Nebraska’s teenage O’Dea brothers run cattle-related businesses
“We knew we had to start early to build our future, to make sure it would be there,” John (G) O’Dea said.
G is 19 and is enrolled at Fort Hayes State University in Kansas, his brother Jake at 16, attends high school in Bartley, Nebraska. They are the sons of John and Michelle O’Dea of Indianola, Nebraska. The brothers are business owners; they have their own heifer development program, a catering service and raise club calves for sale in addition to helping on the family ranch and haying operation.
“We started with a small line of credit for our first 10 heifers; we have grown the business and now have 85 heifers. We try to turn out a quality product. We sell for a premium,” G said.
“I cosigned the notes, but they have been responsible for their loans. They have been building up their own equipment inventory. They have two four-wheelers, a stock trailer, a pair of pickups, and small support equipment. And are looking for a small square baler and accumulator,” their father John said.
The heifer development program is primarily black Angus, with some first cross black baldies. They are purchased as calves, fed and bull bred in a small breeding window. The heifers are ultrasounded sometimes multiple times to ensure calving dates and sold as replacement heifers. Most of them are sold to repeat buyers and no advertising is necessary as news about the quality of the heifers is spread by word of mouth. This program is called JAG Livestock Co and will be G’s focus after college.
Some of the heifers are home-raised and purchased from the family operation, others are calves the brothers buy back from their customers. The heifers that don’t breed or for other reasons are removed from the replacement program are fattened. The beef is sold as half or whole to local customers or used in their catering business. “We finish it ourselves, people appreciate that we know the origin of the meat,” Jake said.
The catering service has a food truck called Fatty McGill’s after an inside family joke, that serves the local area and has really grown over the past few years, serving between 80 and 100 dates per year. They serve lunch at Tri-State Livestock Auction in McCook, area bull and heifer sales, weddings, auctions, town festivals and Christmas parties. The entire family participates as needed. Jake had the idea for the business after watching food trucks in Omaha at the AKSARBEN stock show. They penciled it out and saw an opportunity. His parents traded in a stock trailer for the enclosed trailer and Jake and his mom found used equipment. They finished the interior themselves and the Harper family from McCook also in the restaurant business assisted them setting it up and donated some equipment. The truck received a perfect score from the USDA inspector. Jake paid back the ranch for the stock trailer in less than a year. Jake and his mom work on prep the day before for the sale barn and she runs it while he is in school. He goes in after school and takes time off for BBQ sales and bull sales.
The brothers are both passionate about showing cattle and are now raising club calves. They buy high quality semen and embryos to improve their genetics. They are retaining as many heifers as possible and currently have 15 elite cows. They lease embryo recipient cows from the family operation. They are focused on raising Charolais cross calves and market them as show prospects when they are around 6-700 pounds. The brothers show as much as possible with this year being the last for G to participate in the junior shows. They participate in all the big shows such as the Nebraska State Fair, the AKSARBEN show, and National Western Stock Show. The club calf operation is called O’Dea Club Calves and is Jake’s focus.
Jake refuses to play a winter sport because the winter show season from Thanksgiving until Easter is so hectic and daylight is short so he has to prioritize. Both boys have skipped homecomings and proms because they were on the road showing. G gave up football his senior year so he could focus on the big fall cattle shows. One time Jake and his parents brought a trailer load of show cattle to one of G’s football games so they could leave from there. The brothers don’t have much free time, typically being hard at it by 6 am and often going until midnight.
They credit their work ethic to taking care of bottle calves when they were young. They hauled 18 bottles of milk at a time in their radio flyer wagon making several trips to feed the 80 Holstein calves. This job had to be done morning and night and completed before school. “We always had chores; it helps to instill a sense of duty. We always have something to do keeping up with everything we have,” G said.
The brothers have already figured out that they want to each have their own operations that are focused on their individual passions. They both realize that they need each other for a few more years as they build their operations. G will be a sophomore this fall and is majoring in animal ag science. He plans on taking that knowledge back to the operation, build the cow herd and expand the heifer program.
Jake plans on staying in the catering business. “I don’t want it to get too big, I still want to enjoy it. I plan on going into ag education, retain the other businesses but have a steady job when I get out of school.”
G and Jake are role models both in and out of the show ring. “We didn’t want Dad’s work to go to waste, we are expected to work and hold ourselves to be accountable. If you get out and work, you will be successful, if you don’t you won’t be,” Jake said.
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the June 19, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News