Mark Lohrding generally selects smaller-framed and habitat-efficient cattle and yet his cattle feeding data shows they produce top-quality carcasses.
This is important to understand because some people these days have become confused about the feedability of grass-efficient cattle. Feeding data from the Lohrding Three Bar Ranch, however, shows that sort of negativity is a fallacy.
Lohrding's two competitive advantages on the ranch his family owns and manages west of Protection, Kansas, are grazing management and cattle selected for good fleshing ability and reproductive efficiency.
Early on his father, Arlie, recognized the value of managed grazing and began to implement it. Since Mark and his wife, Sindi, came back to the ranch 20 years ago they have doubled down on that aspect of management with more than 100 paddocks, more than five miles of water lines, and additional water points.
In addition, Lohrding has pressured the cattle to reproduce or leave the ranch while intentionally downsizing the frame size of their cattle. He describes their ranch plan as a low-cost operation trying to produce a high-value end product.
The genetics of the Lohrding cow herd comes primarily from semen and registered cows bought from Ohlde cattle company, along with semen and some bulls purchased from Pharo Cattle Company, Lohrding says.
"We have used Lowline bulls on our heifers for the last five years, and those heifer calves get a chance to stay in the herd," he adds. "We have slowly built up a registered cow herd and have now close to 100 registered cows and heifers that are used to raise our seedstock."
Lohrding says they produce the majority of their own bulls and also sell 20-30 bulls per year. Their registered cattle have increased enough he hopes that bull-sales number will rise as they ramp up their marketing to match. He adds that 2,000-pound bulls do not produce heifers that weigh 1,000-1,100 pounds at maturity.
"Most of our mature bulls weigh in the 1,600-pound-range and yet our steers at harvest still are at a desirable size," he says.
Before the bad Starbuck wildfire and drought that followed the next year, Lohrdings typically sold a fair number of prime-aged females each year. They expect to begin doing more of that once again as they are now fully stocked and still have their base genetics in place.
The Lohrdings calve in the spring, although they added some fall-calving cows to rebuild after the fire and drought. These are now mostly rolled into the regular calving season. Not long ago they targeted calving mostly in April and May, but are now calving primarily in May and June.
This is about wintering cows at the lowest cost, calving in the best body condition, and achieving a good breed-back.
"Bull turnout this year was July 11," Lohrding says. "Last three years we have turned out sometime during first two weeks of July. Along with having the best grass at turn-out time we are able to winter cows at a fraction of what it takes to winter cows that are calving in the winter."
May-June calving also allows the family to produce calves that are grass-cattle weight in February and March or feeder cattle weights by May. They say both these are desirable markets to target.
Frame size, of course, is not the ultimate arbiter of efficiency, Lohrding says. He has a few cows that are still taller and lankier than the majority and can make the reproductive cut. However, the smaller-framed cows generally have an unfair advantage from the standpoint from lower maintenance requirements and higher relative intake.
Lohrding adds that his heifers are his most valuable cull, partially because this is the prime time to sort out those unsuited and infertile in his system. Further, heifers that don't get pregnant still have relatively high value as feeder cattle. The rainfall and forage production determine whether all the heifers get a chance to get bred or whether it will be fewer than that.
As for weights, the Lohrding cattle tend to show the thicker, easier-fleshing body type that should be the norm for smaller-framed cattle. Lohrding says at preg check in the fall of 2018 they weighed 453 cows through the chute at the house. This did not include weights from bred heifers or some other cows that they did not preg check at the home place. They found 223 coming 3- and 4-year-old cows had an average weight of 983 pounds. They found 230 cows 5 years old or more had an average weight of 1,100 pounds. The average weight for all 453 was 1,065 pounds.
Here's a summary worth thinking about: The Lohrdings select for what many in the industry today would call "maternal" traits, which is essentially reproductivity. They do not breed "terminal" animals with feedlot performance in mind. Mark Lohrding says the greatest profit comes from a fully stocked ranch and cows that calve every year. However, the cattle they or their customers send to the feedlot grade extremely well.
The past two years he has shared feedlot carcass data from their cattle with Beef Producer. In 2018 a lot of 167 steers produced 93% Choice, 6% Prime and 1% Select carcasses. There were 5% yield grade 1, 44% yield grade 2, 39% yield grade 3. Only 11% were yield grade 4 and 1% were yield grade 5. They had an average hot carcass weight of 875 pounds.
In a 2017 lot of 105 steers, 88% were Choice, 4% were Prime and 8% were Select
In an April 2019 closeout on a set of 47 Lohrding heifers, 46 were ranked Choice or higher, with two Primes and one Select. There was only one animal with a yield grade of 4. All the rest were yield grades 2 and 3. They posted an average hot carcass weight of 764 and a hot yield of 63%.
True profitability is always measured as the difference between costs and income, but as far as maternal cattle being unsuited for feedlot duty, here's one more ranch proving history was right.