By Cheryl Kepes
Photos courtesy Barry Nowatzke
Nowatzke Cattle produces performance and show cattle that rank at the top of their breed.
Barry Nowatzke’s rise to prominence in the cattle industry and show circuit started quite literally at the bottom of a county fair class. “I always tell the story I showed a Shorthorn steer my father raised at our county fair two years in a row,” Barry Nowatzke recalled with a laugh. “That shows you the quality that we didn’t have. The first year my steer weighed 850 pounds and the second year I think he weighed 1,175 pounds. That tells you what I started with.”
Today Barry owns and operates Nowatzke Cattle along with his wife, Kristine, and sons Austin and Kayden. They run their Angus show and performance cattle operation on Barry’s childhood farm in Michigan City, Ind. Nowatzke Cattle produces national champion show cattle, accomplishing feats old timers consider show ring history.
Path to Success
Though it may have been a slow start for the teenage Barry Nowatzke, the climb to the top was quite swift. Shortly after graduating high school, Barry traveled the country clipping cattle at production sales. The money he earned he invested in buying and selling show steers.
In a few years’ time, Barry went from exhibiting the same steer two years in a row at the county fair to working with partners to win grand champion honors at national steer shows. “We had a run at Louisville where we sold the champion steer at Louisville six times in a row. It was one of those things that we won it once, then we won it again, and we thought we will never do that again,” Barry shared. “It was a string of six years that we had the grand steer in Louisville that we had sold. It was a neat thing I was involved in. And it was a springboard to get us to the level we are at today.”
Nowatzke Cattle has made a lasting imprint on the club calf industry. Barry raised, bought, and sold several females that rose to the top in other producers’ operations. Barry sold a bred heifer to Tracy Goretska with Goretska Show Steers that developed into the well-known foundation female Goretska “Donor 805”.
Barry raised and sold the female that would become the dam of Rodgers Cattle Company’s popular bull named Walks Alone. The Nowatzkes sold another influential animal in the club calf business, Reimann 275, to Reimann Ranch. These females and many others sold by the Nowatzkes went on to produce show ring champions and money-making progeny for their new owners.
The “Maine” Attraction
The springboard of success in the club calf business landed Barry in the registered Maine-Anjou business. He invested his earnings from the show steer operation to build a Maine-Anjou herd. Though he had garnered much success on the steer circuit, Barry was ready for a different challenge.
Barry decided to take the plunge into the registered cattle business to pursue his desire to raise structurally sound cattle. “When you would take your culled steers to the local sale barn, you would sell them for less money than a commercial calf was bringing that my neighbor raised. And to me that was just not the kind of cattle I wanted to raise,” Barry stated. “So, we made that transformation into the Maines and then we started showing them.”
The Nowatzkes purchased a foundation female for their herd from Hartman Cattle Company. That heifer won Maine-Anjou junior nationals and the National Western Stock Show (NWSS). Nowatzke Cattle’s registered Maine-Anjou herd flourished, and the show ring wins kept coming. “In the Maine-Anjou days we would have won Louisville, Denver, Fort Worth, Kansas City, and we won the junior nationals. I don’t think there was a major in the Maines that we didn’t win,” Barry said.
In addition, Nowatzke Cattle produced several impactful Maine-Anjou bulls including X and X2, along with an X2 son, Data Bank. At one point Data Bank led the Maine-Anjou breed in registrations and sired many show ring champions.
Barry partnered with other cattlemen on high-end Maine-Anjou cattle to build a solid foundation for the herd. Once again, the Nowatzkes were in the midst of much success with their operation, but after a decade in the Maine-Anjou business the family decided to switch gears.
When Austin was old enough to start showing, the Nowatzkes decided to add Angus to the operation to avoid competing against their Maine-Anjou customers in the show ring. “I really liked the Angus females at the time, and we started buying Angus show heifers. Ultimately, I just really liked the cattle and what the breed had to offer and with our space and only being able to run so many cows, as that Angus herd grew, we didn’t have room for the Maine-Anjous,” Barry explained.
Much like his previous endeavors, the Angus operation shot to the top of the industry. The Nowatzkes’ Angus show career started off strong with females winning numerous national shows. But then, Austin and Kayden, accomplished what was unthinkable in some circles. In 2014, they won grand and reserve female with their heifers at the North American International Livestock Exposition (NAILE) in Louisville. The Nowatzke brothers accomplished the same feat five years later at the NWSS in Denver. It’s an achievement some say has never been attained, especially not twice by the same family at two different national shows.
