Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
AINSWORTH — Raising cattle isn’t just a way of life for the Holmes family, it’s a culture that stretches across the family tree, on a farm homesteaded generations ago.
“It starts with my great grandparents, my grandparents, my mom and dad, then me, and now my daughters,” said Jared Holmes. “It’s our family thing. A lot of families will go camping or go to the lake for a weekend, and we can’t do that. We have to be here to take care of everything … when they need help or I need help, they’ll come out and help me.”
As a parent, he said the activity set his kids up for success, both with a strong work ethic and important connections.
“It’s a networking thing,” he said. “My goal is when they grow up and go to that first job interview, they’ll already know the person that’s interviewing them.”
That’s not to say the work is thrust upon them. Holmes’ daughters said they genuinely had a passion for working with the animals.
“I like the experience, it’s a fun sport,” Kinley Holmes, 10, said. “The cows are kind of like my pets, I like to spend time with them.”
That doesn’t mean it’s easy work, either. The girls spend roughly half their time on the farm, paying careful attention to every detail of their cows’ growth.
“If you want to be a competitive cattle showman, you need to work with them a lot,” Kestyn Holmes, (9) said.
That’s not something that can be rushed. The animals need extensive, well thought-out care.
“You can’t go a hundred miles an hour with them, you can’t just decide you want to go to a cattle show (this) Saturday,” Jared Holmes said. “There’s so much consistent time you’ve got to do with the growing of them, the grooming, and what you feed them. It’s a very long process that you can’t just jump on one day and get off the next. It’s kind of like making diamonds, it’s constant pressure … you cannot take a day off.”
After five years as cattle showmen, the family is just now seeing the fruits of their labor. The Holmes won three of the top five awards in this year’s Washington County Spring Preview Open Cattle Show. For the girls, it’s exciting to compete on that level. Wins garner a reputation, and reputation garners better prices.
“My first show was at Down for the Cause in Cedar Rapids, and I won seventh overall,” Kestyn Holmes said. “This year, my first steer show, I won first place overall … it felt good.”
The Holmes said prize money from their wins and sales went into savings accounts in the girls’ names. The plan is to keep it there until college.
Selling season, however, presents a new challenge of its own. When the animals feel so much like pets, it can be tough to say goodbye.
"Letting go of your cattle’s hard to do, I had to do that last year, that was hard,“ Kinley Holmes said. ”You’ve just got to go with it. It’s the rules, you can’t really keep steers.“
Jared Holmes agreed.
“That’ll rip the heart right out of you,” he said. “Dad cries, mom cries, the kids cry, it’s terrible. We get attached to these things … It’s a tough life lesson that the kids have to learn, and there’s no way for me as a parent to take the pain away.”
It’s not the only reason beef is a hard industry to work in. The Holmes said the outlook for cattle farmers was getting worse.
“You go to the meat counter right now, and you see this extraordinarily high-price beef … and it’s not us making that money,” Jared Holmes said. “There are four packers that control 80% of the beef market right now. We don’t get paid barely what it costs to feed these things … there’s profit getting made here, and it’s not by us, and it’s not by Fareway or Hy-Vee. It’s frustrating, we’re at break-even costs.”
The result is an aging workforce of cattle farmers, something Holmes said was a bad sign for the future.
“It’s not very many younger folks coming into this because it’s not very profitable, it’s not sustainable,” he said. “I know a lot of younger guys that tried to get into it … but they’ve got to go work in town, end then day, and then come out and hammer all night. That’s not right, it’s too much work, it’s too much risk.”
Despite the outlook, the Holmes girls said raising cattle was a labor of love, and something they wanted to stick with as adults.
“I really like this farm,” Kestyn Holmes said. “It is a big part of my life.”