To say cattle farming runs in Joe Van Newkirk's blood would be a bit of an understatement. The family-owned ranch he currently owns and operates was founded in 1892 by Van Newkirk's grandfather, Lorenzo Van Newkirk, when he began mating Hereford bulls with Longhorn cows. Bringing those two together created a cross-breed that resulted in improved performance and growth.
Sixty years later, A.J. (Bud) Van Newkirk, Joe's father, started the registered herd of Herefords with the purchase of five females that were the beginnings of what is now Van Newkirk Herefords.
The herd has grown substantially through three generations of Van Newkirk ownership and now includes 600 cow-calf pairs, 125 yearling heifers and 165 yearling bulls. It remains a family venture, with Joe and his wife, Cyndi, now at the helm and their three adult children also staying involved in the ranch's operations.
A few grandchildren are also in on the action, amping up the cuteness factor in some of the ranch's Instagram posts for their 16,000 followers; you can find them @vannewkirkhereford. The social media feed also provides information on specific bulls and cows for potential customers and showcases the day-to-day care involved in not only breeding the Herefords but doing it in a Midwest climate that can be unpredictable and extreme.
"Our horned Herefords, they're a very hardy. We have extreme temperatures, from 30-below, 40-below to 110 F, and non-stop winds. They have treated us very well, so we take very good care of them," says Joe, 66.
Joe is a humble guy despite his ranch's success; when asked if it is accurate to label Van Newkirk Herefords as one of the top breeders of Herefords in the United States, he lets out a sigh followed by a laugh.
"Oh gosh, I don't know if you can say that. We sell quite a few bulls, so I'd like to think so, but that's a pretty lofty statement," he says. "You know, there's probably a couple of hundred bull sales a year in the United States, and we have one of the largest ones."
It might indeed be a lofty statement, but, given the ranch's reputation and repeat customer base, it also might very well be true.
"He is not the type of guy to brag about anything… but Joe's is a pretty impressive facility to start with; when you see all his cattle out along the highway, I mean, every one of them is exactly just perfect. Like, hundreds of them," says Wayne Ostermeyer, Joe's MacDon dealer and owner of Ostermeyer Equipment Inc. in central Nebraska.
"When he has his auction every year, his private treaty sale, he gets top dollar for a lot of his stuff, he really does. So I'm going say he's one of the top breeders and producers."
Ostermeyer has worked with Joe for around 10 years, and speaks highly of not only the ranch and cattle but the Van Newkirk family themselves as loyal customers. And that admiration is reciprocated fully by Joe.
"We've always dealt with Wayne… he's always been very, very honest and straightforward. He's been very good," says Joe. "We love the MacDon's design and their features, and the dealer makes a lot of difference."
"Wayne has just bent over backwards to help us, to keep us running, and he understands our window to hay is not that big in this part of the world."
Consistency has been top of mind for Van Newkirk Herefords for generations, and Joe knows that's what makes their cattle stand out amongst the rest.
To accomplish this, the Van Newkirks try to select specific traits, such as moderate birth weight, efficient fleshing, and thick, high-performance cattle that gain. They also utilize modern and innovative technologies such as ultrasound data to ensure their cattle produce as they should.
And their attention to detail has not gone unnoticed; in 2018, Van Newkirk Herefords was presented with the Beef Improvement Federation Seedstock Producer of the Year award. It makes sense, then, that consistency has become an important quality across all of the ranch's operations and is one of the reasons why Joe has relied on MacDon machinery for more than 20 years.
"We run quite a few cows, and we sell quite a few bulls and we're the place you can go and buy the first bull in the ring, which a lot of people thinks the best, or the last bull in the ring at the end of the sale, and there's not going to be that much difference in quality," says Joe.
"And I kind of think that would work into MacDon because, I mean, every MacDon machine we owned just made sense, you know, in how they designed it and how they build it, and they're so easy to operate."
Joe's early experiences with MacDon came as a small light during a dark time — a good friend and mentor to Joe had purchased a MacDon windrower, and just six months later, he passed away. Joe bought that windrower at the farm sale and began using it on his own land.
The simplicity and effectiveness of the machine stood out immediately. "It was a single sickle machine, and you had one big auger that moved the hay toward the center. And it was very heavy made… we really liked everything about it," Joe says.
"After that, a good friend of mine ran it for a season; he was sold on it, so I was too, and that's why we bought it. We really paid more than we should have for it, but it was a good buy," he laughs.
Since then, Joe has added another MacDon machine to his fleet; an M1-series windrower and R216 disc header. They use machines to cut 300 acres of irrigated alfalfa harvested three or four times a year, about 100 acres of rye grass they harvest once a year, and more than 400 acres of native grass hay.
For Joe, the biggest advantage of running a MacDon is the time he saves that he can reallocate to other ranch tasks, which helps keep his never-ending to-do list under control.
"It just about cuts your swathing time in half, you know, because you can probably run seven to 10 miles an hour through alfalfa. And that just cuts your cutting time in half. You got other things to do! On a cattle ranch, there's always something else to do," Joe laughs.
"You can get your windrowing done and get on to something else. Just the time savings is amazing."