Basic Blacks are Tim Ohlde's answer to restoring practicality to commercial cattle production.
It was in the mid-1980s that Tim Ohlde decided to counter the trend he saw sapping the profitability and competitiveness of U.S. commercial cattle production. The Kansas purebred producer was convinced that the widespread push for maximum production was coming at the expense of cost efficiency and profit.
"In the U.S., we forgot all about cow efficiency," Ohlde says. "Instead, we got caught up with gross weaning weight, gross pounds sold and bragging rights at the coffee shop. We forgot about the real profitable cow that can make us the most money."
That animal, Ohlde believes, is a moderate-sized (frame 5), high-volume, superior fleshing, structurally sound, fertile and long-lived female. She delivers light birthweight calves and rebreeds easily, all in a forage-based environment.
Ohlde Cattle Company consists of Tim, his wife Trudy and herdsman Clyde Mattson. They've spent the past 15 years developing seedstock to meet that philosophy. Today, the Palmer, KS, purebred operation offers that profile in three programs, all under the umbrella of what Ohlde calls "Basic Blacks." The three Angus and Angus-based programs include registered Angus, Angus II and Amerifax cattle.
* The base of the genetics in all three programs stem from 20 head of registered females Ohlde bought in the Rolling Rock dispersal of the mid-1980s. The purchase of the 1,200-1,300-lb. frame 4 to 5 cattle was the result of an exhaustive search to find the moderate frame-sized Angus base Ohlde felt the industry needed. Embryo transfer and continued line breeding have concentrated and accelerated the genetic contributions of this base in his herd.
An important milestone in his Angus program, Ohlde says, was the purchase in 1990 of one-third interest in DHD Traveler 6807. This bull, more than any other Angus bull, Ohlde says, "kick-started the trend back toward moderate-sized, thicker, more realistic cattle."
* Angus II is Ohlde's registered trademark for his composite of 7/8 or more Angus with a touch of Friesian influence. The Angus genetics are the same as in his purebred herd, while the infusion of Friesian genetics add more consistent fertility, performance, milk production and hybrid vigor, all at a more economical price, Ohlde says.
* Ohlde's Amerifax program is an Angus-Friesian cross, but again using moderate frame size and emphasizing maternal characteristics. Fifteen of Ohlde's best Angus cows were flushed and bred to semen from some of the top dual-purpose Friesian bulls from Europe. Some of those bulls had 10,000 offspring classified in 40 traits.
Backed By University Research As to the composite's functionality, Ohlde points to a five-year study conducted at Cal Poly University that found the Angus and Amerifax breeds to be similar in many traits including feedlot performance and carcass quality.
Moreover, while calves born to Amerifax-sired heifers had lighter birthweights and required a third less calving assistance than calves born to Angus-sired females, the calves from Amerifax-sired females had a 41-lb. advantage in actual weaning weight.
"I've never seen two breeds that click as a cross better than Angus and Friesian," Ohlde says. "The only real problem with Friesian is that they could use a little more hair. But they're gentle, fertile, and they flesh and grade. Angus adds some ruggedness so they can forage in rough conditions."
Strong Foreign Interest Today, Ohlde's Basic Blacks can be found throughout the U.S. Initially, he says his largest market was overseas, particularly in Brazil, Argentina and Australia.
"My Argentine customers tell me that to survive they need a cow that weighs 1,000-1,100 lbs., brings in a 500-lb. calf, and does it every year for 15 years, all on grass," Ohlde says. "Not everyone in Argentina operates that way, but those traits are a must for progressive Argentines because they operate in a market of 22- to 35 cents calves. Restrictions have held them back so far, but it's that kind of control of their inputs that will make Argentina such a tough competitor in the future."
Due to the American preoccupation with gross production, Ohlde says domestic acceptance of his program of moderate-frame cattle developed more slowly. His Amerifax program has also had to battle a common skepticism to dual-purpose Friesian, which Ohlde says many American producers see as synonymous with Holsteins.
Cutting Feed Isn't The Only Answer "A lot of Americans think our cattle need more frame, but foreigners have always just gone nuts over them. In the U.S., all we talk about is increasing production. Now, I think we're going to get into what the Argentines and other foreign producers have been into for some time. We've got to cut costs and that means figuring out how to cut inputs on these cows."
Ohlde says the dialog on cost cutting usually revolves around cutting feed, but that's a counterproductive move if the cattle don't have the genetics to produce on a lower plane of nutrition. "You might save money by feeding less, but if the cows' needs aren't being met you could end up losing more than you gain," Ohlde says.
He admits he was once also a disciple of maximum production. Though he was concerned about cow size, he figured larger females were just part of the price. And, that price could be significant. With that larger-framed herd, Ohlde says he routinely grew his replacement heifers on 2-3 lbs. of grain per day. Today, grain feeding doesn't exist for his heifer replacements.
"We'll come in with a little less yearling weight in the spring, maybe 100 lbs., but we ultimately get more production out of them - they breed back more quickly, ultimately milk better and they'll gain 100 lbs. more on grass," Ohlde says. "So, when they come off grass at 18 to 20 months as bred heifers, they actually weigh the same as heifers developed on grain but their cost factor is so much less because they've done it all on forage."
On a per-cow basis, Ohlde says he's putting just half the supplemental feed through his cows that he did 10 years ago without a loss in production. "We've taken about 200 lbs. off our cow size and still not lost production on the calf," he says.
Europe And The Northern Plains Ohlde's first glimpse at the remedy for the problems he saw resulting from the selection emphasis for size came during his tenure in the late 1970s as a manager and partner in Beef Genetics Research, a beef research and seedstock company. In a handful of Angus test herds on the Northern Plains, he'd seen some impressive moderate-framed cows. In Europe, he was intrigued by the complementary attributes of the dual-purpose Friesians.
When he went looking to buy some of those Angus cows he'd seen a decade before, they'd also been bred up in size. That's when he encountered the Rolling Rock cattle. "We found more good cows in that herd than we did going through 4,000 cows in 10 other herds," Ohlde says.
His number one preoccupation is efficient, fertile females. He says, "I want to sell bulls that will raise good cows, period. I'm not a carcass fanatic. I'm not a weight-per-day-of-age fanatic. It's easy to produce a good steak; just put Angus in them. Where I see my calling is doing something to fill the industry need for good cows."
Satisfied Customers That sentiment is echoed by Ohlde's clients. Among them is Gerald Stokka, a Kansas State University assistant professor and Extension beef veterinarian. Stokka and his brother Murray run 120 breeding females in a ranching and farming enterprise in Cooperstown, ND.
The herd is predominantly Amerifax, but also includes some Angus. The Stokkas have been using Ohlde's Amerifax bulls exclusively for the past 6-7 years.
"We pay attention to growth and birthweight," says Gerald, "but our biggest thing in looking at a bull is determining what his daughters will be like. How will they function and how will they perform in the herd?
"Your cattle can jump a full frame score or more in just one generation if you're not careful. Ours had gotten to about a 7 and we wanted to moderate it to put more efficiency into our cows."
Today, Gerald says, the herd is predominantly a frame score 5 without having given up any growth. Calves are born in April and weaned in October. Weaning weights are typically about 550 lbs., birthweights are 80-85 lbs.
"Our efficiency has really improved," Gerald adds. "But, it's not just frame size that dictates efficiency. It's how they're put together. Deep-bodied cows with a lot of volume - that's another criteria that I look for in the bulls I buy and the cows I want to raise."