HARTFORD, Ohio – A country red wingback chair cradles Ron Novak near the side door of his home’s gathering room.
Rays of sunshine make windowpane shadows on the braided rug underfoot. Winter is nearly over. Calves are here.
A door an arm’s length away faces south, toward a bank barn and loafing paddock several hundred yards away.
That’s clearly Ron Novak’s domain: outdoors, in the barn, with cattle, in the sunshine. He aches to be outside.
He watches cows tend to their calves, nursing and nuzzling them from the cool barn into the late winter sunshine.
Just the facts. Indoors, Novak eases into the chair, placing handmade charts and graphs, manila file folders and catalogs in a semicircle around him.
He’s a numbers man, and he’s contemplating the facts.
EPD figures. Generations: 10.
Average cow age: 4.38 years.
Five-year calving interval average: 363.3 days.
He calculates figures and thinks some more, shuffling from one paper to the next.
Thank goodness his wife, Karen, helps with the records, calculations and bookkeeping, he says.
His attention to details is at the root of his farm’s success.
The little details keep raising cattle fun for him, and he loves what he does.
Turn of events. All things considered, it may be surprising Novak chose beef cattle.
A child of the ’40s, he grew up in a block house adjacent to his current home at Town Line Farm near Hartford in Trumbull County.
His father, Jim Novak, never had cows. He favored speed instead and owned the Sharon Speedway for more than 30 years.
That left Ron helping his grandfather with a herd of Holsteins. He showed dairy cows in 4-H.
Grandpa gradually phased out the milkers and took on a few commercial beef cows.
Loved cattle. Ron Novak always loved cattle, he said, and the beef breeds piqued his interest.
As soon as he had his driver’s license, he visited the Jamestown auction to look and buy. His brother, Jim, was his partner in crime.
It was in 1961, when Ron was 16, that he got his first Angus heifer.
For Sale – One bred heifer, $190. He calls her the best deal he ever got.
He rushed home every weekend during college at Kent State University to tend to his growing herd.
And today – 10 generations of cattle later and with a teaching career behind him – a sea of records traces his 40-cow herd to that heifer and one other cow.
Paying the way. In a bull stud catalog, notations fill the margins. The cattleman has been hard at work all year on this project.
“Use on taller cows. Short necked, could be soft in pasterns but walks good. Can use on heifers.”
“Sires more frame. Use on smaller cows.”
He asks around and searches for whatever will help him improve the herd. It’s his belief a cow should have a calf better than she is. Otherwise, she’s not worth keeping.
“These cattle pay their way around here. This farm pays its way, but we don’t get rich,” Novak said.
He sells bulls but isn’t conflicted by using artificial insemination to move his herd forward.
“Too many beef producers overlook AI. Even if you use it for just one round, you can make a world of difference,” he said.
Always learning. At an age where most farmers think of slowing down or reject new ideas, Ron Novak took on extra.
He learned about EPDs, or expected progeny differences, and what they meant to his operation.
“I’m not breeding for show cattle. I want good performing cattle that will go make somebody money,” he said.
“I stay away from fads. I go for style. The purebred industry will always go to extremes, but I try to stay in the middle of the road,” he said of his sire choices.
Easy to see. With those goals, Novak knows when to consider birth weight, weaning weight, intramuscular fat and rib eye area.
Today he looks for sires with moderate birth weights and good weaning weights and milk.
He also emphasizes breeding for conformation and disposition.
“I can throw a [lead] rope on any animal here. Nothing will chase me,” he said.
Each animal’s ear tag is color coded by sire. Looking across his calf and cow crop, he gets a better indication of a bull’s strong and weak points in real life.
Cow-calf conversion. Ron Novak knows a bull is only half the equation. He also tracks his cows with a ranking system based on EPDs.
“It’s really a tool I use to decide to keep or sell a cow,” he said, noting the system ranks cows based on weaning weight, milk and yearling weights.
He’s not surprised his worst-ranked cow is his oldest – more than 10 years old – but even at that, her numbers are pretty good, he said.
At the calf level, Novak records birth, yearling and weaning weights and submits those figures to the breed association for analysis.
“I know an animal may be weak, and those [EPDs] I get back let me know what to do to strengthen them,” he said.
Breeding time. When it’s time to breed, Novak doesn’t mess around.
He carries a calendar in his truck and leaves one in the house. Both record heats and keep him on his toes as he breeds or watches for the next heat.
He aims to have heifers calve in December. Cows follow in January through early March.
This year, he’s got 38 cows to calf, but he doesn’t feel like his smaller herd size makes him any different than other cattlemen in the area.
“I would rather see a few cows well-managed than a big farm just going for numbers. I don’t have to be that huge to be happy,” he said.
“My main business is cows, not crops or anything else. How my cattle do for other breeders determines how successful I am.
“I use all the tools I have to make my herd better.”
(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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