The black cattle outlined against the sky just prior to sunset could have been in the hill country of southwest Texas, the Black Hills of South Dakota or the northern Utah foothills. But no, they were in southwest Wisconsin, a few miles north of Barneveld in Iowa County.
The simple sign on County HH proclaiming "Gaffney Family Cattle" gets one to a sharp turn and a long driveway with a dairy barn, silo and farm house about a quarter of a mile down a steep hill.
Although it looks like a typical 40-cow dairy farmstead of the mid 1900s, owner Scott Gaffney will tell how his parents moved onto this hillside farm in 1976, milked cows for while raising horned Herefords, then moved to Angus beef cattle.
"The dairy cows are long gone, "Scott Gaffney says. "All the dairy buildings have been retrofitted and new buildings added. We have about 170 beef cows now and specialize in raising ever-better Angus genetics."
Jerry and Nancy Gaffney were Midwesterners (he from Iowa, she from Illinois) who were married in 1963. Jerry was working at a large farm in Iowa owned by the Adams family.
When the Adams family purchased a ranch in Nebraska, they offered Jerry the opportunity to manage the 7,000-acre Adams Brothers Hereford Ranch at Kilgore, NE, (population 92 at the time) a quarter mile from the South Dakota border.
Although they certainly had the opportunity to stay on the ranch, the Gaffneys wanted to move closer to their families living in the Midwest. After a brief search, they found this 250-acre dairy farm near Barneveld.
In 1976, after 13 years in Nebraska, the family made the move to Wisconsin, bringing with them a few Hereford cattle.
Jerry Gaffney, who said he had "never used a milking machine prior to coming to Wisconsin," learned fast and milked cows for about 10 years before selling the herd during the 1986 "buyout."
"We knew we were eventually going out of dairying, Jerry says. "We had beef cows and had built some beef facilities and were ready to go all beef."
Son Scott, who was 10 years old at the time of the move to Wisconsin, remembers the days when they did milk cows, but says the family was more interested in raising Hereford beef cattle.
Eighteen years ago, the family moved to raising Angus cattle.
"Angus were just more salable here in Wisconsin," Jerry explains
"Hereford bulls were not in demand here," Scott adds. "Nor was the feeder market as good as was Angus.
The family bought bred Angus cows and heifers at a number of production sales and Gaffney Family Cattle was off and running.
"We were unusual in that we did not have any other business," Jerry says. "We had to succeed."
After graduating from Barneveld High School in 1984, Scott attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison Farm & Industry Short Course. He then joined the family farm on a fulltime basis and became fully involved in the business of raising beef cattle.
One year while working at the Wisconsin State Fair Junior Beef Show, Scott met a UW-Madison animal science student who was receiving an award at the Governor's Livestock Auction. That student was Valerie Casper, a dairy farm girl from Menomonie.
"I stopped at the fair beef office to get tickets for the auction," she says. "That's where I met Scott."
Later, Scott and Valerie recalled that she had actually visited the Gaffney farm on a previous occasion as a member of the UW-Madison livestock judging team, but the two did not actually meet at the time.
That coincidental meeting at the Wisconsin State Fair led to the marriage of Scott and Valerie on Nov. 28, 1998; that's 14 years and one day ago.
In addition to her meat and animal science degree from the UW-Madison, Valerie has an education degree from UW-Platteville and taught agriculture at Dodgeville High for several years, but has long been a fulltime farmer.
Gaffney Family Cattle brought in their first registered Angus bull, ALC Extra Special 504E, in 1995. This bull went on to become the cornerstone and foundation of the Gaffney herd.
"We strive to take advantage of the latest genetics and technologies," the family says on their website (gaffneyfarmcattle.com). "All yearling heifers and bulls are ultra sound scanned for actual carcass merit and genetic testing of DNA is conducted through the Angus Association."
The Gaffney family credits their cow families for the exceptional performance numbers from birth to carcass to reproductive traits their cattle have achieved. The results have been shown in the four annual female production sales that have been held at Gaffney Family Cattle.
The most recent sale, held Oct. 13, drew buyers from a wide area and the 32 females sold for an average of $3,400.
The Gaffney Angus are all bred via artificial insemination except for the recipient cows used in their extensive embryo transfer program.
"Using registered recipients can be a big plus for Angus breeders," Scott Gaffney says. "About half our calf crop are from embryo transfer. We use Thousand Hills Embryo Transfer Service (Drs. John Schneller and Mark Kieler) at Plain for our embryo transfer work."
Gaffney Family Cattle has achieved a national reputation via their annual heifer and bull sales at the farm, appearances at World Beef Expo and consignments at regional and national sales such as the National Western Livestock Show at Denver.
Although the Gaffneys have sold animals at the National Western Foundation Female Show in Denver previously - two heifers will be sold this year - this will be the first time they will sell (three) bulls at the National Western Bull Sale on Jan. 16.
The Angus cattle at Gaffney Family Cattle are outside year around, although they are fed alfalfa/grass hay in round bales.
"Our cows calve outside in the fall," Scott says, "outside and in a shed in December, and in a shed in January."
The former dairy barn has an extended roof over part of the cow yard that contains pens and a chute for housing calves and veterinary work.
The silo holds corn and hay silage and a new shed outfitted with video viewing of sale cattle is the site of the annual cattle sales.
The next generation of the Gaffney family - the four children of Scott and Valerie - Paige (13), Bree (11) Kelly (8) and Ty (6), is already in place and involved with the cattle.
The family is active in more than farming. Scott is vice president of the Wisconsin Angus Association, member of the Select Sires Nation Beef Sire Committee and supervisor on the local town board. Valerie is a 4-H leader and is in the process of forming an Iowa County beef quiz bowl program.
If you want to taste their Angus beef, they do sell packages of quarters and halves at the farm. Information is at 608-924-1029 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
No, you need not travel too far off "beef states" like Nebraska, Texas, Missouri or South Dakota to see top notch Angus cattle. Just go to Barneveld, where you can see a fulltime Angus operation that is about as good as you can get.
John F. Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications, a Madison-based agricultural information and consulting company. He can be reached at 608-222-0624 or email him at email@example.com.