Choosing winning traits
Sisters Shelby and Lacey Pombrio are regulars at livestock shows and neither will miss an opportunity to tell others what they love about their favorite cattle breed. But the predominantly white cattle with characteristic black or red points were not the first breed of cattle for Corbeau Creek Cattle Company in Altona, NY.
After operating a dairy farm for several generations, the Pombrio family started raising beef cattle to supplement the dairy. The new venture began when Shelby and Lacey’s parents, Sheldon and Penny, purchased four commercial beef animals from an auction.
“Those were the foundation for the beef cattle herd,” said Shelby. “About a year later, our mom bought three registered Black Angus heifers from Virginia over the phone. We already had the four commercial animals but Mom wanted some registered animals.”
Prior to taking delivery of the three Angus heifers, the Pombrios learned that the seller had one lot of 19 unsold heifers and offered them a good deal if they agreed to purchase all of them.
The family now had 19 young Angus in addition to the three they just purchased, plus the original four. “That’s how we got our foundation Angus,” said Shelby. “We had no idea what we had – they were all registered and beautiful. That’s when we got the bug for beef cows. We started buying all registered animals, and also bought some Red Angus along with Black Angus.”
As the herd grew, the sisters’ interest in beef cattle also grew. Both say they’ve always preferred to be outside working with cattle and never had to be convinced to stay on the farm.
As the Pombrios continued to operate the dairy farm, they purchased more beef cattle and learned more about breeding and raising beeves. Although the family is currently milking 40 – 50 cows, they’re in the process of phasing out that segment of the farm. Meanwhile, the main portion of the Corbeau Creek beef herd has grown to about 100 commercial Angus females that are bred for spring and autumn calving.
Cows calve in a large free-stall barn that has been converted for beef cows. “The barn used to be half dairy and half beef,” said Shelby. “Now it’s been turned into all beef. It’s heavily bedded, then scraped and rebedded twice a week, and we can move gates to make pens as needed.”
Weaned calves are purchased by upper Midwest buyers to be finished, which the sisters agree is the easiest way to market them.
Shelby and Lacey showed Angus cattle while growing up but found that breed wasn’t always easy to handle. “We were showing Red Angus at the New York State Fair,” said Lacey, explaining how the family became interested in another breed. “My mom saw the White Parks and talked with American British White Park breeder John Gempler. He made a deal that we would purchase animals and show them the following year.”
Penny made the trip to Jeffersonville, NY, where Gempler showed her a group of registered American British White Park calves. “My mom saw a calf that wasn’t included in the group and asked about her,” said Lacey. “Her name is Gempler’s Spot, and we still have her – she’s 17 and she was the start of our White Park herd. The reason we have all the championships we have now is because my mom has a good eye and can pick cattle.”
The sisters immediately recognized how easy it was to train young White Parks. “They’re so docile,” said Shelby. “We can easily halter break a calf that’s five or six months old and never been touched. Within a weekend they’re halter broken and walking like puppies.”
With sufficient land and barn space, the Pombrios can maintain the commercial Angus and White Park cattle as separate herds, which aids in breeding management. The White Parks are bred by both natural cover and AI, while the commercial herd is pasture bred by their home-raised bulls. The White Park herd is checked to confirm pregnancies and due dates, which the sisters said is necessary to help with planning the show season. First calf heifers on the dairy side are often bred to a White Park bull for lower birthweight calves.
With the goal of maintaining docility and easy handling, the Pombrios won’t tolerate any ill-tempered White Parks. Shelby said docility is especially important because sometimes it’s three women – her, Lacey and Penny – working with them. “We can enjoy working with them without being worried about them trying to climb over a gate or hurting us,” she said.
The sisters credit their dad Sheldon and his brother Mark, both life-long farmers, with providing a strong support system. “They have been farming all their lives,” said Shelby. “They bought their own land to farm in the 1980s and they do all the field and crop work.”
White Park cattle are hardy and don’t require special attention in bad weather. When supplemental feed is needed, cattle receive a ration of corn silage and hay and have access to dry hay and protein supplement. Cattle can come to the barn to eat but often prefer being outdoors where they can access natural shelter.
Every year, the Pombrios sell young White Park breeding stock, both bulls and heifers. “We try to offer as many nice calves as we can in spring,” said Shelby, adding that they keep an eye on which animals to keep for the herd, offer for sale or raise as potential show animals. “We were the first in Clinton County, New York, to have White Park cattle, and now the breed is more prevalent in the area, especially on former dairy farms that are converting to raising beef cattle.” The American British White Park Association of America has a breed-up program that allows cattlemen to build a registered cattle program.
Shelby said when she, Lacey and their mom first started to exhibit White Park cattle, they were the only all-female showing team. “When we started to win state and national championships, others paid attention because we came from a regular working farm,” said Shelby. “Our bull Cash, a son of Spot, put the farm on the map.”
Although the family attends numerous shows throughout the season, the sisters have special appreciation for one award. “One of my favorite awards is the New York Special class at the state fair,” said Shelby. “We pick our best two head, and the animals have to be bred and owned. Winning that award is a gold star because we aren’t buying animals just to show. It might not mean a lot to others, but to us, it’s a family award. It’s everything. We never thought we would win a national title or go beyond our county fair.”
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by Sally Colby
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