Every once in a while an idle listener will pick up a tidbit of conversation between Dana Wolford and a friend after church at Hillsboro United Methodist. He or she will quickly be confused when Wolford starts talking about his kids and pastures and feed all in the same sentence.
Wolford said he has to step back and explain that by kids he means the seven Hereford cattle he tends to on a small piece of rented property at 2542 Jade Road. He does not have children of his own.
“This is my family,” Wolford said pointing to his small herd.
It’s clear in Wolford’s interactions with his heifers that he takes extra care with his cattle. In between brush strokes, dislodging clumps of hair and manure on the back of a new bull he purchased and picked up Saturday, he would pet the bull along the animal’s neck. The young bull would lean into Wolford’s hand asking for more.
Wolford said disposition is the most important characteristic in cattle, usually docile for Herefords he said. He enjoys learning the personality of each animal. He knows that he can walk and pet Tulip and Chloe without either cow flinching. He knows Duchess and Diamond won’t stand still long enough.
Bulls are like people — sometimes there are initiation rights for a new recruit. Wolford did not want to put his new bull with Danny and Tucker in fear of a fight.
Cattle have been Wolford’s life since birth. He grew up on a dairy farm near Emporia and he’s had his own cattle since 2004.
This is the busiest time of year with calving season. Wolford’s schedule begins by waking up before sunrise to check the pastures for Devin and Jean Winter and another landowner for which he works. He then checks for new calves in the Winters’ herd of 60 to 66 head of cattle — he sends a text to the owner if a calf was born overnight, then tags, and feeds the newborn.
He repeats the process for the other land and then starts feeding with silage.
He works all day with cattle and then comes home and works with more cattle. At night, in his down time, he reads what he calls Hereford Playboys — “Hereford World”, “Hereford America,” and other sale catalogues — studying the breed for upcoming shows.
Wolford’s favorite part of ranching is genetics. He marveled how calves can be born with far different characteristics from either parent. That fact does not stop him from trying to breed, using artificial and natural insemination, the best animals possible with the preferred height, weight, length and easygoing personality.
“How well they walk,” Wolford gave as an example. “If they don’t walk well, you’re just asking for problems. You’re better off letting her get fat and become hamburger.”
Most of Wolford’s cattle do not go straight to the slaughter, that’s part of the reason he can become attached, and give each heifer and bull a name. Between Wolford and hamburger is at least one other owner, who is likely to take as good of care of the animal as he would.
“I’m glad to see them work for somebody else,” Wolford said. “I like to raise a nice animal to sell to breed or to a 4-H’er.”
There’s no doubt Wolford loves what he does, loves his family. He would sell all of his cattle with a “Godfather” offer of $5,000 a head; he said each cow is worth about $2,500.
Then he would go right back out and buy a Hereford cow or two.