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Developing champion club calves

Photo courtesy Ryan DunkauRyan Dunklau developed his own club calf business after working with an area club calf producer. He enjoys developing the animals and following owners as they learn and employ both exhibition and show animal care skills.

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Developing a club calf business wasn’t the goal Ryan Dunklau of Wayne, NE set when he began searching for a productive past time as a college sophomore. However, his experience in helping a beef producer with club calf activities introduced him to the industry about 10 years ago and he found that he was successful in selecting and developing calves that stood out in the show ring.

“At the time I was just looking for something to keep me busy,” Dunklau says. “Club calves was something I fell into and then fell in love with. I grew up on the farm and still farm with my dad. The club calves are a great break from the routine of farm work. It’s something not everyone does. I’m getting ready to get married and my fiance is involved in the industry too. We’ve found we’re pretty good at it and we have some fun with it.”

Dunklau raises a few of his own club calves but has developed a network of producers who supply most of his calves. He notes that developing a knowledge of different cattle breeds and identifying the characteristics that will catch a judge’s eye has taken some time.



“I grew up with a feedlot background,” he says. “We had crossbred cattle. I wasn’t good at showing when I was in high school. I never won a show at our county fair. Since I became more involved in the club calf industry I’ve really increased my knowledge of cattle breeds. There are a lot of details to learn about each breed and showing them. I’ve discovered that every family selecting club calves has their own process for developing cattle. My job is to learn as much as I can about that person or family and help them find the process that makes them successful at a show.”

The first thing Dunklau looks for in either a group of cattle or individual calves is their basic structure. He begins by analyzing their feet and gait.



“You want to see if they move well and can cover their tracks when they walk, which they’ll do if their structure is correct,” he says. “If you have problems ‘at the ground,’ you’ll have other issues too. I analyze the animals from the ground up. If I find they have good structure I look at their overall lines, how stout their bone is, how fine their hair coat looks. Many characteristics of show cattle differ greatly from breed to breed, but they all need that good basic structure.”

Although the basic qualities of successful show animals remains constant, over the past 10 years Dunklau has seen some changing trends in what judges want in prize-winning cattle.

“In steers, power was the showring king,” he says. “The animal with the best muscle won the trophy, no matter what. Now judges look at the overall completeness of the animal. Whether it’s heifers or steers, the animal that takes the prize doesn’t have to do any one thing great, they just need to do everything pretty well.”

Among the elements Dunklau believes makes showing cattle an enjoyable family affair is the continuation of a tradition that often spans at least three generations.

“When you look at the people showing cattle today, usually their parents were in the showring 20 or 30 years ago and their grandparents were showing cattle before that,” he says. “This isn’t a business most people just wander into. That can be done, but it isn’t easy. You can’t just buy a calf, pick up a show stick and be immediately successful. A lot of times it’s baby steps.”

Dunklau says buyers searching for a suitable club calf should take time to talk to the seller and determine if the needs the animal has will fit into the routine they’ve established on their farm.

“There’s no one question or even a list of questions that fit every buyer’s situation,” Dunklau says. “I try to learn as much as I can about my customers so I can help them make the decision that best suits their situation. If you buy an animal and have to reorganize your whole routine in order to take successfully develop it, you’re probably not going to accomplish your goals. It’s better to select a calf that you’re confident you can develop.”

Among the steps calf owners need to take to develop and/or maintain a show animal is identifying the proper feed and care that will keep the animal in top body condition.

“I find it most difficult to maintain show quality condition during summer,” Dunklau says. “You push steers and heifers early in summer and then do all you can to keep a nice hair coat and not put too much weight on heifers. You want them to have a lean, fresh look. You spend a lot of summer hours taking care of them in order to be competitive.”

Among the rewards he receives through his efforts, Dunklau points to the growth and development he sees in youth who are active in the showring.

“For kids, there’s no better project than giving them an animal and teaching them how to take care of it and handle it,” he says. “They learn that they get out of the experience what they’re willing to put into it. Right now my fiance and I don’t show any animals. We primarily assist our customers with their show activities. Down the road we may become active in the show ring. We’ll want our kids to participate if they’re interested. For now, it’s a way we can help other people find success, make some money and have some fun.”

