Quality Emphasis Leads to Beef Show Success

10/19/2013 7:00 AM
By Philip Gruber Staff Writer

WEST GROVE, Pa. — Chester County may be best known for its elite equine breeders. While Margaret Duprey has had her share of success with horses, her Cherry Knoll Farm has also gained national recognition for its Angus herd.

Cattle raised on the farm have racked up dozens of top honors in local, state and national competitions since Duprey launched the herd in 1993.

Duprey started raising horses in Newtown Square in the 1970s and moved with her husband to West Grove in the late 1980s to get more space for pasture. The previous owner of the land had a cattle-breeding operation, and in 1993 Duprey brought in cattle from a neighbor’s dispersal.

Brian Fitzgerald was Duprey’s first herd manager. An Angus lifer from Nebraska, he was looking for a place to put his cattle and ran the herd on Duprey’s land throughout the 1990s.

Almost 11 years ago, Fitzgerald decided to return to Nebraska. His brother Tim, who had been working at a farm in West Virginia whose Angus herd was being dispersed, took over the herd manager’s job at Cherry Knoll.

Cherry Knoll is highly selective, keeping about 60 mother cows. Including calves, the herd totals about 100 head. Duprey and Fitzgerald carefully manage to ensure that the population does not exceed the land’s capacity. Duprey has 200 acres, which the cattle share with horses and woods.

“When Tim came on board, I said, OK, we want quality, not quantity,’ ” Duprey said. Her two questions for her herd manager are, “How many do we have, and do we have the best?”

Fitzgerald said he was taught by the best — his father, an Angus farmer — to identify desirable traits and breed for them.

“It takes a lot of looking,” he said.

“Our cows would be loaded with quality, and quality is the way they look. Structural correctness is a must and then performance — how well they perform on grass and feed,” Fitzgerald said.

“We don’t want to sell an animal that has problems” or pass along problems to buyers, he said.

Being a good mother is another imperative for Cherry Knoll females.

“If they’re not good mothers, they don’t stay here very long,” Fitzgerald said. That saves him and Duprey the trouble of staying up through the night nursing calves with a bottle.

The farm sells many animals to 4-H and FFA families “from California to Connecticut,” Fitzgerald said.

When youths come to choose an animal, Fitzgerald and Duprey take an advisory role. They ask questions to help buyers decide what they want and point out features to look for. Ultimately, though, “they pick their own out,” Fitzgerald said.

“It’s also in what the kids like about” the animal, Duprey said.

The farm uses not only traditional artificial insemination but also more sophisticated techniques. It conducts embryo transfers with its best 10 to 15 cows each year.

This year, they have expanded into in-vitro fertilization for their top females. The more advanced embryo technology has the potential to dramatically increase the percentage of calves that are heifers. They said they have been pleased with the results so far.

With so much of the land dedicated to pasture, there is no room to grow crops, so the cattle graze and have a custom feed mix made at a local co-op. Corn, oats, barley, cottonseed, vitamins and minerals are among the ingredients.

The farm’s website and Facebook page are the two main forms of marketing that Duprey controls.

“People liked what they saw, and they started coming to us and saying, Is this one for sale? Is this one for sale?’ ” Duprey said.

The online presence has helped meet prospective buyers’ need for information. Cherry Knoll added an online auction to the website in 2012. On Oct. 12, the farm held its fall sale online, auctioning off 22 heifer calves and 45 embryos.

While electronic sales have bolstered the farm’s business, word of mouth and show success remain the farm’s most powerful tools.

As a trainer of high-performance horses, Duprey has always been around shows. When she acquired the cattle, showing on the Angus circuit made sense.

“Showing is another form of advertising your genetics,” she said.

In addition to showing, the farm sponsors numerous Angus events, including the Atlantic National Junior Show, National Junior Angus Show and All-American Futurity.

Cherry Knoll has been one of the most successful farms at the National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colo., since 2007, Fitzgerald said.

This year, Cherry Knoll Top Notch 1217 took reserve winter bull calf champion at the National Western and reserve grand champion bull at the Western National Angus Futurity.

Cherry Knoll Elsa 1210 was late winter heifer calf champion at this year’s National Western and reserve early spring heifer calf champion at the Angus futurity. She also was the top winter heifer calf at the North American International Livestock Exposition last year.

Fitzgerald highlighted Cherry Knoll Elsa 1205 as another of the farm’s top animals.

NAILE in November is the next big event on Cherry Knoll’s calendar.

When she is not working with the cattle, Duprey remains active with her horses. She trains high-performance dressage horses and open jumpers that compete internationally. She also works with steeplechase racehorses and hunters.

Duprey spent the summer in Europe training and watching Laura Kraut ride Duprey’s horse Cedric.

Duprey purchased the gray gelding Cedric in 2011 after it had been part of the 2008 U.S. Olympic team that won a show jumping gold medal.

Duprey’s Danish Warmblood gelding Otto , ridden by Todd Flettrich, represented the United States in the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Kentucky.

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