by Cheryl Kepes
Photos courtesy Glen Klippenstein
Glen Klippenstein reflects on a lifetime of working with others to impact the trajectory of the cattle industry.
No matter the audience or setting - whether it’s a stranger on an airplane or a venue of hundreds - Glen Klippenstein masterfully finds a way to steer the conversation to highlight the importance of the cattle industry. “In our industry we need to have beef customers know what we know and give them the confidence that we have in our product and not be shy about it,” Glen Klippenstein shared.
Gratitude, Balance, and Courage
Glen’s never been shy about sharing the values he holds sacred. Born on May 29, 1937, in Saskatchewan, Canada he’s pursued a life firmly rooted in purpose. “Gratitude, balance, and courage – and to know the truth and to love it. That’s kind of who I am,” Glen explained.
Through the years he’s leaned hard on his guiding principles as he’s navigated the development and management of a world-renowned cattle operation, served in the Missouri legislature, pioneered advancements in several cattle breeds, led breed associations and committees, judged national and international livestock shows, gave more than a thousand speeches, and garnered dozens of accolades for his achievements.
Yet, the list of awards, shelves of national champion trophies, and record-breaking bull and female sales, all pale in comparison to the value he places on mentoring youth in agriculture. “Those young people who said I positively impacted them by what I said, what they saw me do, or worked with me in a formal way - that’s my reward. I can’t imagine a reward that can be more real than that. It is something I am eternally grateful for,” Glen said.
Designed for Ag
One might say Glen was born to love the cattle business. “My DNA was filled with livestock all the way from Ukraine where my great-grandparents and grandparents came from,” Glen said. He vividly remembers the moment he realized livestock was his calling. At the age of four, his dad tasked him with caring for an orphaned Holstein calf. “When the calf took its first swallow of milk, I remember it began to wag its tail and I was hooked. I was done for from then on,” Glen recalled with a chuckle.
When Glen was 11 years old, his family moved from their farm in Canada to Pennsylvania. There his dad managed a dairy and a registered Hereford farm, thus marking the start of Glen’s passion for the Hereford breed.
During his college years at Pennsylvania State University (Penn State), Glen studied and worked under the leadership of famous cattleman and professor, Herman Purdy. Glen excelled in his studies, activities, and livestock judging but his time with Professor Purdy had the greatest impact on his future. “There is something about having the opportunity to work under the tutelage of someone who is highly regarded, and that you have a closeness to. You feel special and it is an inspiration, let alone the knowledge that he transmitted,” Glen shared.
One of Glen’s favorite stories stems back to his days at Penn State working for Professor Purdy. “A story I love to tell is, one evening another student and I were at his (Purdy’s) home eating dinner. It was a Monday night, and it was the night before President Dwight D. Eisenhower would be reelected to his second term in office. The phone rang and the professor asked me to get the phone. I answered the phone and said, ‘Professor Purdy’s residence,’ on the other end it said, ‘This is General Eisenhower.’ And I almost died,” Glen recalled.
At the time, Purdy was serving as President Eisenhower’s farm advisor. The president had spent the day at his farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvnia and was reaching out to Purdy for advice on what bulls to breed his cows to in the spring. “And from that point forward I thought, oh my goodness, the President of the United States, the most important person on the planet, wants to know how to mate his cows,” Glen stated. The interaction served as a lifelong reminder to Glen of the significance and meaningfulness of working in the livestock business.
Another encounter occurred a couple years later. Professor Purdy, Glen, and another student met with President Eisenhower at his farm in Gettysburg. Glen had the privilege of listening to President Eisenhower talk about Pickets Charge and Normandy. “It seemed almost subconsciously so valuable to me because I think in part my ability and opportunities to influence others have been nourished by that particular meeting,” Glen explained.
On His Own
Following graduation from Penn State, Glen struck out on his own. “I am independent. I am a born optimist and I thought I could,” Glen said. He was right. After six years, he had turned his initial $14,000 loan into $160,000 of net worth. He did it with “little overhead and a strong back.” He raised veal calves, Holstein replacement heifers, and hay.
With more assets, Glen started to build a herd of high-quality Hereford cattle. The Hereford herd grew in number and popularity. But, most importantly during this time, Glen met his future wife, Linda. The two have been married 60 years, have four children and nine grandchildren. “She (Linda) became the glue to keep us all on track,” Glen said.
A new opportunity arose in 1966. Glen forged a partnership with Kirk Pendleton, a friend and successful businessman. The two launched Glenkirk Farms with 100 cows and 680 acres located in Maysville, Missouri. The new venture prompted Glen and Linda to move their family and farm from Pennsylvania to Missouri.
