A feature article in our Spring 2021 issue written by Kathleen O’Keefe.
Scan the report of any prominent Jersey sale and you’ll likely see a heifer carrying the Schulte Bros prefix at or near the top of the list. That’s the proof of success for the very specific and focused business plan for this unique family-run operation located in eastern Iowa: make lots of show-age heifers from famous cow families and sell them all!
The Schulte family has been grounded in Iowa and dedicated to purebred registered livestock for well over a century. The family patriarch, John C. Schulte, established the farm in 1901 and eventually farmed over 1000 acres. He was quite prominent in the development of the Hereford hog, a swine breed known for their red body, white face, and docile temperament. He registered the very first animal in the National Hereford Hog Record, and eventually was President of the breed organization.
Eventually, the Schultes turned to dairying and for many years milked about 120 head of registered Brown Swiss and Holsteins. They bred the famous Brown Swiss show cow, Schulte’s Sunwise Pat, who was crowned Grand Champion at World Dairy Expo for three consecutive years in 1971-1973, and was the first Swiss to be selected All-American for five consecutive years for her owner, Meadow View Farm.
The milking herd was dispersed in the late 1990s, and for a time, no dairy cattle inhabited the buildings at the farm. Then the younger generation – Zach, Blake, and Mitch – entered 4-H and the family thought some Jersey calves would be easy to handle and make good project animals. Their dad, Mark Schulte, has been lifelong friends with eminent Iowa Jersey breeder, Norman Nabholz, and Mark purchased some embryos from Norm. Those embryos were from the family of Aland Perimiter Nan EX-95 5E, the winning 4-year-old at World Dairy Expo in 2002, and the Reserve All-Canadian Senior 2-Year-Old in 2000. The die was cast and the Schulte family involvement with Jerseys had begun!
The purchase of a fancy fall calf, Mi Wil Deluxe Gorgeous, in 2004 eventually brought the milker pump back to life at the farm when she calved. “She’s the reason we got back into milking some cows,” explains Mark. That turned out to be an astute decision, as the offspring of Gorgeous brought the Schulte Bros prefix to the most elite show rings in North America – most notably with Schulte Bros Tequila Shot, who has had an extended show career filled with highlights for her owners Peter Vail, David Jordan and Budjon Farms. She was the All-Canadian 4-Year-Old in 2017 and Grand Champion of the New York Spring Jersey Show in 2018, and just this past year earned the ABA Reserve All-American Aged Cow title for 2020.
“Our success is when someone else is successful with our cattle,” notes Mark. There was more success to celebrate at the 2019 International Jersey Show in Madison, WI when a full sister to Tequila Shot, Schulte Bros Teq Glory-ET, won the summer yearling class and went on to claim the Junior Champion title for owners Budjon Farms and Peter Vail. Purchased at the Franchise Kind III Sale earlier in the year, Glory just kept getting better and better. Schulte Bros Colton Fame was the AJCA and ABA All-American Winter Yearling in 2020 for owners Kruse & Henderson, and is out of another of their donor cows, Pleasant Nook Guns Foxy Lady EX-91%.
Mark, Zach, Blake and Mitch all have full-time jobs away from the farm. Mark and Zach co-manage a beef feedlot in nearby Amana, IA; Mitch works for dairy promotion organization, Midwest Dairy Association; and Blake is a veterinarian, so their milking ‘herd’ only consists of their six or seven donor cows. They all give effusive praise and credit to Sharon Ditch, the woman who hands-on with the cattle everyday at the farm.
From that select group of donor cows, the Schultes put in about 80 embryos a year utilizing recipients sourced from their neighbors, and a cousin milks the recipients in his herd once they are fresh. From those 80 eggs, they average about 40 calves born at the farm every year. The embryos are implanted specifically to produce full-age show calves every three months, in order to maximize their value at sale.
