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The last frontier—

By Staff | May 8, 2011

Tom Hiler has backgrounded cattle for several years. He purchases the animals when they're about 400 pounds and feeds them out to about 900 pounds. His current group of 315 steers came from western South Dakota.

ROCKWELL CITY – When the seeds of knowledge are planted early on, the ideas that take root can change the course of a young person’s career.

Just ask Tom Hiler, who credits his cattle operation with a Beginning Cattle Feeders program that was offered through the local Extension service when he was in middle school.

“My older brother was actually the one involved, but I tagged along,” said Hiler, 29, who grew up on a swine and crop farm near Rockwell City.

“Every kid would bucket feed six steers and once a month the Extension service hosted educational meetings with beef cattle specialists. I liked working with the cattle and decided to stick with it.”

Today, this fifth-generation Calhoun County farmer backgrounds several hundred cattle each year and is an active member of the Calhoun County Cattlemen’s organization.

Hiler markets his cattle through the Superior Livestock Auction, which specializes in selling cattle via the Internet.

Since February, he has also served as a District 8 representative on the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association board of directors and is a member of the ICA’s 2011 Young Cattlemen’s Leadership Program.

“The cattle industry is the last frontier, in terms of independent livestock production,” said Hiler, who also raises corn and soybeans with his brother, Mike, his father, Keith, his cousin, Dave, and his uncle, Craig. “You can start fairly small,with a minimal investment, compared to other farm enterprises.”

Selling cattle online

Hiler, who earned his agronomy degree from Iowa State University in 2004, began building his cattle operation in 2007. While his family’s farm had a couple cattle barns and a feed storage shed from the days when Hiler’s grandfather fed cattle, Hiler had to invest in concrete, feed bunks, fencing, waterers, chutes and other equipment.

The feedlots were filled with cattle in 2009 and Hiler feeds several hundred head each year.

“We try to buy really nice cattle, and people really like the quality of the beef.” —Tom Hiler Rockwell City-area cattleman

He purchases 400-pound steers in the fall and sells them in June when they’re about 900 pounds. “They’re like big yearlings,” said Hiler, whose current group of 315 steers came from western South Dakota.

When it’s time to market the cattle, Hiler works with Superior Livestock Auction which specializes in selling cattle via satellite television and the Internet.

Two weeks before the sale, company representative Steve Frerichs from Hinton, visits the Hiler farm to assemble a description of the cattle to be sold.

He also shoots video footage of the animals and the videos are uploaded to Superior’s website. When the auction is conducted from Superior’s home office in Texas and broadcast online and on RFD TV, potential buyers can place their bids over the Internet, or they can call them in via telephone.

Through the years, most of Hiler’s cattle have been purchased by feedlots in northwest Iowa. Superior also offers an option that creates a type of futures market, said Hiler, who noted that his current lot of cattle has already been sold, although the animals won’t leave the farm until June.

At that time, the buyer will send a truck to the Hiler farm to pick up the cattle.”The contract specifies all this,”said Hiler, who noted that the buyer pays the trucking and works directly with Superior Livestock Auction to pay for the cattle.

Then Superior pays the seller, added Hiler, who has used the company’s services since he began raising cattle.

As a side line, Hiler also raises cattle to sell to local buyers who want to purchase halves and quarters of beef. In January, he purchases six to 12 yearlings and feeds them until the summer, when he hires the Lake City Locker to process the beef.

“We try to buy really nice cattle, and people really like the quality of the beef,” said Hiler, who has offered this service for a number of years.

Leading the way

Although his farming enterprise and cattle operation keep him busy, Hiler believes it’s important to make time for the ICA’s Young Cattlemen’s Leadership Program, which meets quarterly to help the 13 participants learn more about ICA, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, ICA board leadership, communications and the beef industry in Iowa.

The program is designed to develop leadership qualities in young farmers, introduce them to ICA programs and educate them about the processes of state government.

They will also have opportunities to meet state and national leaders in government, business and various cattlemen’s associations.

Hiler also appreciates the opportunity to apply these leadership skills in his role as ICA’s District 8 representative for Calhoun, Webster, Carroll, Greene and Boone Counties.

“The ICA is a definitive voice of Iowa’s cattle industry,”?Hiler said, “and we’re committed to providing reliable information and helping producers meet the challenges of environmental regulations so Iowa’s cattle industry remains strong.”

Ensuring a bright future for Iowa agriculture is important to Hiler, who began farming during his college years and is glad that he and his wife, Sarah, can raise their young family, which includes daughter, Sydney, 1, and their new baby, who will be born this summer, on the farm.

“ICA is filled with great people, from feedlot operators to cow-calf producers. They really care about keeping Iowa’s cattle industry viable and prosperous and it’s a privilege to be part of this.”

You can contact Darcy Dougherty Maulsby by e-mail at yettergirl@yahoo.com.

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