 2 of a multi-part series. Watch for Part 3 coming soon.

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