And just when they thought there were no other records to break, the brothers each showed a bull at the 2023 National Junior Angus Show. “This year at the junior nationals we took two bulls, and they are brothers to Dignity and out of our 5116 cow (CCC Sara’s Dream 5116) that won junior nationals and those two bulls were grand and reserve at the Angus junior nationals. A lot of people said they don’t think that has ever been done, two brothers grand and reserve in the bull show,” Barry said.
Regardless of whether their show career successes were history making, the Nowatzkes say they consider the achievements an honor and are humbled by the support and encouragement their family has received through the years from other people in the cattle industry.
Barry attributes the success to a variety of factors. First, the long line of cattle partners and others who have contributed to Nowatzke Cattle’s operation through the years. Secondly, his attention to detail that stems back to his days clipping cattle. “I take that same philosophy from the start of clipping all the way through today. I watch other programs. I watch the bulls they use. I watch the ones that work. I watch the ones that don’t work,” Barry stated. “Focusing on details and going that extra step to pay attention to others who are successful and try to take as much as we can from that and incorporate it into what we are doing at that particular time.”
Lastly, Nowatzke Cattle’s success derives from Barry’s ultra-critical evaluation of his cattle. Through the years he’s kept a keen ear to judges’ comments and to pioneers in the industry. Barry identifies the faults in his cattle and then devises management strategies to rectify the problems. Whether it’s through feeding, breeding, clipping, feet trimming, or something else he finds strategies to help cattle be their best. “You just have to correct and always try to make them better or the best you can with what you have. I think that has helped us get to the level we are at,” Barry explained.
The Nowatzke family is equally as passionate about producing performance cattle. Their efforts to develop bulls and females with industry leading EPD profiles drives their operation as strongly as the show cattle side. The family prides itself in developing quality performance cattle that are among the best in the business.
Nowatzke Cattle’s fall production sale typically includes 40 to 45 performance females, 35 show bred females, and a performance bull. Their performance bulls are sold in Oklahoma City or Denver and at Express Ranches or Griswold Cattle’s bull sales. The Nowatzkes also host a couple of embryo sales a year and an online show heifer sale in December.
The Nowatzkes manage all their cattle on 300 owned acres and 1,000 leased acres. The cattle graze on 400 acres. The family produces much of its own feed for the herd. They make 200 to 300 acres of hay. They also raise corn for corn silage and millet to chop and bag.
They calve most of their performance cattle in the fall, from mid-August through December. The show breds calve January through May, with a few performance cows calving during that timeframe as well. “We have a big window when we are calving. We are either calving or putting eggs in 12 months out of the year – it is crazy,” Barry said.
Barry attributes much of the success on the performance side of operation to Nowatzke Cattle Company’s joint venture with Keith Lambright of Maple Lane Farm. Together the two operations keep the performance cattle operation at the forefront of the industry.
The operation utilizes conventional flushing and IVF. The cow herd consists of 150 registered Angus cows and 150 recipient cows. Every year the Nowatzkes have as many as 30 donor cows for their show and performance programs. Their customers interested in performance cattle want different genetics than their show cattle clients. Thus, the Nowatzkes maintain a variety of bloodlines and pedigrees.
To stay ahead on the performance side, rarely do they use the same bull from one year to the next. The push to stay at the top of the numbers game is fast moving and ever changing. However, on the show cattle side many of the industry leaders are related to the same handful of bulls and cow families. “There are three bulls in the Angus show world that everything goes back to, so we are in desperate need of an outcross bull that can raise show cattle and we don’t have him. I have started to breed some of my performance cows to different bulls in an attempt to raise an outcross bull that will work for the show ring,” Barry shared.
The need for an outcross bull in the Angus show world coupled with Barry’s desire to bridge the gap between his performance and show programs serves as the impetus for his future goals. “I have this vision and I don’t know if it is achievable or not, some of the longtime breeders say, ‘No’. But coming from a show background I am trying to make those big EPD numbered cattle as good phenotypically as possible and hopefully some day we can take one that the EPD guys want to buy and throw a halter on her and go show against the show heifers and try to beat them,” Barry said. “It’s a vision I have. I don’t know if it is achievable, but we are going to try.”
Barry has a long history of stepping outside his comfort zone to try to accomplish something that’s never been achieved before in the cattle industry. And with his established track record – the odds of success look pretty darn good.
October 14, 2023
5:00 pm CST - Michigan City, Ind.
learn more at www.nowatzke.com