Q: What is your background and how did you become involved in the livestock industry?
A: I grew up on a farm in North Eastern Ohio. That farm started out as a dairy, but became, predominately crops and beef cattle. The farm consisted of a purebred Hereford cow/calf operation along with a feedlot. This was an education in the best of several worlds. During my youth, I also had exposure to the processing side of the industry as well. It became a challenge for me to pick out the best finished steers on hoof and then view the hanging carcasses to see the end results. Although I like the challenge of selecting the best carcass steers, I loved the cow/calf operation more, and it lead to my love of breeding and showing cattle. My grandfather, who had graduated from The Ohio State University with a degree in animal science, also had a love of showing cattle that was passed onto me. He used to tell me stories of his trips on the trains, traveling with the show cattle. Through my grandfather’s stories and his passion, I caught the “show bug!” Grandfather’s passion lead me to become a 4-H member. At the age of 9, I enrolled in 4-H and have been showing cattle ever since. When I was learning about showing cattle, my father took me to a nearby county fair to watch other 4-H members show so I could learn some techniques. With my father beside me, I studied them very methodically and entered my first showmanship contest the very next week. In my first showmanship contest, I was second…I did not like being second! So, I entered 24 more showmanship contests over the course of several years and won all of the rest! I continued my education by joining FFA when I reached high school; being one of the first females in my school district to become an FFA member. You could say I had a gift to show cattle. This gift got me jobs to show professionally starting at the age of 16. I showed for several large Hereford operations such as Spring Creek Farms, Pierpont Ohio and Glennkirk Farms Maysville, MO. My younger years taught me you could show your way to the top if you worked hard enough.
Q: What is your current involvement in the livestock industry?
A: My Husband Greg Walthall and I currently have a Simmental, Angus, and SimAngus® cow/calf operation. We have several wonderful partners that we flush donor cows with, and market an elite group of cattle each year. In 2006, we sold our entire Simmental herd to Hudson Pines Farms in Tarrytown, New York. We loved those genetics so much that, over the next few years, we bought back several daughters. Those daughters make the genetic base of our current herd. One of the females that we bred and bought back was Denver Champion, HPF MS Pep 27T. We currently own her with Black Watch Farms and Herbster Angus Farms.
Q: You have been extremely successful in the show ring. What are your successes as well as some highlights of your show career?
A: I could write a book on this question, and I have threatened to do so! After owning WW Cattle Company, our fitting service, for over 20 years and having at least 60 head of show and sale cattle at our place at all times, I cannot come up with everything we have won. I can, however, count over 23 National Champions that Greg and I have shown over the years. Two of those National Champions were cattle we bred ourselves. In our minds, that is our most rewarding accomplishment. As I think about my successes, many are personal and not just a winner with a purple banner. One of my favorite stories is when I was in college and traveled to the NWSS with Glennkirk Farms. We had over 50 head of Herefords there, and I was outside in the tie outs brushing on cattle, because that is what you did back then, you brushed them dry! I was brushing away, and thinking how lucky I was to be in Denver working for $20.00 a day when one of the crew members came stomping up to me. He said, ”The only reason you’re working here is because of the way you look! You are taking up a good mans job!,” and then he stomped off. In my opinion that was the best thing anyone could have ever said to me! I didn’t get upset, I just thought to myself, “I need to do this job better then any man could.” I then set off to accomplish just that! I think that was a turning point in my life, and for the next 30 years I worked as hard as I could to achieve this goal. Some of my other successes come from being a problem solver. Back in the ‘70s when we first started showing yellow and white Simmentals, the trend was to comb the hair straight up on the cattle with a liner. This technique worked great on the other “better haired” breeds, but not on the course, flat Simmental hair! I set out to find a solution. Shortly after a few outings with the bad hair Simmies, I was in Denver and saw Darrell Hammons with a steer. His hair was brushed forward and was smooth. I thought that could work with my Simmentals. After being laughed at the first year for making my hair go forward, I think this method of grooming actually caught on! My ideas also changed the way tails were done. One year we were at the American Royal, and I had already shown fifteen head with about ten left to go. I noticed the tails were not at the right level and were tied up wrong. After the fifth time I had been summoned to the chute to give tutorials on the correct level of the tail, I took the clippers and cut the tail off. I said, “Now there is no guess work!” I went back to the ring as they all stood around the chute with their mouths open. I think after a while that trend caught on also. I think I will write that book!
Q: What was the greatest thing you have taken away from your involvement in the livestock industry?
A: Total fulfillment and bliss! I am one of the luckiest people in the world! I have been able to take a love and passion for cattle and make a living from it. Therefore, it isn’t a job. It is a way of life! I get up every morning and love what I do. The friendships and bonds that have been formed from being involved in this industry are a true blessing. There have been so many of life’s lessons that have been learned through my many experiences along the way! I would not change a thing about my life and I have no regrets.
Q: What was the inspiration behind Pearls Pics?
