Yorkville man uses rancher skills when working with athletes
By Steve Lord ~ firstname.lastname@example.org February 25, 2013 11:46AM
Chris Earl, co-owner of C.K.6 Consulting Services, eyes the Angus cattle on the Brummel Farm in Plano on Wednesday, February 20, 2013. | Steven Buyansky~Sun-Times Media
from the storyteller
It’s fun to be around a guy like Chris Earl.
I think the reasons can be summed up easily — energy and commitment. It’s enjoyable to be around someone who has a lot of energy and is committed to what he does. Earl has lots of both.
He loves the cattle business, and he loves athletics — particularly football — and loves to train kids to play the sport. He has made a life for himself doing those things he loves, which is not only commendable but admirable.
You have to be a bit envious of someone who can make his life’s work things he might do even if he were not getting paid.
As I learned more about Earl, I realized he has been on kind of a straight line since college. At Western Illinois, he played football and studied agriculture and business. So he is working in the two areas for which he is trained.
But there’s something else about Earl. He is also a man of faith, of family and of friendship. He values all three and commits himself to those, too. That may be why one of the first things you notice about him is that he’s just a plain, old nice guy.
And on top of all that, he can actually tell you why a good steak is a good steak. In fact, he knew the steak you’re eating today was going to be good years ago, even before it was conceived.
Now that’s what I call a rare talent.
— Steve Lord
Updated: March 25, 2013 6:31AM
Chris Earl pulls his big black pickup truck through the left-turn lane on Route 47 onto Route 34 in Yorkville and heads west.
Country music blares from the radio, suddenly interrupted by the ring of his cellphone, which Earl picks up, hits a button and puts back down. The voice on the other end is heard through the radio, and the discussion between him and Earl is about the weather.
While Earl’s immediate destination on this cold-but-bright sunny day is Brummel Farms in Plano, just off Eldamain Road, he is supposed to leave later for the Texas Panhandle. His cohort already is talking about plans to cancel a planned trip to Nebraska because of the snow.
The conversation is finished in a few minutes, and Earl is clearly thinking about whether he’ll still head to Texas, and if he will drive there or fly. He doesn’t get much time to think: The phone rings again.
This time, Earl gets news that a planned sale of some bulls had to be canceled because of a paperwork snafu. Earl shakes his head as he hangs up the phone. “The ups and downs of the cattle business,” he says.
Earl cuts a fine figure as the all-American cowman, in black cowboy hat and fur-lined coat, jeans and boots. He cut a similarly fine figure just two days before, but he was wearing a considerably different outfit. Then it was the T-shirt, sweats and athletic shoes of a coach.
The two outfits are not mutually exclusive, nor incongruous, for Chris Earl. He leads an almost double life as an owner and consultant in the Black Angus beef business, and as a coach and trainer for young athletes.
“I have two passions in life: kids and cattle,” he says, smiling. “I love training kids, I love the cattle business. It’s amazing how there are similar parts to it. Both businesses have great people. It doesn’t even feel like I’m working.”
Farming, business and science
It may sound almost dehumanizing to compare athletic training to analyzing Angus beef cows. But Earl has a simple explanation: It’s all about looking at physical characteristics, background and how they move.
As he points to the tags on the ears of the cattle in the pen, calling the numbers “their names, in effect,” he immediately goes into an entire “gauging of an animal.”
“It’s not unlike a college guy calling me to ask about a receiver,” Earl says. “He wants to know what kind of ability he has, is he fast. The key is, I have a gift for analyzing athletes, and cattle. It’s all about fluidity and depth of muscle. That helps with both businesses.”
The businesses are CK6 Consulting, which covers a range of cattle-related areas, and the House of Speed in Yorkville, which trains young athletes. In the cattle business, Earl manages 23 purebred Angus herds across the country — in places such as Colorado, Iowa, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Illinois and Wisconsin — encompassing some 7,000 head of cattle.
The Angus was first bred in Scotland and came to America in 1873. The American Aberdeen-Angus Breeders’ Association was founded in 1883 in Chicago. In 1950, it was renamed the American Angus Association. Today, it holds the distinction of being the largest purebred beef registry in the world.
Earl praises the Angus breed for its adaptability.
“It’s fine in the mountains of Montana, or on the plains or Oklahoma or Texas,” he says.
Earl chuckles when he says he once bought a bull for $255,000, and sold a cow for $100,000. At the pen in Plano, he points to “X074” and says the 1,800-pound cow is worth $10,000. Her marbling and ribeye are “exceptional,” he says.
“I bought her grandmother in Kansas for $10,000,” he says.
As he wanders through the pen, the phone calls continue. He figures he uses about 6,000 to 7,000 minutes on his phone a year, and puts about 70,000 miles a year on his truck.
He also speaks about the complicated business of breeding in scientific terms that would make a high-energy physicist blush. In short, the business is about matching the right bull with the right cow, and “super-ovulating” that cow to produce a number of desirable calves.
Back to X074, who would have maybe a calf a year under Mother Nature’s rules. But by accelerating the process with artificial insemination from four or five bulls, she can produce up to 25 calves in her 10 to 12 year lifetime.
As she moves around her pen, one of her calves, only months old, follows her around. Earl says he can already tell the calf has a nice, thick, square rump — which consumers know better as the roast.
For 20 years, Earl managed Sunny Valley Farms in Yorkville, until he formed CK6 Consulting in 2008. The C stands for Chris, the K for his wife, Krista, and the 6 is for their six children. When Earl takes off the cowboy hat and puts on his trainer’s hat, it’s for the House of Speed in Sugar Grove, founded by former professional football player and Aurora Christian football coach Don Beebe.
Earl and Beebe played together for a while at Western Illinois University, although Beebe left after one year, and Earl finished his whole time there — playing five years of football and earning a degree in agriculture business.
Beebe finished his college at Chadron State in Nebraska.
Earl and Beebe are not only close friends, they are full, 50-50 partners in every business venture, athletic or cattle.
“Our goals are similar,” Earl says. “We wrote up a simple agreement, and that was that. I’m not worried about it.”
A life, not work
Sometimes, when Earl is evaluating a herd, he takes notes. But other times, he doesn’t. He admits that when in the field, he keeps an amazing amount of information in his head that he spews back at the mention of a simple tag number.
“My wife says I say tag numbers in my sleep,” he says, smiling. “But it’s something that I’m proud of.”
He writes off that ability to the fact that he enjoys what he does, both in the cattle business and training kids. In fact, he admits that the job itself is not the ultimate fulfillment he seeks.
A deeply religious man and active in his Catholic church, he says he’s working toward his dream of owning a ranch some day. Already, his oldest son, Trent, 22, helps with the training at the House of Speed. It’s just the beginning of the fulfillment of his dream. He considers both his interest in cattle and training his life.
“I want the kids there, the grandkids around,” says Earl.
With that, he’s back in his truck, thinking about the video he has to get in Hereford, Texas, for a sale in South Dakota.