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Dave Nichols receives highest industry honor

Cattle and Beef Industry News
Dec 4, 2015

A portrait of Dave Nichols, Bridgewater, IA, has been added to the Saddle and Sirloin Portrait Gallery, which is the highest honor a person can receive in the livestock industry. Founded in 1903 at the Chicago Stockyards, the Saddle and Sirloin Club Portrait Gallery is currently on display at the North American International Livestock Exposition grounds in Louisville, KY. The award recognizes one person a year for “truly significant and outstanding contributions to the livestock industry, anywhere in the world; in education, research, breed improvement, management, marketing or economics, writing or other forms of service that have markedly enhanced the industry.”

Past recipient Dr. Dave Hawkins, Professor Emeritus at Michigan State University, explains that Nichols has met this criteria.

“Dave Nichols has provided outstanding service to the livestock industry, especially the beef industry, through two major beef breed associations—American Angus Association and American Simmental Association—as well as being dedicated to further performance principles through organizations like Beef Improvement Federation (BIF). He owns and operates one of the largest, most respected seedstock operations in the country that bases selection on these performance principles.”

Asked about the award, Nichols said, “It was the most important and enjoyable day since I got married. I attribute this award to my mentors including my father, my wife, Dr. Jay Lush and Dr. John Pollak and the hundreds of other scientists at land-grant universities and the visionary breeders in between who gave me the passion to always look forward to improving seedstock so that people who use the genetics could be more successful.”

He continued, “My career has been centered on servicing the commercial industry and keeping them in business, which has included every bit of technology available to produce more beef with less. Ultimately, we want to improve the beef product whether it is for people who eat beef with a fork, chopsticks or their fingers.”

Nichols first entered the business in 1947 when he bought a steer with a note from the bank. In 1952, he started his purebred Angus herd with the purchase of two Angus heifers, and he has been in the seedstock business since that time. In 1957, he won the National FFA Public Speaking Contest on the topic of performance testing bulls, and started selling performance tested bulls later that year. His dedication to advancing performance principles would define his career, and he has remained on the cutting edge of the development of performance practices and their implantation throughout his career. He was a founding member of the BIF, serving on its first board and later as one of its early presidents. His attendance and input into BIF meetings has been one of the constants in the organization, and he has received every award BIF can bestow including breeder of the year, continuing service and pioneer breeder.

In the late 1960s, Nichols became interested in adding a second breed to his Angus operation, which he did in the form of some of the earliest Simmentals. He is credited with pioneering the establishment of black, polled Simmentals, and it is estimated that over 80 percent of today’s Simmentals trace back to Nichols’ bloodlines. He is also credited with pioneering the breeding and marketing of Simmental, Angus hybrids, and currently Nichols Farms, LTD markets approximately 600 bulls a year comprised of Angus, Simmental, SimAngus and composites made up of Angus, South Devon and Simmental breeds.

Always active in his breed associations, Nichols has served on the board of directors and as President of the Simmental Association and currently sits on the board of the Angus Association. He is proud that under his leadership, Simmental hired Dr. Jerry Lipsey as CEO, which marked the return to commercial relevance for the breed. Nichols has been a driver on breed associations, adopting new technology, and is given credit for Simmental recording and eventually registering hybrid cattle.

Nichols’ cattle have not only impacted the U.S. cattle industry, but also the world. His live cattle, embryos and semen have been marketed to over 30 countries. Nichols’ herd sires were the top selling AI sires in Argentina for a number of years and their progeny produced numerous national champions at the Palermo show. He has traveled to South America, Australia, New Zealand and Eastern Europe spreading the message of performance principles and the American system of capitalism and entrepreneurial spirit.

He has had a particularly large impact on the development and implementation of ultrasound, genomics for carcass traits and instrument grading. Through his leadership, the $5 million carcass merit project was initiated, which included the initial genomic work upon which today’s genomics are based. He was integral in the thought process, funding, data collection and business model upon which today’s ultrasound technology for carcass traits are based. Referring to this, John Crouch, retired CEO of the American Angus Association, explains, “Had it not been for Dave Nichols’ persistence, I doubt this (ultrasound) would have happened.” Today, Nichols Farms keeps over 70 fields of data on each animal, and their database has been used for genomic validation and genetic research at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center.

For Nichols, having his portrait hung in the Saddle and Sirloin Portrait Gallery has been a humbling experience. For those who know him, it is a well-deserved recognition of an outstanding career that has made a difference in our industry. — Dr. Bob Hough

(Dr. Bob Hough has served as the Executive Vice President of the Red Angus Association of American and more recently as Executive Vice President of the North American Limousin Foundation from 2009 to early 2011. He is now a consultant, freelance writer and semi-retired.)

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