I grew up on a century farm in the rolling hills of southwest Iowa near Treynor growing corn, soybeans, alfalfa, cattle and hogs. My parents are Roger and Ann Vorthmann and I have an older brother, Chad and a younger sister Erica. Today, our family operates a Limousin herd of around 50 head. In the past, our family had a commercial cowherd and used Limousin bulls. Over time we gradually sold the commercial cows and added to our purebred herd numbers.
To market our Limousin cattle, we have had a private treaty sale every September for the last 12 years. We do the majority of the work ourselves and it has been a successful way for us to market some of our cattle as well as have an open house for fellow breeders to come see our operation.
Growing up, my brother and I showed together since we are closer in age. Our first purebred heifer was purchased for my brother for a 4H project. I was 8 years old and I started showing in 4H at the age of 10 years old. I showed breeding heifers, steers, hogs and lambs, for 1 year. Like many, we didn’t know much about showing cattle when we started. My dad did the clipping at that time and I can remember when we used to shave a straight line across the belly with a flathead clipper. I can also remember shaving a square on their butt…I guess we thought it made them look more square and thicker.
I have been to every National Jr. Limousin show since 1987 except for one year. In fact, the National Jr. Limousin show is just one of the many traditions that have evolved in our family because of our involvement in the Limousin breed. I showed at my first National Jr. Limousin show in 1988 at Des Moines, IA. The year before we traveled to Longmont, CO to see what it was all about so we wouldn’t look like total rookies at our first Jr. National. That year I spent all but $20 in my checking account on a show heifer at the Iowa Beef Expo, her name was Amarillo. In my anxious little mind I thought I purchased a great one-- then I showed her that week and received last in my class. From that point forward I was determined to work harder than anyone else. Hard work paid off and Amarillo won her class and was Reserve Champion in her division at the Jr. National show and had lots of admirers. I was offered a nice price to sell her, but I refused. She went on to produce several successful calves. I sold a daughter in Denver for $10,000, another daughter to Minerich for $12,000 and she also produced several good herd bulls.
In 1989 I had a home raised heifer named Sugar-N-Spice. She was my favorite color, dark cherry red. I was very fortunate that summer to be selected Reserve Grand Champion at the National Jr. Show in Stillwater, OK. Over the years, I have had the honor of raising and exhibiting several Bred & Owned Champions. One of my bred and owned highlights came in 1999 when I raised and showed the Reserve Grand Champion Bull at the National Western Stock Show with VORD Halfback.
My parents have been great help and support over all the years. Early on, my mom told my brother and I “If you get up and do your chores and take care of your calves like you should, I will take you wherever you want to go.” Well, we went to 30+ shows that spring and summer in Iowa and that is when I found my love for clipping cattle.
I would find the best presented cattle and watch the clipping and fitting. Then I would go practice what I saw. My brother went to a Stierwalt clinic one summer, he was so excited to come home and share what he had learned. We would get random cattle in from the pasture and practice for hours and I always had the saying “practice makes perfect” in the back of my mind.
In high school, I started getting the hang of presenting show cattle. When I graduated, John Sullivan offered me a full-time position. I was still showing Limousin cattle at that time and did not feel comfortable working on another junior’s cattle that I would be competing against (this is when Sullivan’s had Limousin). My brother and I still helped John, but it was not full-time.
In 1991, my brother Chad was helping Mike Hartman with their Llama and I think miniature donkey sale when he came across a Limousin heifer, Cookie. Cookie, in my mind, is one of the most famous Limousin cows ever. Chad bought Cookie from Mike and won reserve champion at the Junior National. Chad then sold Cookie to John Sullivan, who then bred Cookie to a bull that we would have never thought about using. That mating went on to be one of the most successful matings in Limousin history.
