A Family Thing — A Visit with Jay Volk of J&C Simmentals

A Family Thing — A Visit with Jay Volk of J&C Simmentals
By Courtney Wesner

Things do not always withstand the test of time. Barn paint fades and chips, feed bunks rust out, fence posts rot at the ground, and businesses that once thrived in their prime are pushed out by the new guy next door. J&C Simmentals is not one of those things. Proven, tested, and still thriving today, this family Simmental operation has withstood the test of time and witnessed first-hand the breed that we know today evolve from its start.

The evolution…

J&C Simmentals, the J and C representing sons Jay and Clark Volk, was not historically a Simmental operation. They first tested the waters of the purebred seedstock business raising registered Angus cattle. Simmental influence was introduced into the program in 1974, with the purchase of several Angus females AI’ed to the infamous LaCombe Achilles from Wagonhammer Ranch; thus the first ½ blood SimGenetics hit the ground at J&C. From there the program never looked back and jumped whole-heartedly onto the Simmental bandwagon. What started out in the beginning as a 4-H project grew to what we now know today as one of the longest standing Simmental operations in the United States.

Unlike many other breeders of the time, when the breed began its transition from yellow and white to black, J&C did not disperse or quickly dissolve its traditional genetics. Instead, they put an upbreeding scheme and the hereditary science of color inheritance to work, breeding their own replacement females until eventually they had no purebred Angus cows or traditional colored Simmental cows left in the program.

“This was a long process, we leaned hard on the science of color inheritance, the introduction of sought after genetics through artificial insemination, and a strict keep/cull program, but we eventually got to all black SimGenetics. It took reds, greys, blacks, spotted, moving away from homozygous black sires to get rid of diluters, and a lot of time, but we got there,” commented Jay on the evolution of breed composition and color of their herd. This hard transition work paid off for the Volk family; in the eighties J&C marketed a black, blaze-faced Simmental bull for $25,000.

“It takes us all, young and old…”

Approximately 1,000 acres are dedicated to pasture and hay, and 1,000 acres to crop production. Bob and Jeanette’s sons, Jay and Clark, along with their families, now handle most of the daily operational needs of the farm. Jay primarily assumes responsibilities for the cattle and Clark handles the crops. “Like any family operation, there is always the challenge of getting all of the work done. We don’t rely on outside help, we rely on each other to pick up when necessary. It takes all of us, young and old working together, to get it all done,” commented Jay.

Unusual for most businesses, the production philosophy of J&C Simmentals has remained very similar over the years. This can be credited to the fact that it hits a home run in terms of pure economics and transcends the normal environmental marketing challenges that specialized businesses sometimes face. J&C Simmentals has truly tapped into the upside potential of maintaining the traditional trait advantages that the Simmental breed always has and continues to bring to the table: rapid and exceptional growth, docility, mothering ability, and the versatility to cross exceptionally well with the British breeds.

“Not Wal-Mart Guys”

“We are not Wal-Mart guys. It has never been our goal to make cookie cutter stamped bulls. Instead we provide our customers with a variety of percentages along with purebred Simmental bulls to meet their different offspring composition goals and to fit seamlessly into their crossbreeding systems. These bulls weigh-up, they have a little gas in the tank when they hit the ground, sire 7- to 8- and even some 9- weight calves at weaning.  They are thick and stout. And last but not least, these bulls beat the simple performance fundamentals with some look and eye-appeal to boot. Through 40 years of selection based around making cattle that pay and perform, we have still managed to keep the birth weights acceptable and the maternal traits strong,” commented Jay on J&C’s breeding philosophy and production goals.

The Volk family’s ability to turn out these kind of cattle with overwhelming consistency has led to annual production sale venues to market their product. These sales, known and attended by many for years, are coined J&C Simmentals Bull Sale, held each year in January, and the recent addition of J&C Simmentals Online Sale, where they will market an elite set of females this January as well.  J&C along with six other consignors market about 100 bulls each year to discerning, mostly commercial cattlemen with overwhelming success. “We don’t make a habit of defining success by our sale averages. The longevity in our sales and the built-in group of repeat clients did not come about this way. These bulls are made to make someone’s operation work. They are designed to sire heavy calves that top the market, and in this they usually end up making an operation go,” commented Jay.

Cattle, family, and friends: all designed to last…

Success has not only come to J&C in the production setting, but also in the show ring. “I remember joking with Dennis Breinig in the yards in Denver that I wasn’t going to get married until l I won the percentage pen bull show. That was the first year that we had a percentage pen show, and low and behold we won it, and I just so happened to have a girlfriend at the time. The next year, I proposed to my wife, Kim, in the yard bar, and the rest is history. The Volk family has been made through this business and, best of all, maintained through it,” reminisced Jay.

J&C Simmentals also has the distinct honor of having raised the first ever PowerBull pick at the National Western Stock Show; they continue to exhibit on the state and national level today with much success.

As strong as ever, this family business has more than withstood the test of time. “We started at this in ’74. We have had active memberships in five different breed associations. The Simmental breed offered the most of everything. These are docile cattle, they grow fast, they are versatile, fertile, good mothers. Simply put, they offer more good pieces all along the way from pasture to plate,” said Jay.

The Volk family at the 2012 Iowa State Fair

The Volk family at the 2012 Iowa State Fair