Spotlight on Members
Members of the Heritage Shorthorn Society encompass a wide variety of cattle operations with utilization of Shorthorns in many different ways. This section will highlight a cross section of our members (some who are relatively new to Shorthorns and some who have had Shorthorns for multiple generations) to show the appeal and adaptability of Heritage Shorthorns.
This Spotlight on Members Posting will be changed quarterly.
with Martha and Miriam Hoffman
Farm/Ranch Name: Meriville Farm, and Bestyet A.I. Sires
Location: Earlville, Illinois
Phone: (815) 246-9523
How long have you been involved with cattle? with Shorthorns?
Our family has always had Shorthorns, back at least four generations.
Kenneth (Winifred’s late husband and Martha and Miriam’s father) grew up raising heritage Shorthorns on the family farm and developed such an aptitude for selecting good breeding stock that his father handed over most breeding decisions to him at an early age.
Winifred’s journey with Shorthorns started 38 years ago when she came here to the farm as a college student wanting a farm job, which led to marrying Kenneth and a life with the cattle. When Ken passed away in 2005, she and their five children were determined to carry on where he left off.
Because of this, Martha and Miriam had the privilege of growing up with Shorthorns. Their three older brothers continue to help the family herd continue as well.
How or why did you become interested in Heritage/Native Shorthorns?
Because our family always had traditional Shorthorns, we have continued to recognize the value of preserving the old-fashioned type of truly dual-purpose cattle that thrived on diversified farms for generations before us. Additionally, we see the need for breeders to make these genetics available, so that is another reason we have continued to do what we do.
What size and type of cattle operation do you have?
We have about 20 Milking Shorthorn breeding females, along with calves and heifers. They are rotationally grazed during the summer and fed hay and baleage over the winter, with no grain fed at all.
We breed all our cows using artificial insemination, which allows us to make careful, individualized breeding decisions and is necessary because we also raise Dutch Belted dairy cattle.
Our Milking Shorthorn breeding program focuses on practical, hardy cows that produce milk and calves efficiently in a grass-based system. Fleshing ability is also important to us since we raise steers and outwinter the herd. Our goal is to raise trouble-free cows that are a pleasure to work with.
Was your cattle operation different in prior years?
When Kenneth’s parents were married in 1936, they milked eight cows by hand and had a cream route in the local area. Kenneth grew up helping with the cattle and expanded the herd when he started taking over the operation. From 1960–1997, we had up to 120 cows, and we have since adjusted our numbers to match available labor and markets.
What are the main markets for your Shorthorns?
We provide semen and breeding stock for customers nationwide in a variety of situations, from grass dairies to cow-calf operations looking for more milk, to homesteaders who want a family cow. Our extra steers are sold locally as feeders for small finishing operations or at 800 pounds at an ethnic market.
What is the best piece of advice that you received about raising cattle?
Both of these nuggets of wisdom came from Ken: “You gotta think like a cow,” and “Breeding is a journey, not a destination.”
Miriam, our expert calf trainer, says, “Before you can break a cow to lead, they have to like you.”
One of Miriam and Martha’s brothers reminds us that “slow is fast” when working cows, because taking it easy gets the job done more quickly than hurrying since the cows stay calm and relaxed.
What do you enjoy most about raising cattle?
Winifred: “I enjoy how working with the cattle keeps us grounded—literally! We need to stay close to home to take care of them, and they take care of us, producing milk and meat faithfully on our homegrown forage.
I have been blessed to see generation after generation in this herd, and I find it challenging and rewarding to see the results of our breeding program as we go along. I’m also enjoying learning more about calm handling and training of the cattle with my daughters as we’ve found this makes it extra satisfying to work them.”
Miriam: “Many of my favorite moments on the farm have been when I take a scared, nervous heifer and in as little as a few days, turn it into a gentle, calm creature. I believe very strongly in mutual respect and love between human and bovine.”
Martha: “On of the best parts about cattle is how peaceful and calming it is to spend time with the herd. I also appreciate the opportunity to share about the importance of heritage breed conservation with farmers and consumers. One of the highlights of my year is showing at local fairs and introducing non-farmers to cows for the first time.
The more time I spend learning about Milking Shorthorn history while exploring the vast library of books my late father collected, the more honored I feel to have a part in continuing the legacy. For me, it’s a way to remember my father and the generations of breeders who came before who loved these red, white, and roan dual-purpose cattle.”
What is something funny that’s happened while raising cattle?
One of our classic cow stories is when Martha and Miriam’s older brothers taught a calf to eat cookies and watermelon off the rind. They dubbed her “Cookie Monster” and entered her in the county fair pet show, where she won first place for best trick.
Martha was about two years old at the time, and once she was petting Cookie Monster while eating a cookie, and the calf nabbed her cookie. Martha was not impressed by the calf’s trick.
What Heritage Shorthorn Society support/activity is of the most value to you?
We really appreciate the directory and semen listing, as well as the ability to network with other members.