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Shooting For The Stars | August 2023

By Cheryl Kepes

Photos courtesy Tyler and Cortney Cates

Sunrise Sunset Farm aims to produce champions in the show ring and in life.

Show day at a national show is stressful at best, so imagine the pressure of coordinating and executing the fitting of close to 50 head, in two breeds, in one day. For the owners of Sunrise Sunset Farm and Cates Farms, Tyler and Cortney Cates, organizing such a feat is simply an integral part of their operation. The Cates family focuses on producing competitive registered Angus and Shorthorn show cattle at their farm in Modoc, Indiana. At any given show, the Cates and their team, are helping dozens of customers get show calves ready for a shot at the grand drive. But their operation strives to achieve far more than purple banners, it’s centered on developing character and work ethic in younger generations.

Tyler and Cortney operate Sunrise Sunset Farm in tandem with Tyler’s family farm, Cates Farms, also located in Modoc, Indiana. Tyler hails from a line of farmers and livestock producers. His grandfather Rex Cates, father Brian Cates, and uncle Randy Cates, cultivated Tyler’s passion for the cattle industry. “The history of Cates Farms is definitely my family. I am just a third generation that liked it and took over,” Tyler Cates explained. “They are the ones that started everything and laid the groundwork, and it is just my passion that I took over. There wouldn’t be a Cates Farms if it wasn’t for my family. I was just fortunate enough to be born into something and really like it.”

Affinity for Show Cattle

Originally Cates Farms resembled any other run-of-the-mill farming operation with cattle, hogs, and row crops. But starting in the late 1970s, Rex, Brian, and Randy Cates started to build a registered Shorthorn herd. By the early 1990s Cates Farms was garnering show ring success and recognition in the Shorthorn breed.

From an early age, Tyler knew what direction he would like to take the cattle operation. “I learned everything about cattle from my family but as far as the show cattle went that wasn’t something my dad and uncle had very much experience with so from a very young age, probably 10 or 12, I took care of the show cattle,” Tyler said. “I am sure I did a terrible job at the time, but it also allowed me to learn, and I had to learn a lot by trial and error.”

The show cattle part of the business evolved exclusively into Tyler’s project. “That was always a segment of the cattle operation that was kind of mine,” he explained. Those days as a kid working in the show barn, developed into a full-blown passion for Tyler through the years. Eventually, he found a way to make a living solely on what he loves the most in the cattle industry – producing and raising show cattle. “That’s what I liked and there became a very nice niche market in our area in what we were doing to where I saw a chance to make a living doing what I like,” Tyler stated.

Adding Angus

Registered Angus genetics were added to the operation 15 years ago. That’s when Tyler fell for his future wife, Cortney Hill-Dukehart, an Angus breeder who moved her herd of Angus from Maryland when they married. Cortney was the 2002 Miss American Angus and youngest ever to be elected the American Angus Auxiliary President. “A year after Tyler and I got married, we purchased our first Angus together and then started to grow that portion of it as well,” Cortney Hill-Dukehart Cates said. “So now our production sale consists of Shorthorn and Angus.”

Cortney’s involvement with the Angus breed stems back to her days in 4-H and the National Junior Angus Association. “I grew up showing in 4-H and I had a 4-H project that got a little bit bigger than expected,” Cortney shared. Cortney’s parents, Marlene Dukehart and Robert Hill, supported her passion for the Angus breed and enabled her to attend shows all over the country. In 2002, Cortney exhibited the Reserve Champion Bred & Owned Heifer at the National Junior Angus Show.

Cortney plays a pivotal role in the Cates family farm while simultaneously balancing her involvement in several organizations. She serves as co-chair of the Miss American Angus Contest, chair of the Indiana Royalty contest, member of the Atlantic National Board of Directors, member of the Indiana Angus Association Board of Directors, as well as a member of the Indiana Preview Show Committee.

Sold on Show Cattle

Tyler and Cortney have mastered the formula of breeding, raising, and selling elite show cattle. The couple, along with their herdsman, Kyle Shoufler, operate a business model that relies primarily on the development and marketing of show heifers and bulls. “We don’t have another business, we don’t have farm ground, we basically make our sole living by selling about 120 show cattle a year,” Tyler explained.

