Belief in His Breed

South Dakota Simmental producer begins role on board of national group.

By: Janelle Atyeo, Tri-State Neighbor

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Steve Eichacker opens the gate to the cattle yard at his farm on a windy February afternoon.

The barn on the Eichacker farm near Salem, S.D., gets plenty of use.

This time of year, it’s a cozy place for newborn Simmental and red Angus calves, but it also has served as a space for family gatherings and community fundraisers. Just before the new year began, it hosted a wedding rehearsal dinner for Steve and Cathy Eichacker’s son.

Standing beside a 3-day-old calf in its pen, Steve Eichacker recalled with a laugh the family Christmas when Grandpa fell asleep in the recliner under the powerful heater in the barn, proof that the barn long has been a comfortable place for more than just calves.

It often is transformed into a welcoming space for people. Cathy has a knack for decorating. Once the barn is clean, she goes to work stringing icicle lights and setting tables with seasonal decorations. It’s shotgun shells and straw bales for the St. Mary’s Ringneck Classic that the family hosts in early December. The team pheasant-hunting event and auction raises money for the Catholic school where the three Eichacker children graduated.

Preparing for the sale

For the past few months, the Eichackers have been getting ready for the barn’s next transformation – the operation’s annual bull sale March 3.

The Eichackers raise registered Simmentals and a smaller herd of registered Red Angus. For their sale, they combine with Tri-State Neighbor livestock representative Jeff Kapperman, who brings his Angus bulls to sell. This year will be the 10th time for hosting the bull sale at the Eichacker home place.

“It’s a busy time,” Steve said.

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Eichacker walks through the cattle yard outside his home near Salem, SD.

Preparations start in earnest in December, grooming animals and taking photographs and video footage of the bulls. For the evening sale, Cathy prepares a spread of food with help from her siblings. They typically serve 300 people.

“They just like to come Friday night and have fun,” she said.

“It’s an evening out. It’s our way of saying thanks to everybody that helps with the sale,” Steve added.

It takes about 35 people among those serving food, parking cars and running the bulls through the ring in the converted calf barn.

‘You need to contribute’

Eichacker has dedicated his life’s work to bettering the Simmental breed on his farm, and now he’s working to promote and improve things on a larger scale.

Eichacker was elected this winter to the American Simmental Association board of trustees. He is one of four representatives of the board’s north-central region and will serve a three-year term and be eligible for one more term. Eichacker said it’s important to give back.

“You need to contribute,” he said. “The association and the Simmental breed have been good to us over the years.”

Eichacker said he has a lot to learn about the national association, but he’s not a stranger to board work. He served as president of the South Dakota Simmental Association in the early 2000s. Friends encouraged him to get involved at the national level. It wasn’t possible after his dad died four years ago, he said, but now enough time has passed since the transition that he feels he has the time to dedicate, and the much-needed support to allow him to do so. “The bottom line is, if you want to be on the board, you’ve got to have people at home,” he said.

He and Cathy farm with his brother, Greg, and two employees raising cattle, corn and soybeans.

Their kids help out, too. Their daughter, Amanda Buttemeier, works at a bank in Sioux Falls. She and her husband have two kids. Son Nick is newly married. He works in real estate with a Sioux Falls company but recently moved to his grandparents’ acreage in the Salem area. The youngest, Adam, is a sophomore at South Dakota State University in Brookings.

Steve and Cathy live on the farm where his grandpa first moved the 1940s. It was a dairy until Steve’s parents, Raphael and Judy, turned their focus to the Simmental breed in 1970.

Decades of change

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A Simmental cow watches her calf.

The cattle business has changed a lot since those days. Back then, producers wanted their bulls big and tall, but in the 1990s, Simmentals fell out of favor, Eichacker said. The industry had to make some adjustments. Simmental breeders made an effort to moderate birth weights and the frame size, Eichacker said, and they even changed the cattle’s color.

Simmental originated in Germany, Switzerland and France as a dairy breed, and they typically were yellow or white. When they were brought to the U.S., they were bred with Angus and are typically black today.

His operation uses in vitro fertilization and has been working with a cooperator herd for the past five or six years. Eichacker said he is amazed with the technological advancements made in cattle breeding. DNA screening can help pinpoint which traits a bull’s calves are going to have.

“It will take your EPDs to a whole other level,” he said.

Steve and Cathy are helping develop the future of the Simmental breed in other ways, too. They are advisors for the South Dakota Junior Simmental Association, which will be hosting a large regional show at the state fairgrounds in Huron this summer.

The Eichackers said it’s rewarding to work with the kids. They see it when a kid wins an award for the cattle he or she showed.

“Some kid will come up and just melt your heart,” Steve said.

“Then you know why you’re doing it. You’re doing it for the kids,” Cathy added.