Kevin Diehl has considerable experience in the cattle industry, starting with the steers he raised and showed in 4-H. “I bought my first breeding female in 1982,” said Kevin, who took over his dad’s Fairfield, PA farm in 1991. “When I was out of 4-H, I worked for Frank Darcy, one of the top Hereford breeders in Pennsylvania. In 1984, we took a small string of cattle to the National Western Stock Show in Denver and had the champion female.”
That’s where Kevin says his interest in Herefords started. He noted that since starting in the beef business, he’s seen a lot of changes in cattle type. “We almost ruined not only our breed, but other breeds, by single trait selection — frame size — because that’s what was winning the shows,” he said. “We know now that any time we select for a single trait, we lose other traits. Maternal and thickness went to the side, and all we had was big, tall beef cattle with not a lot of meat or maternal traits.”
Kevin believes the cattle in today’s show ring are good representatives of what works in commercial cattle operations. “Our breed has a lot to offer,” he said. “We’re genetically clean, and commercial breeders and feeders can take advantage of that. We have cattle that are efficient with feed to gain, docility is always a plus, and we’ve definitely improved maternal traits over the past 10 to 15 years.”
Kevin hopes the show community will always strive for improvement, working toward an efficient animal that can put beef on the table.
For commercial cow/calf breeders who are interested in improving their herds, Kevin says there’s a lot of data to help make mating selections. “EPDs are a tool,” he said. “But some people lose sight of using the eye, and focus only on EPDs. If it was possible to breed cattle on paper, everyone would have a national champion. There’s good information in data, but the bottom line is that cattle are sold by the way they look. To me, that’s still more important.”
Today, the Diehls have about 40 mature cows, some of which are from when Kevin was producing show steers. “The black cows that are here now are the leftovers from those days, and I’m using them as recipients for Hereford embryos,” he said. “They’re predominantly Angus, but some are first generation sired by club calf bulls like a Chi-Maine. The black cows that don’t settle with an embryo are bred to a bull.”
To take advantage of superior cow traits, the Diehls have been flushing a donor cow for several years. “She’s done very well,” said Kevin, who has sold embryo calves but not embryos. “We just flushed her a few weeks ago and got 24 embryos.” Kevin noted that in a traditional flush, sexed semen doesn’t guarantee bull or heifer calves, and in vitro flushing is becoming more popular. “With the in vitro process, if you want all heifers, you’re basically guaranteed all heifers.”
In addition to selling purebred Herefords, primarily heifers, Kevin has a hay business. He produces about 30,000 bales a year that go to southern Maryland and northern Virginia.
Kevin and Deb’s two children, Justin and Kelsey, started 4-H as soon as they were eligible, and both have participated in numerous cattle shows. “Justin liked it, but Kelsey just took off with it,” said Deb. “She loved being on the farm and showing cattle, and has been to almost every junior national since she started.” Kelsey, who is 21 and recently married, has exhibited at Louisville, Kansas City, Grand Island, Tulsa and Denver. In 2012, Kelsey exhibited the class winner with her owned heifer at the junior national in Nebraska, and a co-owned bull was supreme champion at the Maryland State Fair. The same bull was named show bull of the year for the Northeast region.
Kelsey will soon graduate from Penn State University with a degree in agribusiness. In her last year as a junior exhibitor, Kelsey will be showing a yearling heifer and a cow-calf pair. However, the Diehl’s two nieces, Sarah and Meagan Six, are keeping the Hereford youth tradition alive at Springbrook Farm, and are preparing steers for the upcoming Junior National Show. Meagan, who is 16, and Sarah, who is 18, participate in FFA and show cattle through 4-H. Meagan, who is in her fourth year of showing cattle, started showing at the local fair, then her cousin Kelsey encouraged her to become involved in state shows. “Then we got involved with the Pennsylvania Junior Hereford Association (PJHA) and their shows,” said Meagan.
After Meagan and Sarah selected Springbrook Farm steers in November, the sisters started halter breaking them and getting the animals accustomed to the show stick. “We make sure they’re calm and they know we won’t hurt them,” said Meagan. “Then we start washing them, working on their hair and walking them clockwise to get them used to the show ring.”
Meagan wants to follow in her cousin Kelsey’s footsteps and plans to attend Penn State University as an agribusiness major. She has already encountered people who don’t understand agriculture, and says caring for beef cattle and preparing them for show has taught her what hard work really is. “A lot of kids don’t realize that farming is a lot more than dirt and boots,” she said. “There are a lot of hot days, and sometimes we just want to give up. We’ve had steers that were stubborn, but we’ve always gotten them under control.”