It was not until 1989 this past president first started registering Brangus cattle and became a member of the International Brangus Breeders Association (IBBA). But once he had the opportunity, Dale Kirkham, who served as the 2009-2010 IBBA President, was eager to learn more about the breed and quickly became involved in the industry.
A Kansas native growing up on a diversified crop and livestock farm, Kirkham had little exposure to purebred cattle during his childhood. He worked in a sale barn and helped the neighbors with their cattle during his college days. However, it was not until 1984 that Kirkham gained familiarity with Brangus cattle.
Kirkham attended college at Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kans., and after obtaining graduate degrees at the University of Wyoming and University of Missouri, he taught at small colleges in Indiana and southwest Missouri. After six years of teaching, Kirkham made a big decision to change careers and moved back to Kansas to begin working for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). After working at three other locations, he moved to Eureka in 1983. A year later, an operation called Brinks Brangus started leasing the ranch where Kirkham was living at the time. With the help of other Brangus breeders, Kirkham launched his own Brangus operation.
“I wanted to get into the cattle business, and I bought my first cows in 1985 at a sale in Manhattan with the intention of running a commercial operation,” Kirkham said. “Fellow Brangus breeders Ray Thompson and Ken Hughes encouraged me to get started with Brangus and helped me implement AI techniques.”
Beginning in 1990, Vern Suhn, former manager of Brinks Brangus, assisted Kirkham with genetic breeding decisions and offered advice on purchasing cattle. Kirkham said he used AI techniques and heifer synchronization to manage his small herd and implemented intensive grazing management practices.
“It’s important to maintain cattle on forages that are already available instead of relying on supplemental feeds and feedstuffs,” Kirkham said. “There are too many cattle that are pampered and can’t hold their own when they go out to the commercial man.”
After Kirkham started his own operation, he joined his dad and brother in stocker and feeder cattle operations for several years from 1985 to the early 2000’s. He said this gave him a different perspective on other segments of the beef industry, allowing him to better understand his customers’ needs. In order to gain more knowledge about the breed, Kirkham said everyone should have diverse experiences and seek out opportunities beyond their own surroundings. Kirkham suggests visiting with other breeders about what they are doing on their operations to gain inspiration, new ideas, and more insight of the beef industry.
The IBBA hosts the largest gathering of Brangus producers and IBBA members in February at the Annual Convention and Global Brangus Roundup, in which Kirkham is a frequent participant. Kirkham said the convention provides breeders the opportunity to have an active role in the association and allows for better communication among members.
“Convention gives you a perspective of how the association operates,” Kirkham said. “I never walked away without gaining more enthusiasm about what I was doing on my own operation. Everybody out there, breeders both large and small, has different ideas, and you never know what idea will be the one that moves the breed and association forward.”
Kirkham said the biggest thing he learned from serving on the Board of Directors was the versatility of the IBBA membership because members came from all over the country with different needs and desires. He advises leaders to look at the big picture and see how decisions affect everyone.
“What the guy from Georgia wants is different from what the guy from Kansas wants,” Kirkham said. “It’s a challenge to make sure everybody is communicating and keeping everyone informed about what’s going on. Firsthand participation in open discussions is a good path to effective communication. The convention provides a great way to communicate with others in the breed and with the staff. I think we underestimate the value of face-to-face communication.”
Kirkham currently serves on the IBBA’s commercial marketing committee and is actively involved in both the Oklahoma Brangus Breeders Association and the Heart of America Brangus Breeders Association. You can find Kirkham at the upcoming IBBA Convention in February.