The temperature was forecast to hit the mid to high 50s, and the sun was bright last Saturday — a perfect day to travel to Barneveld and attend the annual Angus Bull Sale at the Gaffney Family Cattle farm just outside town.
I knew many others had the same idea from the number of cars, pickups and livestock trailers parked in the farm field just up the hill at the end of the long driveway from the farmstead. I was a bit surprised to see the soil was dry enough, just a couple days after the snow had melted, to allow vehicles to get in and out.
I arrived a half hour or so before the sale of some 48 big, black bulls was to begin and was surprised to see the sale arena (also used as an equipment and vehicle storage garage for about 50 weeks a year) jammed with people — some still finishing eating the home-cooked buffet dinner, some intently reviewing the sale catalog and most talking up a storm.
Bulls at $10,000
As in the past several years, the sale animals appeared only on the white wall of the "arena" via a very professional video produced by co-host Val Gaffney and live-streamed to anywhere and everywhere. Of course, serious buyers had seen the bulls live in the pens nearby earlier or had taken a look in the days prior to the sale.
Gaffney Absolute 457 (born 8/19/14), the first bull to go under the gavel, brought $10,000 by way of a telephone bid from Las Vegas and will end up at a ranch in Nebraska. One other bull, Gaffney Tour of Duty 442, also hit the $10,000 mark. At sale's end, a couple hours later, the 48 bulls sold averaged $5,028.
The general comment heard from buyers, onlookers, ring men and family was "a really good sale — great bulls and great prices."
I tried to count the "house" but lost track after 200; but take my word, it was a really big crowd. This was a new building since my last visit to GFC in the fall of 2014. Although it has big overhead doors opening to what was, on that day, a big and very comfortable sales arena, the facility also has a full-service kitchen, offices and conference room.
It's all family
Gaffney Family Cattle is a full-time, registered Angus operation with over 300 head of Angus cattle, of which 175 are cows. The "family" in Gaffney Family Cattle is just that: Jerry and Nancy Gaffney (now sort of retired); their son, Scott; his wife, Valerie; and their children, Paige, Bree, Kelly and Ty.
From a distance, the farm (or ranch if it was located in Montana) looks like one of the many dairy farms (most without cows these days) dotting the landscape in hilly and picturesque Iowa County. It was a 40-cow dairy when Jerry and Nancy Gaffney; their three children (none who had ever used a milking machine); and 40 Hereford cattle moved there from Nebraska in 1976.
From Herefords to Holsteins
Jerry was managing a 7,000-acre Hereford ranch in Kilgore, Nebraska, just below the South Dakota line. After 13 years, the couple decided to move closer to home. Jerry was from Iowa and Nancy from Illinois, and they found a 250-acre dairy farm in Barneveld.
Although they were always planning on raising beef cattle, the family milked cows until 1986 when the dairy cows went into the buyout.
Son Scott, who was 10 years old at the time of the big move, attended Barneveld High and the UW-Madison Farm Short Course and stayed with the family business.
In 1995, Angus cattle replaced the white-faced Herefords at the Gaffney operation. They saw a better future with the black Angus in terms of future bull and female sales and began acquiring bred cows and heifers from other breeders.
In 1998, Scott and Valerie Casper, a former Menomonie dairy farm girl, were married. She is a UW-Madison meat and animal science grad who later got a a teaching degree from UW-Platteville and served as the ag teacher at Dodgeville High.
From the get-go (as they told me in our first meeting over three years ago), the Gaffney family has always emphasized pedigree, performance and structure in their breeding and buying programs as they make their way into the upper ranks of the Angus industry.
More than looks
There was a time, when I was a youth showing nondescript beef animals at the county fair and Jr. Livestock show, that beef cattle value was determined on how they looked: long, tall, big, small, round, square and show-ring placing.
Nowadays, looks still count, but scientific data is often better, such as the Expected Progeny Difference: the prediction of how future progeny of each animal are expected to perform relative to the progeny of other animals listed in the database. EPD is used to measure dozens of genetic qualities in beef males and females.
Genomics, where qualities are measured even before the calf is born, is a new word and procedure in all livestock breeding. In other words, results count.
The Gaffneys have achieved national success in having the Angus genetics that other breeders want, as their recent sale of embryo packages for $8,000 and $4,000 at the recent National Western Livestock Show might indicate.
In January, a year ago at the National Western Angus Foundation Female Sale in Denver, GFC topped the sale with RB Lady Party 192-305, who brought $152,000 from Wilkes Ranch, Cisco, Texas. Not bad.
In January, the Gaffneys hosted a Chinese delegation that saw ultrasound technology and the Angus herd and ate Angus steak and brisket.
American Angus Association Regional Field Manager Casey Jentz of Belleville said Angus registrations are increasing yearly to well over 300,00 nationally last year. He also noted that a good number of Midwest dairy producers are moving to raising Angus cattle.
An old breed
The Angus breed came to the U.S. in 1873 from Scotland and currently registers more cattle than all the other beef breeds totaled. While Wisconsin is not among the top beef breed states (dairy beef is huge though), there are some 150 registered beef operations in the state, according to Ardel Quam, Lodi, secretary/treasurer of the Wisconsin Angus Association.
"While southwestern Wisconsin was the center of Wisconsin's beef operations for many years, there are now an increasing number of herds in the northwest portion (and elsewhere) of the state," she said.
The right way
I've known the Gaffney family for but a few years, but I am convinced they are raising Angus the right way and will continually move upward in the world of premier beef breeders.
Yes, they are involved in a long list of cattle and youth organizations, and yes, the next generation of three daughters (Paige, Bree and Kelly) and son Ty are directly involved on the farm, in the barn and in the show and sale ring.
No, you need not travel to Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska or other "beef states" to view great Angus cattle. Rather, take a look around Wisconsin to see some great herds, with GFC in Barneveld among them.
John Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications. He can be reached at 608-222-0624, or email him at email@example.com.