The Cates acknowledge their plan is somewhat unique, but they have the know-how and determination to flourish. “There are not very many operations out there that are supported by just the cattle. And in order to make that work, your philosophies need to focus on customer service and being very selective when you are mating the cattle,” Tyler explained.

Winning Combination

The Cates rely heavily on a donor pen of about 10 females split between Angus and Shorthorn. They have approximately 90 spring born calves and 30 fall born calves each year. Close to 70 percent of those calves are IVFs and sorted for heifers. The farm typically runs at a 60 percent conception rate on its IVFs. Many of the recips used in the program are registered Angus females that didn’t make the cut as a show heifer or elite bred.

When determining mating selections, the Cates make every effort to ensure their decisions are rooted in a solid foundation. “The thing that probably has made us the most successful with the cattle is we have focused on feet and leg and skeletal structure for a long time. And that has allowed us to be competitive with smaller numbers,” Tyler stated.

A seasoned evaluator of cattle, Tyler knows just what to look for in a champion lineup. He’s judged cattle at the National Western Stock Show, North American International Livestock Exposition, American Royal, seven junior nationals, and many more.

The Cates show cattle are bred for eye appeal, skeletal soundness, and body shape. The cattle must also possess good EPDs, strong maternal traits, and excellent fertility to stay in the Cates’ program. The Angus and Shorthorn first calf heifers are AI bred and then calving ease bulls in the respective breeds are turned out with the heifers.

The operation runs on close to 800 acres; 500 acres dedicated to hay and another 300 slated for pasture. Regardless of what needs to be taken care of on the farm, Tyler, Cortney, their 8-year-old daughter Piper, and Kyle tackle the task. “We make all our own hay. We calve out all our own cows. We put in all our own eggs. We don’t do co-op herds, we do everything at the farm,” Tyler said. Kyle plays a very intricate part in the show cattle operation: feeding, clipping, breeding, and calving cows. Throughout the year they add one to two part-time employees to help in the show barn. On show day they recruit more than two dozen skilled cattlemen and women to help them fit their show string and their customers cattle.

Customer Base

Sunrise Sunset Farm and Cates Farms operate in an area surrounded by corn fields. The location naturally limits their bull market, which spurred the Cates to develop a niche market of show cattle and elite bred females. The operations host a joint production sale called, Star Search, every year on the Saturday of Labor Day Weekend. Additionally, Sunrise Sunset Farm offers an online Angus sale each April and Cates Farms online Shorthorn sale is held in March.

The Cates’ customers seek out champions, but they are looking for more than show ring success. For the most part, people buying show cattle from the Cates are not farmers. They are people who grew up on a farm and utilized the lessons they learned in agriculture to build successful careers. They come to the Cates to purchase show calves for their kids in hopes of teaching their children lessons such as hard work, patience, and integrity.

“Parents can choose to buy cattle wherever they want, and they show cattle so their kids learn positive attributes that they can use throughout life. We strive to make sure that it is not just about winning, although we like to win – it is good for our business, but we really try to help shape young people also. And that has helped us sell cattle,” Tyler said.

Next Generation

If the Cates are shooting for the stars, then it may be safe to say they’ve caught them. They’ve produced champions at all levels in Shorthorn and Angus breeds. Most recently they bred the 2022 American Angus Association ROV Show Heifer of the Year and exhibited the 2022 American Angus Association ROV Reserve Show Bull of the Year. They were nominated for the 2023 Angus Herdsmen of the Year award. Their Shorthorn show string boasts just as many accolades and customers showing Cates Farms’ bred Shorthorns are sweeping national competitions.

The Cates’ operation runs at lightning speed and now they have one more factor to manage on show days. Their 8-year-old daughter, Piper, is old enough to compete in the show ring. “It’s special and stressful,” Cortney admitted. Cortney has judged showmanship all over the country so it is no wonder that Piper was Champion Prospector 1 showman at this year’s National Junior Shorthorn Show. Yet, seeing their daughter lead a show heifer in the ring serves as the ultimate reminder for Tyler and Cortney of why they are so passionate about their operation and way of life.

Upcoming Annual Sale, Star Search XXI:

September 2, 2023

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