“Don’t tell a Dinklage ‘you can’t,’” he says in a matter-of-fact manner with a hint of humor. “If you walk away from something without giving it a go, you’ll always have in your mind, ‘what if?’”
Years of rolling with the punches and keeping his nose to the grindstone have polished Jim Dinklage into a pleasant character and a survivor.
Born and raised on a farming and cattle-feeding operation in northeast Nebraska, Dinklage left home for college in the late 1960s, graduating from Wayne State College in a pre-vet program with business and biology majors under his belt.
“I thought about going on to vet school, but my father needed someone back at the feedlot,” he recalls, where he stayed for 10 years. During this time, he married Pat, a music teacher. The couple ran a herd of 200 cows and fed out around 500 head of cattle a year in their feedyard, along with farming 500 acres of mostly irrigated cropland and grass.
“We went through the farm crisis with high interest rates, and when my notes for cattle hit 21 percent interest, I said, ‘This is not working,’” Dinklage says. “First rule of accounting, every credit there equals a debit. The interest debits were eating our equity.”
Soon after, Dinklage says lease rates went up on the ground he was renting, so he and Pat decided to sell out, pack up and move to the Sandhills to start a new operation.
“We kept our best cows, some equipment, and moved around for five years in the Sandhills, eventually ending up on a ranch we bought near Brewster, Neb., in 1991,” he recalls, saying they grew their cow herd back up to 200 head and backgrounded their calves.
Then, in 1996, while listening to an agricultural radio program in the feed tractor, Dinklage heard an advertisement about a probiotic livestock feed additive, from a company named Natur’s Way, Inc. For some reason, the company name rang a bell, and he says he remembered years earlier when he was still on his family’s operation that they used the company’s probiotic soil additive on seedling trees.
“We had supplemented a test set of trees in a new shelter belt that grew 6 inches taller than the other non-treated trees,” he says.
The memory piqued his interest enough to call Natur’s Way, Inc., a family owned and operated company in Kansas, to learn more about its probiotic product. The company sent him information and a sample product to try on his cattle. That was an experience, Dinklage says, that changed livestock care as he knew it.
In short, the probiotic consists of live bacteria and yeast that promote healthy digestion in the rumen and lower gut, boosting the immune system and helping the animal’s feed-conversion efficiency. (See “The good microbes” in the February issue of Drovers CattleNetwork.)
“With my studies in bacteriology, the science behind this made a lot of sense to me,” Dinklage says. “Keep the gut healthy in the animal and use good bacteria to fight off bad bacteria.”
The sample the company sent him sat unused for a few months until Dinklage weaned his calves in the fall of 1996.
“I had preconditioned and given the calves their booster shots after weaning, but the weather was pretty hard on them. It was cool at night, with dry, dusty days,” he recalls. “I walked out one morning, and sure enough, had a handful of calves standing alone — coughing, droopy ears and snotty noses.”
Dinklage distinctly remembers the calves having 106° F temperatures when he got them in for treatments. He then had an idea and decided to take the tube of probiotic paste off the shelf — giving two of the sick calves probiotics and two of the sick calves antibiotics.
“That night, the calves that got the paste were eating, but the calves that were treated with the antibiotics were still standing off,” he recalls.
By that time, more calves were starting to get sick. As he watched the first treatment group improve, he decided to treat the whole pen.
“I called Natur’s Way and asked them to send the probiotic feed additive or DFM [direct fed microbial] to feed the whole pen,” he says. “I wanted to prove to myself that this product worked.”
After receiving the liquid feed additive, Dinklage top-dressed his calves’ ration and then walked sick calves up to the bunk to eat while monitoring them.
“People have a hard time believing my story, but this was the last time I had sick calves — that was in 1996,” he says. “The calves started eating, got over their problems, and I didn’t lose a calf. I started mixing the DFM in my mineral. My cows looked better and became more efficient on less feed. There is great satisfaction in watching healthy baby calves race each other during calving season.”
And as luck in the cattle business would have it, not too long after, in 2001, volatile markets and high interest rates were wearing on Dinklage, and he decided to sell the ranch. At this point in time, he realized he had barely spent a day away from his operation in years, and due to the secluded rural area the ranch was on, didn’t get to spend as much time as he wanted with his family.
“My wife still taught and son Aaron was a freshman in high school, and we lived 40 miles away from the school, so they would leave in the dark, and get home in the dark — that’s not a good family life,” he says. “So after selling the ranch we took some time off.”
While you may be able to take the man from the ranch, you can’t take the ranch out of the man. So after a break from the business, Dinklage got back in and started his current operation in Knox County, Neb. On top of feeding out cattle and ranching, he also took on another challenge — representing the very product that changed his cattle-care philosophy. He’s been a sales representative for Natur’s Way, Inc., for the last 14 years.
There’s no cookie-cutter way to cut it in the U.S. cattle industry, but for Dinklage the right recipe is part cattle feeding, part family and part representing a technology that has proven successful in his operation.
“The last 50 years has been quite a ride in the cattle business,” Dinklage says. “I plan on staying in the saddle to help provide the consumer with the best quality beef in the United States of America.”