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Young Clayton County cattle producers building cattle operations

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 05/20/2013 9:35 AM

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FARMERSBURG, Iowa —Nick Echard and Ryan Zitelman are young farmers building cattle operations.

Echard, 35, is president of the Clayton County Cattlemen's Association and Zitelman, 23, is vice president.

"We're trying to do our best to get as many members and get as many involved as we can, take what we have and make it better," Zitelman said. "We want to build off what the guys did before us."

The two friends are also participating in the Iowa Cattlemen's Association Young Cattlemen's Leadership Program. They see the ICA program as a way to meet new people and make connections in Des Moines and around the state.

Echard, and his wife, Amy, have built their Simmental operation near Farmersburg from the ground up. Echard grew up in Monona. His parents didn't farm, but he spent a lot of time with his grandparents and uncles who were dairy farmers.

Echard graduated from MFL Mar Mac where he was involved in FFA, attended one semester of beef herd management at Kirkwood Community College and then graduated from the John Deere Ag Tech Program at Northeast Iowa Community College. He also completed an electromechanical technology program at Southwest Technical Institute at Fennimore, Wis.

He worked in the maintenance department at 3M in Prairie du Chien, Wis., before farming. Amy grew up in Eastman, Wis., and studied sales and marketing at Madison Jr. College of Business. She does all the farm's book work and helps outside.

The Echards grow 800 acres of corn and hay. They custom combine 300 acres of corn and custom apply anhydrous on 5,000 acres. They run two semis hauling grain locally and have a 2,200 head wean to finish hog site. They have three full-time employees.

The couple started their cattle operation six years ago when they bought about 75 sale barn cows in small groups for 50 cents to 55 cents a pound. The only requirement was that the cows were bred in the third trimester so that they all calved around the same time.

"We didn't buy fancy," Echard said. "The original plan was to generate money. It was at the bottom of the market and things have taken off since then."

The first year, they calved 70 to 75 cows, sold the cows that didn't make the cut and sold the calves.

They had 35 head to work with the next year.

"We probably have three to four of the original cows," Echard said.

The couple are working toward a purebred Simmental herd. Today they have 100 cows, 25 percent are purebred Simmentals with a handful of Angus and Shorthorns. About 40 are recipient cows for embryos. They flush a few cows at home and are part of several syndicates that own donor cows.

Echard said they work a lot with Ralph and Mena Kaehler of K-LER Cattle Company at St. Charles, Minn.

"They took us in, are guiding us and helping us get a name," Echard said. "We talk very day. We own a lot of cattle with them, and keep cattle at both places. Our ultimate goal is to be a Simmental seedstock herd selling bulls and heifers."

The Echards invested in a Patz TMR Mixer and fed a ration of corn silage, ryelage, distillers grains, corn stalks and Quality Liquid Feed last winter. They are pleased with the consistent results and said it keeps costs down.

The couple has three children, Jessie, 18, Keagan, 5, and Ty, 4. Jessie, a senior at MFL Mar Mac, will attend ISU in the fall to major in agricultural business. She wants to work with the farming operation. She's active in 4-H and Iowa Junior Beef Breeds Association . She showed the champion Shorthorn steer at the Iowa State Fair.

"I owe everything to a great banker from Monona," Echard said of their start in farming. "He retired three years ago. It's been hard starting from nothing, but I wouldn't give up anything."

Zitelman's goal is 300 cows by age 40

At 23, Zitelman of Strawberry Point is in the building phase. He has 35 to 40 stock cows which are Simmental, Angus, some Simmental-Angus crosses and a couple of Maine-Anjou crosses that he breeds for club calves. He artificially inseminates 75 percent of his cows every year and is starting to use embryo transfer in his herd.

He raises his own feed — 25 acres of hay, 16 acres of corn and 70 acres of pasture. Since he doesn't need all the pasture right now, his father and uncle run their cattle on about 30 acres.

Zitelman graduated from Starmont High School. He was in FFA and 4-H and showed cow/calf pairs, market steers and bred heifers at the Clayton County Fair. He exhibited reserve grand champion cow/calf pair for several years and also showed reserve and champion home-raised steers.

Zitelman attended Iowa State University for 1 ½ years in ag studies and then went to Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo for ag business and animal science. After school he returned home and worked at a feedlot in Volga. He just started a service technician job with CRI Genex working with beef and dairy customers.

Zitelman's goal is to have 150 cows by the time he's 33 and 300 cows by 40. He'll calve half in the spring and half in the fall.

"I want a mix of purebred Simmental, Angus and some Simmental-Angus crosses," Zitelman said. "What I don't sell as seedstock, I eventually plan to feed out."

Zitelman said his father, Dave, and uncle, Mike, have been a huge help in getting him started.

"My dad gave me my first cow in 4-H and helps me pick bulls from AI," Zitelman said. "He's always there to help me. It's the same with my uncle. He's a helping hand."

Young Cattlemen's Leadership Program gives participants look at legislative policy

Echard and Zitelman met with other members of the Young Cattlemen's Leadership Program in March in Ames and Des Moines. The first day they met others in the group, and learned about ICA, the Iowa Cattlemen's Foundation, the Iowa Beef Industry Council and reviewed key state legislative issues. The second day they met with state legislators, the governor's staff and leaders of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Iowa Agricultural Development Authority and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

Echard said it was interesting to meet with legislative representatives and hear directly from them about legislation "before it gets all blown up in the news."

Echard would like to see beginning farmers programs do more to help people who start from nothing like he did. He supports legislation requiring landlords to give tenants notice if they plan to terminate a lease for parcels less than 40 acres.

"Some legislators are 100 percent for agriculture and are there to help you," Zitelman said. "Others don't realize how much impact some of their decisions have on agriculture."