“It Takes a Breeder to Know a Breeder”
A closer look at evaluation with 2014 National Western judge Tom Hook
By Courtney Wesner
Becoming a reputable seedstock breeder could be and has been described by many as an uphill battle. It’s something like becoming a respected politician. Honesty, integrity, trustworthiness, and a clean record are all characteristics of the trade. Not to mention, one will also have to possess the skill, grit, and stomach to accomplish a goal all without sacrificing any of the previous “good guy” characteristics. This is a hill that 2014 National Western Stock Show Pen Judge. Mr. Tom Hook has climbed to the top.
Generations of reputable, respected cattle breeders are at the foundation of Hook’s pedigree. His cattlemen qualities are best described with the same terminology that is used in the catalog footnote of a breed matriarch’s offspring such as “bred for”, “built in”, and “sure-fire”. Hook Farms was established in 1900 in Tracy, Minnesota. It has always been a diversified farming system, consisting of crops and a multitude of livestock classes. Currently the farm sticks to its diversified roots raising corn, beans, hay, and running 80 cows. Its main cattle focus, however, has shifted from producing for the commercial sphere to now raising high quality, registered seedstock. This shift was prompted through Hook’s 4-H experience; Hook credits 4-H as the medium that led to the development of the current Simmental herd.
Hook attended both the University of Minnesota and Colorado State University. It was after he completed his education in 1987 that he returned home to the family farm and began working with his father Eugene to create one of the premiere Simmental seedstock operations. Hook and his wife Shannon along with their five children now run the operation. Hook Farms has raised and owned some of the most prominent and influential Simmental sires, currently speaking Hooks Shear Force and in the past the legendary Nichols Legacy G151 just to name two. They have hung their hat on producing cattle that excel in a multitude of traits. Hook commented on his breeding philosophy as, “We focus on producing cattle that are fault free and uniform in their design. This leads to overall efficiency. We start with a functional skeleton. Good structured, good footed cattle, that excel not only in terms of phenotype but in terms of genotype is what we strive to produce. All of this ultimately allows them to be profitable for our customers.”
Hook could write a book about the evolution of the Simmental breed. With 40 years of experience Hook has experienced all of the waves and fads in animal breeding first hand. “In the 60s and 70s Simmental cattle were very similar in regards to the body type and size of the ideal cattle of today. I can also remember in the 80s and the early 90s when we were selecting for 10 and 11 frame cattle. This has all came full circle now and we are back to selecting, breeding, and producing a more efficient, moderately sized beef animal,” commented Hook.
Hook’s 40 years of experience includes numerous stints exhibiting cattle on a national level, including the exhibition of pen animals in the yards at the National Western. Hook recalls one very fond memory of Denver. “There was a blizzard in the 90s. I remember that we got 14 inches of snow in the yards. The Hart brothers had spent most of their day in the yard bar, and when they exited the bar they thought it was a good idea to build an 8 foot snowman in our stalls. I will never forget when I found that snowman. I will never forget all of the laughter and good friends that were developed through competitive exposition. They are all very fond memories for me,” tells Hook.
Hook’s associate judge is no newcomer to the Simmental breed or to exhibiting cattle either. Steve Eichacker of Salem, South Dakota is another product of hands on experience with the breed. “Steve is as honest of a man as you will find. He compliments me in many ways and we share many similarities. He is a good breeder that follows suit in knowing how to both win and lose, and above all he understands what it takes to exhibit competitively,” says Hook about his selected fellow judge.
This first-hand show experience, coupled with his lifetime experience as a Simmental breeder will provide Hook with a unique perspective as he steps into the ring on this Saturday, January 18, 2014 where he will evaluate both the pen bull and heifer shows. “Exhibiting pen animals is and always has been a challenge. It changes the game when you are dealing with a multitude of animals. Quality is always held at a premium in exhibition; however, in a pen uniform quality is the ultimate goal. The ideal pen is uniform in not only phenotype but genotype as well. I hope to find cattle that excel on a genotypic level, that are functional in their own phenotype, while at the same time being as similar to their pen mates in these aspects as possible. I understand that each class will be different but this is the standard by which to compare,” commented Hook.
Hook understands at the core how much work and investment goes into exhibiting cattle at a national level. His lifetime experience and travel has provided him with an uncommon insight into different breeding programs and the effects of different environmental factors on production. “It is Steve and I’s job to not only recognize the core differences in animal breeding schemes, but to respect and honor the breeders’ efforts to bring us their very best. To honor and respect their quest to produce a better beef animal through diligent breeding and selection is one of our main goals. We aim to give each pen a fair and honest look, just as if we had brought them all the way to Denver ourselves. I guess exhibiting both Champion and last place pens in the yard will give a person this outlook,” says Hook.
Hook said it best, “As the years go by, and youthful ambition fades, it lets in a sort of sensitivity to fellow breeders. When I got the call to judge, I couldn’t shake how much I would love to put this later developed sensitivity for the breeder to work. I have always loved the yards and I can’t wait to evaluate and honor my fellow breeders’ stock there.”