BELLAIRE, Ohio - Across the long hills of eastern Belmont County, roads weave through valleys, crowding rocky hillsides and homesteads as they climb and fall.
Roadways are narrow and seem to drop straight down just beyond the solid white line, giving way to grassy green pastures.
The landscape isn’t made for human travel. It’s cattle country.
At the Workman family’s homestead on Fulton Hill Road, it’s Shorthorn country.
Bob and Ladonna Workman have relied on their grown children, sons Jeff and Brent, and daughter, Becky Betts and her husband, Corey, to add new ideas to their farm rooted deep in tradition.
Despite the fact that they all work full time off the farm, the family has managed to maintain a reputation of high-class cattle at shows throughout the region.
Back in the day. As children, Becky, Jeff and Brent didn’t play ‘doctor’ or ‘school.’ According to their mother, the children played ‘fair.’
“They’d have animals and fences and wash racks and showrings. It’s been in their blood ever since,” she said.
It’s all their father’s fault.
Key Ridge Shorthorns began in 1967 when Bob Workman bought a Shorthorn heifer from a breeder in St. Clairsville for a 4-H project.
That heifer was the basis of today’s operation, both in cattle and family: Bob and Ladonna met through the 4-H program.
Genetics. The bloodlines of today’s cow herd – 70 registered mature cows plus more than 30 calves on the ground – trace back to that single heifer.
Those same genetics have put several of the Workmans’ cattle at the tops of shows and sale bills.
Like most cattlemen, the Workmans aim for winners but don’t have a set recipe on how to get them.
“In bloodlines, we kind of use whatever [bulls] we like at the time,” Brent said.
The family has begun using flushing and embryo transfers and, though they typically rely on a herd bull, they’ve also put stock into using artificial insemination.
“[At shows and sales] people see herd bull on your pedigree and think you used a piece of crap,” Brent said, who attests to having “good bulls.”
To get around some of that, he’s synched and bred 15 cows to top bulls with AI this year, a method he uses to increase his cattle’s marketability.
Winning ways. In the purple circle, the family has had luck. They’ve bred, raised and sold several champions, including the Ohio State Fair’s reserve champion Shorthorn bull in 2000 and the grand champion in 2001.
Their heifers and bulls have topped classes at the district show each year, and brought premiums at the Eastern Ohio Shorthorn sale and Ohio Valley Cattlemen’s sale.
Their success can be attributed to what they’ve dubbed ‘generation thinking.’
Jeff and Brent make the main decisions on the farm – which can be difficult because Jeff lives in Columbus, where he works as a banker.
The older brother keeps all records for the cow herd.
Brent relies on his associate’s degree in beef management from Ohio State’s Agricultural Technical Institute and real-life experience from his job at Pleasant Farms, a beef farm in nearby Jacobsburg, to guide his judgment.
Making progress. Both men keep the farm moving forward.
Making progress in their own way, the family has reconfigured the barn and invested in a squeeze chute and scales to improve efficiency and handling ease.
In the past five years, the brothers have agreed to keep the majority of heifers born on the farm in an effort to build the herd and its internal quality.
For that, they rely on Shorthorn Performance Records and Whole Herd Reporting to come up with EPDs.
“[EPDs] aren’t our main focus because they’re relatively new for the breed,” Brent said.
“Yes, we look at them, but just because a cow has terrible EPDs doesn’t mean we sell her,” he said. At the same time, he and Jeff cull cows sooner than their father ever would.
The brothers don’t always agree, though. Brent admits he and his father prefer performance-type cattle, and Jeff favors showy club calves. The men aim for a happy medium.
To keep an eye on genetics and performance, the family has agreed to keep the herd small enough and within their means.
“We like looking at good cows. With a small herd we can spend more time with them,” Bob said.
It’s still fun. Part of the ‘generational thinking’ the family has subscribed to is keeping it fun.
For that, they’ve maintained a strong show string that goes along with Brent as he adds more than 10,000 miles to his truck’s odometer each summer, traveling to and from shows.
The operation uses year-round calving to ensure they’ve got something for different classes at each show stop.
Key Ridge Shorthorns hangs their farm sign at shows at county fairs in Carroll, Portage, Mahoning, Belmont and Tuscarawas counties in Ohio, plus Marshall County, W.Va.
Summers also include stops at the state fairs in Ohio and West Virginia.
Though he’s showed something at the Ohio State Fair as long as he can remember, 25-year-old Brent acknowledges they’ve only begun showing heavily in the past 10 years.
“Each time we think, ‘Well, it might be nice to try this fair,” Ladonna said.
“But we don’t go to fairs where people don’t want to talk about bulls or cows,” she said.
The ‘Webb’ factor. The family has a special ingredient in their show string: James Webber.
Affectionately known only as ‘Webb’ to cattlemen on the show circuit, the family can’t imagine their schedule without him.
They leave for work in the morning, leaving the 60-something man puttering in the barn. When they come home that afternoon, he’s got things cleaned up and ready to pack in the trailer.
Webb accompanies Brent to most shows and helps with feeding there. Bob and Ladonna admit they don’t get to the fairs as often as they’d like, but make it a point to “show up on show days to get yelled at and take some food,” they joked.
Standing out. While it’s their intention to blend in, the family doesn’t have anonymity on their side.
Brent has served as president of the Eastern Ohio Shorthorn Association for the past six years, and Ladonna is president of the Ohio Lassies’ Association.
Becky was state princess and queen, and has hopes her 1-year-old twins, Alyssa and Sierra, may follow in her footsteps. The girls already show promise: Sitting with Grandpa in his recliner, the girls moo and point at cows on sale preview videos.
Already rolling. Heifers are already tied inside the family’s modest barn, rinsed and cooling under fans.
Show preparations began in April, when cattle were reminded they were halter-broke and show rations were doled out.
Soon Webb will be in the barn, the farm sign will go up at the first county fair, and rosettes will come home to Bellaire.
“It’s not just about winning, and it’s sure not about the money,” Ladonna said.
“For our family, [Shorthorns and showing is] about being with friends.”
(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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