“We try to get about 10 calves per class,” says Blake, “and they’re all for sale.” Sale managers beat a path to eastern Iowa to select for their sales, and it’s pretty much first-come, first-serve choosing from the heifers at the farm any given day. “The market has been good to us, but we’ve made it a point to build a reputation for selling our very best stuff,” explains Blake. Mark agrees, “We’ve been financially successful with the Jerseys because we’re focused and very disciplined about selling – we don’t want to expand that milking herd! In fact, everything has to come fresh in March, so I don’t have to milk in December, January or February!”
They market mainly through Facebook, but their best advertising is the cattle they’ve sold. “We like our cattle at sales to look the part, and with some of the success those animals have had, we have a pretty good pool of repeat buyers, which we’re really pleased about,” states Blake. “We keep setting goals. One of our early goals was to breed a Junior Champion at Madison. After Glory, we can cross that off the list and now we want to breed a Grand Champion there!”
Obviously that kind of success doesn’t just come from making a lot of eggs and calves, there has to be some thought into the matings involved. Mark explains that they often go about it the old-fashioned way by going to see daughters of bulls. “We really enjoy going to World Dairy Expo every year in Madison and when we see daughters of bulls we like, we’re not afraid to go back and use a bull over and over. We always have a healthy dose of proven genetics in the mix – Colton and Tequila sired many of the best heifers from this farm and we continue to use them in the right spots.” They always look forward to a road trip with Norm Nabholz for some advice, and visit with Michael Heath about bulls in particular.
As for the donors, Blake emphasizes the need for them to hail from the recognizable, famous cow families of the breed. Currently, their donors are backed by Veronica, Griffen, the Flowers of Pleasant Nook, and Renaissance Eliza. From there, they focus their efforts on the calves and raising the best possible individuals to send to the sales.
They raise the calves in small groups – no more than eight to a pen. They feed milk three times a day and intently track how each calf is doing. “We really watch the weight on the calves. Too thin means they aren’t thriving, and fat calves don’t sell well, so we work hard to keep them in that proper range,” says Blake. The health of the calves comes first, and then they also invest the time in proper pre-sale preparation. Every calf is broke to lead and is comfortable being handled by humans. Again, Blake credits Sharon Ditch and her role at the farm. “The only way this works is having Sharon at the farm every day. She breaks all the calves to lead, and she is the one with the eye on everything during the day when we’re away from the farm.” They even utilize a horse-walker as part of the exercise program for the heifers.
That preparation is usually rewarded in the sale ring. A Colton summer yearling out of Woodmohr Genty Ginger EX-93%, was the $16,500 high-selling live Jersey heifer at the 2021 Gil-Tex Stampede Sale in February 2021. At the recent Quest For The Franchise Kind sale in April 2021, four Schulte Bros live heifers sold averaged $7,275 with a high-seller of $14,600 for a Colton summer yearling out of Pleasant Nook Guns Foxy Lady EX-91%. In addition to the live animals, a unique first choice of all spring calves on the farm sold for $13,200, and the second choice of those calves brought a final bid of $10,700! Undoubtedly, it was a happy ride home to Iowa that Saturday evening, but those prices drive home the Schulte’s business plan – focus and prepare good calves and heifers and offer them all for sale!
There may be a little pressure to compromise that game plan in the future now that Mark’s seven grandchildren are getting old enough to show. There seems to be lots of interest from the next generation. The Schultes love the Iowa State Fair and make it a family vacation every year to go and exhibit at the Jersey Show. Mark is a lifelong, enthusiastic supporter of the event and really enjoys the outing every year. “We try to put up a good set up and we always have a big group of people from this area enjoying themselves. We can have 25-50 people socializing there – way more people than cattle,” he laughs.
Currently, they only show the donor cows and whatever heifers didn’t fit into the spring sales, but even then, they usually have a good outing. At the 2019 edition, they had the Reserve Intermediate Champion, the Junior Champion, and bred the Reserve Junior Champion, in addition to claiming the Premier Breeder and Exhibitor banners. Mark admits that one of his goals is to see his grandkids leading Schulte Bros-bred heifers with success in the show ring, so it’s possible that their disciplined business plan might be a little more flexible in the future to keep a few of the really good ones down home on the farm!