Glenkirk Farms enjoyed a successful and profitable run for almost three decades. Glen’s “pushing the guardrails yet staying in the lane” philosophy propelled the cattle operation to world renown. The strings of show ring wins were so outstanding, many of the accomplishments remain unmatched to this day. From 1971 to 1984, Glenkirk Farms won grand or reserve champion Polled Hereford bull 12 times at the National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colorado. Additionally, Glenkirk Farms garnered 19 national Polled Hereford grand or reserve champions, championships at other shows in 39 states and Canada, and numerous winnings in gain tests. “At one point we had twice the number of benchmark cows as the next top herd, plus more certified meat sires and the top three Gold Seal sires based on total performance,” Glen stated.
“Probably the most innovative project we ever pursued was to quantify the real value of about 60 sire groups, containing approximately 25 steers per sire group for semen conception rate, birth weight and vigor, calving ease, weaning weight, in feedlot value, total feed consumption, health, live processing weight, carcass weight and carcass value. We did this for 14 years from the mid seventies to late eighties on about 60 sire groups and 1,500 head. This info was invaluable to our total performance program!” Glen said.
The quick road to success can partially be attributed to Glen’s commitment to raising the type of cattle he believed would benefit the cattle industry the most. “I always liked cattle that were growthy and fit. So did my dad,” Glen shared. Glen sought cows that were bigger, correct, good milkers, attractive, and highly productive – while implementing strict culling as the best path to improvement. He never wavered from his philosophy of placing the highest value on the momma cow. “Every great bull always has a great mother,” Glen explained.
However, his philosophies weren’t always popular because they occasionally veered from the industry norms at the time. “I always said I am going to run hard enough, fast enough, straight enough, that all the words, arrows, and rocks fall behind me,” Glen commented with a twinkle in his eye. It wasn’t long before other breeders got on board with Glen’s way of selecting and raising cattle.
From the inception of the partnership, Glenkirk Farms operated with the objective, “To produce cattle that will reproduce the greatest possible return per dollar invested.” Glenkirk Farms held its first production sale in 1970. During its 28 years of operation, Glenkirk Farms sold approximately 7,000 bulls, 7,000 females, and tens of thousands of units of semen to 22 countries. The operation estimated its total sales through the years topped $42M. In 1993, Glen and Kirk decided to dissolve the partnership to tackle other ventures.
Messenger to Many
Determined to spread the message about the necessity and value of the cattle industry, Glen sought a new avenue in hopes of reaching a different audience. He served as a Missouri State Senator from 1993 through 1994. He returned to the legislature as a Missouri State Representative from 2010 through 2012. During his years in office, Glen never missed an opportunity to educate fellow lawmakers and constituents about the value of agriculture.
His years of service in the cattle industry include a term as chairman of the American Polled Hereford Association, two years as chairman of the Beef Promotion and Research Board, six years as the director of the National Cattlemen’s Association, and nine years as CEO of the American Chianina Association. “When we included so many great breeders, marketers, educators, staff team members, and scientists we made a near unbeatable team to genetically engineer, efficiently and sustainably produce and market a product that does so much for humanity,” Glen stated. “My greatest pride other than family is the part we played in changing cattle to be more profitable with less problems while engaging consumers to value our great beef product.”
During his years in the cattle business, Glen managed several breeds other than Herefords. He’s responsible for bringing some of the first fullblood Simmentals to the United States. Additionally, he’s raised Angus, Chiangus, Limousin, and Charolais. “I like good cattle of any breed. And I am an advocate for hybrid vigor and keeping my customers in tact,” Glen said. Following the Glenkirk Farms dispersal, he created Klippenstein Family Farms with his son, Ivan.
Though he’s downsized his cattle herd through years, he currently continues to actively manage a small herd of Herefords, with his son Brian. People who know Glen, wouldn’t expect anything different from the 85-year-old trail-blazing cattleman.
When Glen looks back at the life journey he’s traveled – his heart overflows with gratitude. “To me cattle have been an extraordinary vehicle for a good life,” Glen shared. “And when you look at it in those terms, you think how we have an opportunity not only to care for the animals, to care for the land, to care for our families, and the opportunity to meet people face-to-face, eyeball-to-eyeball in terms that often are long lasting and you understand the value of a God who looks over your shoulder as you are performing all of this and giving you guidance, strength and the feeling of reward - I don’t know what else I could have done that would ever make me look back and say I wish I had done something different.”