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Straight Up | May/June 2024

A conversation with everyday Stockmen,

Featuring Dean Elder, Wildberry Farms of Hanover, Ill.

About the Stockman.

"I was born in Muscatine County, Iowa. My family farmed and raised a few Angus cows. My dad sent me to AI school when I was 14 years old. I started AIing our Angus cows, and I have been AIing ever since. I am now 65 years old, so it’s been a few years. When I first started AIing we used glass ampules. So, when AI guns and straws became available, I thought it was the best thing in the world! It made AIing ten times easier!

In my youth, I got into showing and fitting cattle through my mentor and neighbor, Louie Danner. Louie was an excellent fitter; he also owned a good herd of Angus cattle. I customed fit and showed cattle as well as clipped production sale cattle throughout the U.S. and Canada for 15 years until I was about 30 years old. During that time, I helped clip calves for Rocking J’s first 12 club calf sales. I also spent a lot of winters in Georgia at Casey Cattle Company helping fit their Charolais show and sale cattle. My next job consisted of working for Southern Light Farms in Clarksville, Tenn., which raised Chianina-Angus and Angus cattle and club calves. While in Tennessee I also worked at Siler Farms managing a commercial herd.

I then decided to return home to Iowa. After working for Kirk Roecker, I started a job at Sullivan Farms. I had the opportunity to work with my son and brother at Sullivan Farms in Dunlap, Iowa for the next five years. Then my career in the cattle industry led me to Werner Angus in Cordova, Ill. Currently, I work as the herdsman for Wildberry Farms in Hanover, Ill. Wildberry Farms is owned by Jim Berry and managed by Ben Lehman. My focus at Wildberry Farms is on the development of a registered Simmental cow/calf herd. The farm runs 400 registered Simmental momma cows. Wildberry Farms’ recent sale consisted of 65 bulls, 28 pairs, and 5 bred heifers – the top selling bull brought $25,000, the 65 bulls averaged $5,800, and the 33 females averaged $4,400.

I have a sister, Mary, and three brothers, Vince, John, and Bart. All my brothers are involved in cattle and agriculture."

What about the beef cattle industry excites you the most?

"I think it is raising phenotypically great seedstock, if the EPDs follow that’s great but for me phenotype has to come first."

What is your least favorite job on the farm?

"Finding a dead calf or losing a calf and having to dispose of it."

What is the most used tool on your ranch? How old is it?

"A Honda Rancher four-wheeler. I am not sure how old it is, but it has lots of character."

Describe your best day.

"One of the best days would be turning out about 15 pairs that we just tagged and processed; or the end of AI season when we have finished AIing 200 cows and 100 heifers."

What is your go-to sorting apparatus?

"When we are calving cows, I like a sorting paddle or a cane and the rest of the time I like a sorting stick."

Your favorite non-farm activity to do in your free time?

"I enjoy spending time with my son, daughter-in-law, two grandchildren and my mom, Phyllis. I also follow the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team."

The most important lesson you’ve learned in this business?

"Patience. At an early age I learned how to be patient with cattle. I have also learned how working with people in this business has helped me form long-lasting friendships. Also, I have been involved in this business long enough that I have seen all different types of cattle come and go and I know what kind of cattle works for me."

Which animal (any species) has left the greatest impact on you?

"In 1972, when I was 14 years old, my family and I attended the National Western Stock Show (NWSS), and I showed a steer there. My neighbor and mentor, Louie Danner, was the exclusive fitter for Ankony Farms. That year, Ankony’s Angus bull, Ankonian Dynamo, won the Angus bull show and had won Angus champion bull at Chicago as well. Also, that year at the NWSS the famous steer, Big Mac, won the steer show. Taking all that in at a young age and experiencing it really put a fire in my belly to be in the cattle industry in some shape or form."

Annual Sale:

Last Saturday in March at the farm near Hanover, Ill.

Photos courtesy Dean Elder

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