Developing a club calf business wasn’t the goal Ryan Dunklau of Wayne, NE set when he began searching for a productive past time as a college sophomore. However, his experience in helping a beef producer with club calf activities introduced him to the industry about 10 years ago and he found that he was successful in selecting and developing calves that stood out in the show ring.

“At the time I was just looking for something to keep me busy,” Dunklau says. “Club calves was something I fell into and then fell in love with. I grew up on the farm and still farm with my dad. The club calves are a great break from the routine of farm work. It’s something not everyone does. I’m getting ready to get married and my fiance is involved in the industry too. We’ve found we’re pretty good at it and we have some fun with it.”

Dunklau raises a few of his own club calves but has developed a network of producers who supply most of his calves. He notes that developing a knowledge of different cattle breeds and identifying the characteristics that will catch a judge’s eye has taken some time.

“I grew up with a feedlot background,” he says. “We had crossbred cattle. I wasn’t good at showing when I was in high school. I never won a show at our county fair. Since I became more involved in the club calf industry I’ve really increased my knowledge of cattle breeds. There are a lot of details to learn about each breed and showing them. I’ve discovered that every family selecting club calves has their own process for developing cattle. My job is to learn as much as I can about that person or family and help them find the process that makes them successful at a show.”

The first thing Dunklau looks for in either a group of cattle or individual calves is their basic structure. He begins by analyzing their feet and gait.

“You want to see if they move well and can cover their tracks when they walk, which they’ll do if their structure is correct,” he says. “If you have problems ‘at the ground,’ you’ll have other issues too. I analyze the animals from the ground up. If I find they have good structure I look at their overall lines, how stout their bone is, how fine their hair coat looks. Many characteristics of show cattle differ greatly from breed to breed, but they all need that good basic structure.”

Although the basic qualities of successful show animals remains constant, over the past 10 years Dunklau has seen some changing trends in what judges want in prize-winning cattle.

“In steers, power was the showring king,” he says. “The animal with the best muscle won the trophy, no matter what. Now judges look at the overall completeness of the animal. Whether it’s heifers or steers, the animal that takes the prize doesn’t have to do any one thing great, they just need to do everything pretty well.”

Among the elements Dunklau believes makes showing cattle an enjoyable family affair is the continuation of a tradition that often spans at least three generations.

“When you look at the people showing cattle today, usually their parents were in the showring 20 or 30 years ago and their grandparents were showing cattle before that,” he says. “This isn’t a business most people just wander into. That can be done, but it isn’t easy. You can’t just buy a calf, pick up a show stick and be immediately successful. A lot of times it’s baby steps.”

Dunklau says buyers searching for a suitable club calf should take time to talk to the seller and determine if the needs the animal has will fit into the routine they’ve established on their farm.

“There’s no one question or even a list of questions that fit every buyer’s situation,” Dunklau says. “I try to learn as much as I can about my customers so I can help them make the decision that best suits their situation. If you buy an animal and have to reorganize your whole routine in order to take successfully develop it, you’re probably not going to accomplish your goals. It’s better to select a calf that you’re confident you can develop.”

Among the steps calf owners need to take to develop and/or maintain a show animal is identifying the proper feed and care that will keep the animal in top body condition.

“I find it most difficult to maintain show quality condition during summer,” Dunklau says. “You push steers and heifers early in summer and then do all you can to keep a nice hair coat and not put too much weight on heifers. You want them to have a lean, fresh look. You spend a lot of summer hours taking care of them in order to be competitive.”

Among the rewards he receives through his efforts, Dunklau points to the growth and development he sees in youth who are active in the showring.

“For kids, there’s no better project than giving them an animal and teaching them how to take care of it and handle it,” he says. “They learn that they get out of the experience what they’re willing to put into it. Right now my fiance and I don’t show any animals. We primarily assist our customers with their show activities. Down the road we may become active in the show ring. We’ll want our kids to participate if they’re interested. For now, it’s a way we can help other people find success, make some money and have some fun.”


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