Family strikes balance between tax-time tasks and cow herd care

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DALTON, Ohio – A bulky wooden desk anchors the room and balances a computer, calculator and stacks of IRS papers.

Filing cabinets are stowed in one corner, piled with ledgers and reference materials.

A semen tank sits in the corner.

It’s not a typical office decoration, but the tank doesn’t faze most of Jerry Berg’s clients.

The room serves triple-duty, as an office for his tax preparation and farm businesses, and as a shrine to the family’s accomplishments through the years.

The office is tucked into a corner of the family’s slate-roofed farmhouse and overlooks a valley pasture dotted with Polled Herefords.

The walls show off tin advertisement signs for Baugh’s animal-base fertilizers and Ohio certified corn.

Framed vintage black and white photos of youngsters with trophies and cows form a column on one wall, and a watercolor print of a Mail Pouch barn with Herefords up to their knees in snow is posted on another.

A pink satin banner proclaiming 2002 Ohio Beef Expo heifer division reserve champion hangs opposite.

“My kids grew up showing at the fair,” Berg said, nodding toward the champion pictures featuring the couple’s four children: Lisa, Michael, Jennifer and Mary Beth.

Several photos also show the girls with prize-winning sheep.

“We got into all of this Hereford business because of 4-H projects,” echoed his wife, Mary Ann.

Hereford, not Holstein. In a county where dairy cattle easily outnumber residents and beef cattle are seldom seen, the choice to have Herefords was an easy one for the Bergs.

When his father passed away 25 years ago and the family’s dairy herd was sold, Berg decided to move beef cattle into the barn.

“I always had Herefords in mind, but I never really studied any of the breeds,” Berg said.

The choice was an easy one, he said, because of the breed’s docile nature, which made them easier for the children to handle.

The breed remains steadfast on the operation as the couple’s eight grandchildren – Alyssa, Harrison, Garrett, Bennet, Hannah, Sydney, Colin and Riley – are coming closer to the age when grandpa will hand them a show stick and wish them luck as they head into the showring.

Family oriented. The operation truly is a family one.

Son Michael, his wife and four children live across the valley at the original Berg homestead and help watch over the herd.

Their help is invaluable, Berg said, especially this time of year when he’s got entire days blocked off with appointments for the tax preparation business.

Breed and feed. His profession has also led the family to approach the cow herd in a more nontraditional way, focusing on time management.

The family grows its own corn, oats and hay to maintain the herd. As many beef herdsmen know, putting out hay can be time- and labor-intensive, Berg said, so he’s installed a feeding pad.

The pad, completely accessible without opening any gates or taking a tractor into the pasture, allows Berg to provide up to 10 round bales of hay at a time.

As the cattle graze through slant-bar feeder panels, any of the Bergs can push the hay within the cows’ reach, he said.

“Plus, the ground on the outside never gets too soft to drive the tractor on. It sure beats going in and out, opening and closing the gates, too,” he said.

Perhaps the biggest diversion from tradition is breeding cows to calve in the summer instead of late winter.

The schedule frees up time for Berg to crunch numbers instead of worrying about calves dropping.

Genetics. The herd is bred almost exclusively with artificial insemination, and Berg prefers Felton genetics.

“When we started, I was set on some things I wanted to do [with the herd] so I selected bulls that fit that image,” he said.

He was happy with the calves’ consistency and “pitched the showring bull stuff.”

Today, he owns interest in Feltons Legend 242, a popular Polled Hereford sire.

Legend 242 has a -2.8 birth weight and a 60 yearling weight EPD, and most of Berg’s Sugarcreek Farm 60 cows are bred to the sire this year.

On target. The genetics that the Bergs like have proven to be on target with judges. The farm’s stock has taken banners from the Ohio State Fair and Ohio Beef Expo.

The family also attends shows in Louisville, Ky., and the national stock show in Denver.

“It’s fun to go look and see, come back and take a look at our cattle, and study them all a little.

“I get a lot of satisfaction out of seeing what we can do with breeding and matching pedigrees,” he said.

Increased exposure. As they aim to increase exposure of their farm and the Polled Hereford breed on the state level, the Bergs continue to send show-string animals to the Expo.

They also sell club calves to Stark County 4-H’ers.

Last year’s Stark County Fair champion Hereford steer came from the farm.

“Boy, did he look good. That’s been a lot of fun,” Berg said of having young people show animals from the farm.

And for the Berg family, raising cattle is fun.

The tax preparation business and cow herd are separate, but complement each other nicely, offering Jerry an outlet for energy and time to relax, Mary Ann said.

“We’re not approaching this as a backyard hobby. It’s a lot of fun and if I didn’t enjoy it, I would be doing something else,” he said.

“I want to contribute to the betterment of the breed and the beef industry somehow in this life,” he said.

(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)

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