Johnson: It's an exciting time in the cattle business
By Jean Caspers-Simmet
Date Modified: 05/12/2011 9:13 AM
NORTHWOOD, Iowa —Allan Johnson says that at 74, a person needs a reason to get up every morning.
"I have several," he said with a grin.
Johnson has just returned from Warrensburg, Mo., where he hosted the "Older Boys with Older Toys" sale for HK Simmentals, the ranch he manages for Lee's Summit entrepreneur Harold Kuhn. After a day to regroup, Johnson and his wife, Carol, are leaving for Utah to visit their new great-grandson.
Before they leave, Johnson's to-do list includes artificially inseminating cows and ordering grass seed for a pasture renovation project for the purebred Maine-Anjou herd he manages for Paul Heers at Oakland, Minn. In between he confers via cell phone with his grandson, who is getting started in the cattle business.
"He just wears me out," Carol said as she smiles and shakes her head.
The couple sits at the kitchen table of their Northwood home. A mid-April snow storm is under way outside. Johnson explains he'll be fine on the trip to Salt Lake City as long as he has his lap top, a cell phone and a broadband. Their daughter is driving, and he'll keep working.
"This is one of the most exciting times in the cattle industry," Johnson said. "It's just a shame that I have to be 74 before I can have this much fun."
Johnson speaks with excitement about the latest calf crop coming from his and Carol's purebred Simmental cows as well as the herds he manages.
"We're doing some line breeding projects that I'm really excited about," Johnson said. "That was the big purpose for buying the Power Drive bull clone for the operation in Missouri. It intensified that genetic line both in Missouri and at home that we think is so powerful. We're taking great-granddaughters of Power Drive and breeding them back to the Power Drive clone to intensify that Power Drive line. We're doing some things with some of the other genetic packages, too. One bull that we own, Wake Up Call, is a trait leader in eight categories."
Johnson, who has served as District 4 director with the Iowa Cattlemen's Association Board, stepped forward to be northwest regional vice president on the group's executive board when Ed Greiman of Garner became president-elect.
"My work with ICA is a way of paying back," Johnson said.
ICA is fortunate to have two active young producers in president Ross Havens and Greiman, Johnson said.
"They are committed and knowledgeable and I appreciate all that they do," he said.
Johnson has had a diverse career in the cattle business.
"Today our operation is not very big, and it's entirely based in the seedstock business," Johnson said.
He and Carol own 50 cows, most in partnership with 6 other operations.
"Our partners have the cows in the winter, and they're the ones who get up at night and check on them," Johnson said. "Carol and I take some of the cows and calves during the summer."
They'll run 28 cows and calves this summer in a pasture they rent from long-time friends and fellow Simmental breeders Buck and Bev Pangburn.
Some of their partners are young farmers like their grandson Brent Keene, and his wife, Leah, who are building a purebred operation at Hartley. Others are established like Marty Little of Alden, Minn., who works for AgStar. The Johnsons also work with Judd Thorsen of Northwood, John and Rita Volz of Elmore, Minn., and Jim Suver of Arlington, Neb. They also partner with Heers and Kuhn on Simmentals.
There are four generations of Johnsons involved in the cattle business. Their great-grandson Ayden Johnson has a purebred Simmental registered in his name.
"That is the biggest reason why I spend as much time as I do on the ICA board," Johnson said. "If our family members want to be involved in the cattle business, I want them to have the opportunity."
The Johnsons raised seven children. Son Mark works at Trans Ova Genetics at Sioux Center, and he and his wife, Pam, own MPJ Cattle Co., an elite herd of show cattle.
Daughter Laurie and her husband, Kurt Kenny, have a purebred Maine-Anjou and club calf herd at Storm Lake and also raise show lambs. Daughter Kris and her husband, Dave Keene, live at Hartley, and Kris works with the O'Brien County 4-H program.
Greg and his family live at Spencer; and Scott and his family are at Hartley. Wendy and her husband, Todd Henrichs, live at Lincoln, Neb., and Paula and her husband, Joel Buenger, are at Spencer.
The Johnson clan shows at the Iowa State Fair and the Minnesota State Fair, but "the Clay County Fair is our big deal," Johnson said. "A few years ago, our family showed 46 head of livestock — cattle, sheep, and hogs. Last year we had grandchildren who won showmanship in cattle, sheep and hogs."
The couple grew up in the Northwood area. Johnson was originally heavily involved in the purebred hog business. He was head of the beef cattle department at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, worked for ABS and was a livestock and feed specialist for FS Services. He also worked in livestock equipment sales and construction at Spencer and managed livestock sales in Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin.
The Johnsons moved back to Northwood several years ago to care for their elderly parents. In addition "to keeping the home fires burning," Carol worked for Iowa State University Extension for 10 years in Worth and Cerro Gordo counties.
The Johnsons managed the Worth County Club Calf Sale for several years, and Johnson still announces the beef show at the Worth County Fair with Carol's assistance.
"We had seven children involved in 4-H, and the program did so much for our kids, we feel it's time to repay," Johnson said.
Johnson continues to manage the Missouri and Oakland herds. Between that, visiting their other cattle interests and their children, he and Carol put 81,000 miles on their vehicles last year.
"We're so fortunate to have good partners," Johnson said. "When it is time to quit, maybe these people can do something with the genetics we put together. It's been a wild ride, and I plan to stay running as long as I can. The cattle business is a great way to grow old."