When 4-year-old Dan Vanek entered the show ring for the first time, he didn’t know he was entering his career field.
Today, at the age of 28, Vanek helps prepare cattle for show and sale rings around the west. The family business, Vanek Cattle Services, has been going since 2004 and it is growing every year.
Located in Silesia, Mont., Vanek Cattle Services trim and fit cattle for shows, sales and advertising brochures.
They also take professional photographs of cattle, custom feed and halter-break cattle for the show ring, design web pages for producers, take and edit video of cattle and still find time to breed and sell club steers to 4-H kids and junior exhibitors.
“And we AI cattle for producers every spring,”he said. Their custom AI business includes gathering and synchronizing the cattle as well.
Each year the Vaneks fit cattle for some of the biggest cattle shows in the West, including the Denver Stock Show, the NILE, and the Black Hills Stock Show
To get animals ready for the big shows, the Vaneks like to start custom fitting them two months in advance. This fall, at their home operation, they were working 55 head on halter at the same time.
“We get them on a nutritious diet, halter break them and start conditioning their hair,”he said.
They wash the animals from the very first day and get them used to all the washing conditioners and even blow dryers.
In the show world, they use blow dyers attached to hoses. Working with the animals early allows the Vaneks time to identify and correct problems with the hair, and learn the animal’s strengths and weakness so they can accentuate the positive and minimize the negative.
For bull sales, they also like to start about eight weeks in advance so they can trim up the animals and get some good photographs for sale catalogs. With a crew that consists of four to five members, they can trim about 10 head of cattle in an hour. The day of the interview, Vanek had just completed 100 head of bulls for an upcoming sale.
Vanek works in the business with his mother, Dianne, and father, Leonard, and sister, Pam.
The other trained crew members travel with them during the fall and winter.
The winter schedule allows the two extra crew members to shoe horses in the summer and fill in with Vanek Cattle Services in the winter where they join the crew on the road as they travel all to Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska.
They prefer to trim the animals outside because the lighting is better but the temperatures can make that ‘chilly’ at times, Vanek said.
The crew also brings their own equipment, which includes a special chute that holds the animal secure but opens up on the sides to allow them to trim the animal.
“We take every precaution not to hurt them or get hurt,”he said.
With all their specialized equipment, Vanek said they can pull up to a ranch and be clipping within 15 to 30 minutes.
When asked about clipping season, Vanek laughed and said it doesn’t end anymore. With bull sales in the fall, winter and spring, shows throughout the year and female production sales growing in popularity, they are clipping and fitting animals year round.
“We also work on all breeds,”said Vanek, from miniature breeds to the largest breeds around.
“We do everything. When we went into this, we didn’t want to be biased to any breed. Each ranch has their own operation and they’ve all chosen what they have for their own personal reasons,” he said.
Vanek explained that there are some custom cattle fitters who do only specific breeds but Vaneks don’t clip for the breed, they clip for the owner.
“We try to fit the cattle to what the owner wants. Very few owners are the same. Everyone has a different idea of how they want their bulls fit, how they want them to look, so we listen and try to do what they want,”he said.
They also are finding that the photography end of the business is growing and expanding to include videos and web site design.
“My mom does the photography,” he said.
Dianne Vanek takes the still photos and her 21-year-old daughter does the videos. Dianne started behind the camera when she was taking pictures of her kids in the show ring. Soon other parents were asking her to take photographs.
“It just bloomed from there,”she said.
In order take the right picture for sale catalogs, show catalogs or other advertising brochures, Dianne said they clip the animals and get them ready then Dianne likes to have them loose in a pen that is not too tight.
“I like them to have some freedom to move so they don’t feel closed in and don’t feel like you are right there being aggressive,”she said. She wants the animal to feel safe.
“We don’t push them hard. We try to be slow and calm and that helps the animal be that way,”she said. Her son agreed. “We work the cattle real slow and quiet. We take pride in all aspects of our business and working cattle really quiet.”
When taking photographs, Dianne stands in the pen with two of her trained helpers, one on both ends of the pen. The helpers try to get the animal’s attention and get them to stop and look at them.
“We want the animal to stop and hold his head up and look alert, just the way you want it.”
Once the photographs are done, they are edited and sent back to the owner. “We edit the background, not the cattle,”Vanek stressed.
The background editing may mean they have to take out a fence or a pile of manure, anything that could be a distraction.
Dianne has done photos of bulls and sent them as far away as Brazil. Her daughter, Pam, is also busy filming and editing videos of bulls and cows for sale. Videos increase the ability of the producer to reach buyers around the world. They can send videos or post them to their web site and reach potential buyers and breeders that may never have seen the animal any other way.
Pam also designs web sites for producers. “There is a void for ranchers in that area,” said Dianne. “Pam was raised in the business. She knows the language and the needs of ranchers,” said Dianne. Pam has a degree in agriculture business with an emphasis in computers and web page design.
“She walked into her first web page design class with her cowboy boots on and bling belt and the instructor didn’t think she had what it would take to keep up with all the ‘geeks’ in the class who had other computer programming courses,” Dianne recalled. But Pam wanted a chance to try and become one of only four students to complete the final requirements for the web design course.
Vanek Cattle Services also does custom AI-ing. They start that in April and run until the middle of July. The patriarch of the family, Leonard, does most of the AI-ing said Dianne. “He is involved in everything.”
Dan and Pam are equally capable, she said, and are also involved in all aspects of the business, including AI-ing.
“We go as a family to do the jobs,” she said. Vanek said his wife, Ashley, is another vital part of their business. Along with Pam, the two women often take over chores when the rest of the crew is on the road.
“They feed grain and hay, and work with the cattle when we’re gone,” said Vanek. Often, while the crew is on the road, Pam and Ashley are at the big shows for their clients doing the washing, blowing and showing of the animals. Their ability to work hard for the clients is vital to the business.
Throughout the year, Vanek Cattle Services also breed and sell show steers to youth and help them learn to halter break, fit and show their cattle to the best of their ability.
And, over course, there is the still time for Dan to get back into the show ring and show their own animals.
“For a young guy like me, it is almost impossible to walk into a bank and get a loan for land and cattle and start up an operation. This allows me to stay around cattle and do something that I love,” he said.
For more information about any of the special services offered by Vanek Cattle Services, call 406-962-3213 or visit http://vanekcattleservices.com.