The Footsteps We Follow
“Now, I don’t want you to focus on just the carcass on this deal,” he said as we pulled off the gravel road to a pasture approach.
It was a soft-spoken plea, not a demand, but still: Gulp. Pit in my stomach.
Had something changed in the past 15 years since Senior Editor Steve had visited this Rea, Missouri, pasture? I got out of the passenger seat to open the gate, then watched Johnnie Hubach pull through, wondering if I was watching my story pass by, too.
“I know you work for CAB, so that’s what you care about – and that is where they end up – but you’ve got to have a functional cow out there, too,” he said when I hopped back in and we approached the herd. “That’s what I care about.”
Now that’s a story, and it builds on a previously told one.
Back in 2002, when Steve and intern Heather Hopper first visited Johnnie to highlight the family’s 2002 CAB Commitment to Excellence award win, the title was “Taking The Luck Out of It.” Indeed, luck had little to do with 55% of his calves meeting the Certified Angus Beef® (CAB®) specifications when industry average for black-hided calves was just 17% at that time.
Even then, Johnnie preferred to talk about the cows, and the mentors who influenced and helped grow them.
“It wasn’t just a carcass deal with him, either,” Johnnie recalled of his early work with C.K. Allan of Woodland Farms. “He wanted to make a good cow and a good package there for a lot of different traits, not just the carcass traits.”
Still, the updated data is worth mentioning: In 2014, 2015 and 2016, 100% of the Hubach cattle earned the CAB mark, while 15% on up to 29% of those cattle graded Prime in the past five years.
That caught Aaron Walker’s attention in a conversation with Gregory Feedlot manager David Trowbridge. The Springfield, Missouri, cattleman is about where Johnnie was in 2002—a dozen years into decisions and building a foundation, seeking good cows and even better mentors.
He bought a group of six-year-old cows from Johnnie last year based on their progeny’s carcass data and mothering ability.
“We’re picking up Johnnie’s cows at six years old and we’re expecting at least three more calves out of them, and I’m confident there will be more than that. They look like black refrigerators out there – their feet, their mouths, maternal instincts are just solid,” Aaron said. “Johnnie is just a really good example of what we’re trying to accomplish. He’s a good role model.”
Just as Johnnie continued to guide my carcass-driven questions back to the cows at hand, Aaron and another young cattleman from Springfield, Rick Aspergren, kept moving from the cows to the man behind them.
“Johnnie’s kind of our hero – he’s doing what we want to do. He’s got that perfect set of cows, those cookie-cutter cows,” Rick said. “They’re foundation cows.”
Because, still, before any story trip – especially one where I know he has actually gone before me, or when I get one of those sinking pits in my stomach mid-interview, I find myself wondering: “What questions would Steve ask here? How would he approach this?” Then, I call Miranda: “I saw this on the feedlot close-out… how do we learn from it? What’s the best way to present this data?”
Ask Johnnie how he’s made strides in his genetics in the 15 years since we last visited, and he’ll tell you, it’s in the questions you ask and those you follow: “I’ll just put it to you this way – I’ve learned a lot. I had good help back then, too. I had people to mentor me, and people I was lucky that they were around.”
We’ll share more about those footsteps and the impressions the Hubach herd is leaving for others in the next Angus Journal.
Until then, keep questioning!
Laura Nelson is based in Big Timber, Montana, where she writes, captures images and tells farming and ranching stories. She’s a former CAB Industry Information Specialist who became passionate about the brand and the pursuit of high-quality beef while working at the company headquarters in Ohio. Then wide open spaces, small-town living and those beautiful Crazy Mountains wooed her back west.