Those who know Jim and Jane Gillooly, Washington, Ind., figure this story will be about cattle. From a 10,000-foot view, cattle would seem to be what their lives are all about. Visiting with them in their home, it’s easy to see their lives are about their faith, family and community. Becoming immersed in the cattle industry is just how they chose to make a living and display some of their many talents.
As Jim tells the story, it almost wasn’t about cattle. “I was graduating from Purdue University and deciding if I wanted to go to graduate school,” he recalls. Jane’s dad, Arthur Colbert, named a Master Farmer in 1981, was a farmer but also a geneticist, carrying on the seed business started by his father.
“I had an appointment to meet with a well-known professor in agronomy at Purdue to discuss becoming a graduate student in agronomy,” Jim continues. “I walked in the office and his secretary looked distraught. The professor was late for the appointment, and she swore he was never late. She wanted to reschedule it.
“I told her, ‘No thanks, I may pursue something else.’ Call it fate or whatever you like, but I walked over to a professor’s office in animal science. I told him I was interested in pursuing a graduate degree in animal science. In no time at all, I was working toward a master’s degree in animal science at Penn State University.”
Jim and Jane returned home after the stint at Penn State. He worked with his father-in-law in the seed business but concentrated on improving genetics in the Colbert Angus herd, which dated back to 1941. Polled Herefords were added later, in partnership with Jane’s uncle, Jack Colbert.
Cattle and family
“We tried to develop good cattle, and we were one of the first herds in Indiana to use embryo transfer to help speed up genetic improvement,” Jim says. In fact, Jane recalls that Carl Eiche, retired senior editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer and named an honorary Master Farmer himself in 2018, visited and wrote a story about their use of that new technology.
Pretty soon, Jim earned a reputation as an excellent cattle judge. Before long, he was judging state fairs, national shows and even international shows, including a show in South Africa.
“Jane kept things going here,” Jim says. “She’s a part of everything I’ve ever accomplished, on or off the farm. We were fortunate to show cattle around the country, too, and our kids became involved showing cattle.”
Jim recalls the first time he headed off to judge a show in Texas. When he brought his suitcase down to the living room, there was their son Kyle’s suitcase, ready by the door. “It almost broke my heart,” Jim says. “He was too young to go, but I promised him the next time I judged a show in Texas, he could come. And he did, too!”
The Gilloolys still farm several hundred acres, mostly bottom land, using minimum tillage. But they only keep about 35 cows around home to make use of grass and hay.
“I-69 took our pastures, the innovative corral Jane’s dad designed and more, splitting us down the middle,” Jim explains. “We fought to save our farm for 12 years. In the end, I-69 still came through, but we were able to preserve Jane’s homeplace.”
Tom J. Bechman
THIS OLD HOUSE: This is much more than a house — it represents Jane’s heritage. It was built in the late 1800s and has been remodeled more than once. Jim and Jane proudly live here today.
Timing can be everything, and the 12-year battle wasn’t all for naught. In the meantime, Kyle married Jennifer, whose family has a well-known, established cattle ranch near Wadley, Ga. By the time I-69 was a reality, Kyle was managing that operation. Jim and Jane’s best cows joined the herd in Georgia. They help prepare for the Partners in Progress production sale held at the farm in Georgia each March.
“Some of the original Colbert genetics are still represented in that herd,” Jim says. “That’s important to us.”