A: Since I was a small girl, I have always had a camera in my hands. I progressed into taking photos for the yearbook when I was in high school. Throughout my years on the show road and working on our fitting service, my love for photography continued. Owning the fitting service opened a unique opportunity for me in the realm of photography. Customers always needed their cattle photographed and, sometimes out of necessity, extra work was needed to make end’s meet. Filling a void, I took the opportunity, as I had helped every major livestock photographer get great photos, so I had a good base of knowledge. I knew I could take great pictures. I began taking all of our client pictures for promotion of the cattle we were fitting in our service. People began asking Greg who took our photos of our cattle, and he would reply that Pearl did. That is how my on location photography began. Secondly, when you own a fitting service, not much income comes in the months of June and July. I approached several local shows for a photographing job, and before you know it, Pearls Pics was formed. I started photographing at the Missouri State Fair fourteen years ago with the intentions that anyone and everyone who wanted a picture could receive one. We could never get a marketable picture to use for advertising when we were showing, and my goal was to make sure any exhibitor could get a great picture. It costs a lot of money to exhibit livestock ,and a good picture documenting a win is a necessity. What started out as a part time job turned into a full time job! The fact that I had so many already established contacts in this industry, gave me a jump start for my new business. The capability of knowing the physical strengths and weakness of an animal can help in the positioning of that animal. Not every animal has the mobility to stand correctly and I feel it is my job to make the animal look correct in its stance. My inspiration is making the cattle look their best, and for my client to get the best picture possible.
Q: If you were not doing what you do now, what would you do instead?
A: I can’t even imagine doing anything else. I will always be in the cattle business in some form or facet. I am a cow-aholic and I need my daily fix of cows in some form. I was recently in Virginia with one of my friends, Amanda Raithel, getting bulls ready to photograph. I looked over at her and said, “I love doing this washing, drying, clipping and photographing. It doesn’t get any better, unless you could do it on horseback!”My desk is positioned so I can see cows out the window while I’m editing pictures; they have to go by my window to get a drink and I can heat check in the afternoon during breeding season while I’m on the computer! It works great! I really don’t want another job!
Q: What is your goal for the future? Or something you would like to obtain?
A: This is probably pretty sad to say, but I have reached most of all the goals that I have set for myself. I told my son, Justin Johnson, that I never set my goals high enough because I had already reached most of them. I want to continue breeding good, sound functional cattle that can contribute not only to our breed but the beef industry. Greg and I want to make an impact in the industry not just chase the almighty dollar and make that one big sale. On a person level, I want to continue photographing on location for as long as I can. There is something to be said about being outside in the fresh air with great people and good cattle, it is extremely calming to me. If I had to pick a goal, however, it would be to be selected to photograph a major livestock show.
Q: Both you and Greg have judged shows across the country. What are some of the shows you have judged and what does it mean to you to be on the other side of the mic?
A: I started judging shows back when I lived in Ohio in the ‘70s. I didn’t have a problem with giving my opinion. Greg and I have judged shows at the NWSS, Fort Worth, The American Royal, The North American, numerous State Fairs, district shows and Beef expos. Judging shows, in our opinion, is a major responsibility. We want to do a fair and honest job and judge cattle like we want to be judged. We have been on the other side where politics played a big part or someone had an agenda or just didn’t know what they were doing. I have always said that I don’t mind getting beat by a good one, everyone benefits in the long run for good cattle winning. I have shown under judges who have never shown an animal, bred, fed or raised cattle for a living and defiantly did not calve them out and get them bred back. If they did, they wouldn’t be picking the type that they are. When Greg and I judge, we don’t expect everyone to agree, that is just not going to happen. What we do want you to know is how we see the cattle and how we project them for the future. We judge from the ground up and they have to be sound, functional, deep sided, with a good angle and slope to the shoulders, long hip structure with a natural muscling, which should show easy fleshing. (Easy right?) As judges with no pedigrees, what we do not know is the genetics which plays a huge part with how that animal turns out. We have to use phenotypical traits as tools for our assessment. That said, there are a lot of great judges out there that I love to listen to. I really do like to hear someone else’s opinion about my cattle, you can always learn something! We never get tired of looking at cattle! It is so rewarding to go to a show and have the opportunity to judge good cattle.
Q: Is there something about you that most people do not know or that would surprise them?
A: Most people do not know that I used to show horses. I showed Saddlebreds and Quarter Horses. Economics showed me that the six steers I showed every year paid for the two horses and trainers. It didn’t take me to long to figure out where I was making money and where I was spending it! I also played five instruments and played in a symphony orchestra. That one usually throws everyone! The most suprising thing about me for most people is when they meet me ; I am nothing like they expected. You can’t always judge a book by its cover and you don’t always get what you see... .live life with an open heart! Good things will come to you!
There are many people that have been a huge influence in my life and best of all great friends that have taken this journey with me. To all of you, Thank You!