The moment you pull up to the show barn Headquarters of Smith Cattle Company, you are drawn to the well-manicured facilities and grounds. That same attention to detail is evident in the cattle management and cattle quality of this Estherville, Iowa operation. The partnership between Dennis Smith and his son, Brad, has been successfully marketing show cattle from the rolling hills of northwest Iowa for three generations. Both Dennis and Brad would credit Dennis’ father Ward Smith with establishing the cattle mentality that it takes to be successful and much of Ward’s advice still applies to today’s show cattle industry. Dennis’ wife, Holle, keeps the Smith crew fed, handles bookkeeping duties and keeps the place looking good.
Today at Smith Cattle Company, much of the genetic decisions fall to Brad. He credits the familiar path of many cattlemen; 4-H experiences, college work opportunities, University Judging Team, as having a dramatic influence on his cattle skills. “My sister Jennifer and I showed cattle together all through our 4-H years” Brad noted. His sister Jennifer is married to Cody Holmes and they have a cattle operation of their own in northwest Iowa. Those early experiences helped Brad understand how to make cattle better both genetically and by developing fitting skills that have become world class. “My Judging Team experiences at Iowa State were rewarding. We weren’t the greatest team ever, but the opportunities that I had with my teammates and even the kids I competed against are still in place today,” mentioned Brad. “In my college years, I also had the privilege to work with great cattle mentors that had a huge imprint on how to breed cattle and have an impact in the show industry,” explains Brad. “Mark and Deb Core, Wade Rodgers, Faber Show Cattle and Jeff Holmes were part of my college years’ experiences and I am indebted to them for all they taught me. I learned so much from them and formed business relationships that continue to this day,” commented Brad.
After college graduation, Brad’s cattle passion was the spark for returning to the family farm but the question lingered, would the farm be able to handle the extra income needs? The Smith’s committed to selling more cattle and being more purposeful in their marketing plan for the cattle produced at their farm. That extra push helped while Brad quickly built his own herd to enhance the scope of their cattle breeding program.
Just as Brad would credit many people that have helped him over the years, it’s evident to see the passion he has for mentoring the next generation of show enthusiasts. Several of the 4-Hers that started buying steers from Dennis and Brad have become “clipper help” to prepare sale cattle and some even advanced into partners on some genetics at Smiths’. Zach Lindsey and Brandon Johansen are key employees of Smith Cattle Company and are equally handy at day to day cow management and sale prep. Additionally, interns from nearby Iowa Lakes Community College provide much needed extra help during calving and breeding seasons. Dustin Clement and Kyle Long have come through the ILCC program and contribute to the Smith’s success.
Smith Cattle Company today includes about 300 cows. Smiths would put in about 125 embryos each spring with the remainder of the cows bred A.I. Brad explained that “club calves have long been our breeding program” and the Smiths have an impressive list of market cattle winners from across the country at all levels, state, regional and national.
But each year a few more cows are dedicated to registered cattle matings with maternal influence. “Dad and Grandpa both taught me how important the cow piece of this operation is,” Brad said. The maternal base is made up of some Angus, Charolais and composites but the main emphasis is turning to Simmy influenced females. “I have invested in bulls like On the Mark, Loaded Up, Maternal Perfection, No Pressure, Big Pappa, Mr. Misunderstood and Thompson Squared so that our operation continues to get noticed for making good females that will work in all kinds of our customers’ programs from clubbies to purebreds,” Brad notes. The Smith’s female focus is on display at the First Class Female Sale held the second Saturday of December each year. This event continues to gain favor with Smith’s customer base due to the outstanding quality and packed pedigrees of the sale heifers. Brad is quick to recognize his sale partners for working cooperatively to make the sale so successful, Wade Rodgers, Chris Rosa, Reiman Family and Luke Doris Show Cattle. “We all have a common goal of producing a set of breds that we are proud to offer to our customers, but each of our breeding programs go at that a little differently making the sale offering diverse enough that everybody can find some matings they like,” commented Brad. He would also credit Steve Bonham and John Griswold for their outside influence on the sale’s success. The First Class Female Sale is complemented by the First Class Bull Sale each spring with the help of the same partners. Smiths would have 15-20 maternal influenced bulls as part of the sale group. Many of the bulls go to customers that have also purchased females from Brad and Dennis.
Since 2002 the Club Calf offering is marketed through a September Pasture Sale that is part of the Pro Tour Club Calf group in northern Iowa. Smiths offer 40 head of their very best steer and market heifer prospects on the Pro Tour with a few breeding heifer candidates added each year. The Smith’s club calf side of the business has been built around generating steer prospects out of the very elite donors of the industry. Nearly all the prospects in the Pasture Sale are E.T.s. Brad and Dennis have recently added a few fall born E.T.s to expand into markets outside of the Midwest.
Attention to detail, a respect for the past and a clear vision for the future has Smith Cattle Company in an elite class in the show cattle industry.