Trailin': Third generation of family to show Herefords

By Tina Turney
Posted 6/24/99

The Zimmerman kids, fifteen-year-old Melissa and twelve-year-old James Ryan, are carrying on a family tradition. With their parents, James and Karen Zimmerman, they’ve been involved in the family …

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Trailin': Third generation of family to show Herefords


The Zimmerman kids, fifteen-year-old Melissa and twelve-year-old James Ryan, are carrying on a family tradition. With their parents, James and Karen Zimmerman, they’ve been involved in the family business of raising Hereford cattle on their farm southeast of Riverside.

James’ parents, George and Marian Zimmerman, raised Hereford cattle, and in the 1950s, began buying registered purebred cows and bulls. James got started showing the Herefords in the 1960s under the guidance of his mom, who was quite an expert cattle woman.

Karen, his wife, grew up as a city girl from Waterloo. She remembers helping her grandma with her chickens and ducks, which was about all the farm experience she had before marrying James.

When the Zimmermans were first married, they remember hauling their show cattle to the Iowa State Fair in the back of their pickup. They soon moved up to a gooseneck trailer that also served as sleeping quarters while they were at the Fair. “But that was before we had the kids,” Karen mentioned.

In 1982, Karen and James showed the champion Hereford heifer at the Beef Expo in Des Moines. Later, their bull, “Challenger,” was awarded the title Iowa-Bred Champion Bull. They also showed the cow-calf champions for two consecutive years in 1995 and 1996.

The family’s herd consists of fifty purebred cows and three bulls. They like to sell as many calves as possible each year for breeding stock. Their young bulls are bringing $1,000 as yearlings, and between $1500 to $1700 as two-year-olds. They have had buyers from all over the eastern half of Iowa.

In earlier years, the Hereford cattle were horned, but like most Iowa cattle breeders, the Zimmermans have gone to polled stock. There are several reasons for this change, one being that there was the four dollars per head cost to dehorn a calf and the stress to the animal. Also, buyers and packers do not want horned cattle. The horned cattle are more dangerous to work with and more likely to injure each other.

James went on to explain that when the Hereford breeders first went to polled cattle, some of the desirable qualities, such as thickness and milking ability, were compromised for a time. He said this was probably due to the inbreeding involved in the efforts to produce the polled animals. However, he emphasized that the Polled Hereford breed has acquired all the good qualities, plus the advantage of no horns.

Several years ago, it was popular for beef cattle breeders to go to the longer and bigger cattle. The trend has now gone back to a more moderate sized frame, although the Zimmermans have one bull that is of the extreme large size. James tries to breed whatever the customers want in registered cattle.

As far as bloodlines are concerned they try to go with what is popular. They don’t experience many calving problems, so don’t worry about having low birth weight calves with their cows. However, most people with commercial herds do favor buying bulls with low birth weight calves.

The Zimmermans farm a total of about one thousand acres, 600 acres being tillable. About forty years ago, James’ grandfather bought the farm where James and Karen have lived since they were married. It is located on a high bluff overlooking the Iowa River valley. For many years, the farm was all in pasture and timber. Today, they have about seventy-five acres of pasture for the cattle at their home place. Earlier, the family had a farrow-to-finish hog operation, but about three years ago they got out of the hog business.

The Zimmerman kids are members of the Riverside Ramblers 4-H Club which is headed by leaders Jim Schneider and Doug Colbert. The club’s main focus is on livestock projects. This year, James will be showing a steer and a breeding heifer at the Washington County 4-H and FFA Fair in July. He has been involved in 4-H three years and will be going into seventh grade at Highland in the fall.

Melissa will be a sophomore at Highland and has been a 4-H member for six years. But her cattle- showing history goes back to when she was in second grade. She used to lead the baby calf while her mom led the cow in cow-calf competition at various cattle shows. Melissa’s grandma, Marian, would still like to help out, but is unable due to health problems.

Karen mentioned that she and James have always let the kids pick out their calves from the herd themselves. That way they would learn what kind of a calf to choose. “They don’t learn anything if they don’t pick out the calf themselves, and,” she smiled, “sometimes the results have been surprising.”

James Ryan likes to operate the tractor now days and helps out his dad with field work. Last fall, he was able to run the combine, and this spring, he’s done some cultivating on their farm over by Lone Tree.

Although the Zimmermans lost many of the trees in their timber to last summer’s wind storms, the home place is a beautiful spot. The area is unspoiled and still has the natural beauty of what was Iowa before it was settled.