I then went on to work for John on a part time basis. It was very scary to me at first when I started clipping, I didn’t want to take too much hair off, especially when I was working on someone else’s cattle. The scariest moment of my career was in Louisville when Dave Allan, who was in charge of Sullivan’s show cattle, told me that I was clipping tops and tailheads on show day. I had done everything for myself at shows, but never when I worked for someone else. I was scared to death. But it was that day in Louisville that it really made everything click. Some have many names for me, Perfectionist, Drill Sargent, Voo Doo Woman. People can say whatever they want, but I truly believe that the ability I have with a set of clippers is a God given talent. Not only do I get to share my talents to breeders around the country, I’ve had the opportunity to watch young cattlemen grow into the amazing people they are today. It’s truly an honor to hear some of them say that I taught them something along their journey to who they are today. Along the way, I have had many people believe in me and give me opportunities to learn. This helped to build my confidence and helped me to be who I am today. It has taught me to always try to be better. I am constantly learning and don’t like to give up until I am pleased with my work. Some say I’m a perfectionist, I do not like that statement because I want to keep improving my work.
Over the years I have many people believe in me and have had the opportunity to work for. I have helped Sullivan’s, Deer Valley, Hackworth’s, Andrews Land and Cattle, Carl Weathers and countless others that I have helped at shows or part time. Most of my full time employment has been with Limousin operations although I have worked on several breeds over the years. I have been from coast to coast working and showing. I have been very fortunate to have worked on several national Champions. Today, I spend a lot of time on the road traveling to and from different places and jobs. I enjoy getting to see the country and appreciate the friendships that have evolved from my cattle experiences.
In 2002 I was honored to be selected as the Limousin Herdsman of the Year at the NWSS in Denver. At that time, I was taking care of show/sale cattle for Andrews Land and Cattle from Olympia, WA and working on them in Iowa at Shane Lindsey’s place in Prairie City. I was the first female to win this prestigious award. It meant so much because there are so many industry greats to win that same award.
A lot of people ask me what my next step in life is. Yes, I still want to clip for other people, but at my age, I would like to do more for myself. I’ve always had cattle of my own and I feel in the past, I haven’t put as much thought as I could have into my cow herd/ breeding decisions. In the past year, I have culled cows and have mated differently. I have also purchased very unique Limousin genetics that I feel can change my program for the better. Although the Limousin breed isn’t as popular as it was 15 years ago, I still feel like they have a very important purpose in the beef industry. I see myself raising quality Limousin and Lim flex cattle which has been my passion since I was very young.
Another question I get quite often is any advice or words of wisdom to youth that wish to do what I do. To keep it short, I tell them to learn from the beginning. What I mean by that is learn how to break one correctly, wash one correctly, comb one correctly, blow one correctly, then clip and fit one correctly. I often see so many people try to do it the opposite way. I personally have more respect for the people who do the little things right rather than just be able to fit a leg or something. The number one advice I have to give is, never think you know it all, because you don’t… no one does. And girls, it can be a bumpy ride, but don’t give up!
Some other things I do with my spare time is I am a Beef leader for my 4H club that I grew up in as a kid. It means a lot to me when I am able to work closely with the kids and families and try to help everyone learn and get better. Also, I help put on a showmanship clinic at our county fair every year. Getting to be a professor for Stock Show U has been another way I get to teach young exhibitors. I really love doing these types of things since it helps the next generation of cattlemen.
I’ve always seen myself doing what I do, but I’ve never dreamed I would be doing this as long as I have. I have always pictured myself by this day and age having a family of my own, but sometimes the good Lord has a different plan and gives you other opportunities that you wouldn’t trade for the world. One of those is being able to meet up with friends at shows across the country. I am so blessed to get to experience this and be able to make a living doing what I love.
From John Sullivan:
“Deb Vorthmann Is Not Only A Very, Very Rare Talent, But More Importantly She Is A Great Person. A True Role Model That I Hope My Children Can Follow And Learn From. I Am Grateful She Is A Stock Show University Professor And Have Had The Pleasure Of Working With Deb For Over 15 Years And Many National Champions. The Livestock Industry Needs More Deb Vorthmanns.”