“A horse or a cow can teach a boy half of what they’ll need to know.”
~ John D. Thompson
A little cowboy wisdom can go a long way, especially when it falls on the ears of a smart businessman with a young family in an agricultural community. John D. Thompson of Clearwater, Neb., knew he had such a person when he talked Bill Kester, also of Clearwater, into buying his commercial cow herd in the fall of 1989. At that time, Bill and his wife Sandy had been busy operating a feed store in town and had three small boys to raise – Tyler, Adam and Cody. With the idea of buying the cow herd as a project for their growing family and to reinforce the values and ethics they had taught their children, the Kesters decided to accept John D. Thompson’s offer.
Thompson’s herd was comprised of primarily commercial cows. The following spring Bill purchased six bred heifers from Grabenstine Herefords in southwest Nebraska. “I decided to purchase Herefords because I knew they were docile and I thought with the use of artificial insemination I could improve the Hereford breed,” Bill said. The docile cattle were important to the Kesters since their kids were young and still learning how to work around the animals. Soon after Bill had bought the six registered Herefords, he was informed by neighbor and past Hereford Breeder, Vern Hixon, that he was the only Hereford breeder left in Antelope County.
Tyler, the oldest of the Kester children, began showing their cattle at the Antelope County Fair at the age of eight and the other children followed suit. The family had since grown from the three boys to include a daughter, Allison and another son, Travis. The Kesters have won the Cow/Calf pair class 11 years at the fair along with a closet full of trophies from previous stocker feeders, breeding heifers and market animals.
During calving season the family pitches in as often as they can to help keep up with the new calf crop; however, the older Kester children have since grown and left the Clearwater area. Tyler currently resides in Wisconsin while and Adam and wife Whitney live in North Platte, but they return when they can to help tag calves and watch over the herd at night. Cody is in his last semester of undergraduate studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where Allison is working through her third year, allowing both of them to return a few weekends each month to help. Travis, a junior in high school, is the only one left at home to regularly help check the cows overnight. Bill says he takes the 4 a.m. shift while Travis checks the cows between 10 p.m. and midnight.
While Bill is telling about calving season, he reminisces about the kids helping with calving in past years. He tells of Allison at 10-years-old, getting out of bed at 4 in the morning to help him check cows during a blizzard. “We had about seven or eight new calves in the barn. I let her out and told her to go to the barn and get as many nursing as she could,” Bill said. He left her to work on the calves while he made a round to check the calving yard. He continued, “We were running our cows in about a 40 acre calving pasture and sure enough, we had another one drop a calf in a snow bank. When I got the new pair back to the barn, I asked Allison how she was coming and she said ‘Got them all sucking Dad.’ Not every herd would allow a 10-year-old to accomplish this.”
It has taken nearly 22 years for the family to acquire 60 to quality females within the herd, as they resolved to use management practices that would not retain a heifer that came from a cow showing signs of prolapse, udder problems, or eye problems. The boys learned to rope while horseback, treating cattle with pinkeye, which has since all but been eliminated with the use of pinkeye vaccines and culling. Due to the selective care the Kesters have taken, they have not had a cancer eye or a prolapse in nearly 10 years.
To further their selective breeding, the Kesters use artificial insemination on the majority of their cows. The cows that do not settle through the artificial insemination process are covered with a Black Angus bull to clarify parental lineage and to produce quality F1 offspring.
The Kester’s have recently begun breathing new life back into their program, creating a Kester Herefords website and travelling to National shows to showcase what their animals have to offer. One of the Kester’s bulls, which they plan to sell on their production sale March 26 in Burwell, Neb., finished third in its class at the 2012 Rapid City Stock Show.
Tyler and Cody have been busy working on embryo transfer plans to collect eggs from the best cows in the herd which they plan to cross on some of the leading sires in the Hereford industry.
As they continue to embrace new technology available in the cattle production world, the Kesters strive to keep the tradition of their herd alive – to select only the best cattle for the herd, and to take a little cowboy wisdom a long ways.
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