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How do you find balance in your genetics? 4 commercial ranches share tips

Developing a profitable herd is a balancing act. Here’s how four successful beef producers do it.

Burt Rutherford

July 11, 2019

5 Min Read
Cow Calf Pair

Among the many excellent presentations at the recent Beef Improvement Federation (BIF) meeting in Brookings, S.D. was a panel of commercial beef producers who discussed how they use genetics to improve their cow herd. Here are excerpts from their comments:

John Moes, Moes Feedlot, Watertown, S.D.  The Moes operation includes a 350-head cow herd, 80 replacement heifers and a 2,000 head feedlot. They started using artificial insemination with their heifers 25 years ago and now AI their entire herd.

“We started synchronizing heifers because it was the easiest thing to do,” Moes told the nearly 500 people in attendance at the BIF meeting. “Now we synchronize everything.”

When they began AIing heifers, they used growth bulls. “What we found once we started marketing our own calves six, seven years ago (when they built the feedlot), we started seeing that there were certain bulls, when we got individual carcass data back on them, we weren‘t getting the marbling, we weren’t getting the Prime and Choice CABs.

So they started looking for marbling as well as maternal traits for longevity in the cow herd. “We’re 90% Choice or better, right at 50% CAB, and it’s all because of the genetics.”

Tylor Braden, area manager, cattle operations for the King Ranch  Braden oversees the day-to-day management of the cattle operations on the historic King Ranch in South Texas, which encompasses 825,000 acres in four different locations, a 1,500-head purebred Santa Gertrudis herd, 23,000 commercial cows and a 16,000 head feedyard.

Related:BIF names seedstock, commercial award winners

“The impetus of our purebred program is to create our own seedstock bulls for our commercial cattle operation. We breed our purebred herd to primarily Red Angus to create an F1 bull to then go out on our commercial cows, which we call the Super Cruz,” he said.

Santa Gertrudis cattle are inherently growthy, so the ranch focuses on carcass traits and stayability. “Our carcass grading has dramatically improved over the last decade. And so what we feel is the biggest area of opportunity is extending the stayability of our commercial cows.”

He told the gathering that he’d like to report that their average cow age was eight, nine years old. “But the truth is we're in the five, six, age range. And so that's a huge area of focus for us in our operation.

“Also, I think the biggest area of opportunity for most cattleman to add value is from a heterozygosity standpoint. And so, within the confines of logistical challenges, we focus on trying to maximize the heterozygosity in our breeding program.”

Related:When parentage testing pays for your commercial operation

John Maddux, Wauneta, Neb. The Maddux operation runs 2,500 composite cows with a breed makeup of 3/8 Red Angus, ¼ Tarentaise, and 1/8 each of South Devon, Devon and Red Pole. “We are stressing fitness and convenience traits and not putting pressure and focus on the production traits,“ he said.

“Udders are very important. Docility, fleshing ability, calving ease, mothering ability.” Those are the traits they stress. “And it all revolves around our philosophy that if you could draw a perfect profit function, or a cow, it is heavily, heavily driven by the ability of that cow to raise a calf.”

That’s not to say that the calves are not growthy. “The steer calves are not well suited as calf feds, but they make an excellent steer to go to grass the following year,” he said. They’ll sell yearlings this September that will weigh 925 to 950 pounds. “So they’re not no growth, but certainly moderate growth.”

That stems from their ideas about cow size. Their cows will weigh around 1,100 pounds. “Basic economics says if you're in a business like ranching, that is a high overhead business, the way you attack that high overhead business is you try to run as many widgets through that business as possible and spread those high fixed costs on as many animals, as many widgets, as possible,” he said.

“And so we feel like having those moderate sized cows allows us to run more widgets, to have more numbers. And I think that it's really been proven that stocking rate is one of the key drivers to profitability. And we feel like we can increase our numbers and run more cows by focusing more on these fitness and convenience traits and not trying to maximize growth, milk, all those other traits that are antagonistic to the most important trait, which is fertility.”

Trey Patterson, general manager, Padlock Ranch, Ranchester, Wyo. Padlock Ranch is a family owned, commercial cow-calf, feedlot and farming operation.

The cows in the Padlock operation have to make a living on their own, with modest supplementation and feeding at strategic times. That’s weather dependent, “But we do ask those cows to make a living on native grass,” he said. “We are selecting our own replacement heifers, so maternal traits become very important to us as we’re watching genetics evolve over time.”

Cows and heifers calve later in the spring and summer, and the calves go on a sileage-based ration in the feedlot. “We’re making yearlings out of them with the corn silage diets and retaining ownership on some of those (finishing to harvest) and selling some of them. The retained ownership programs we’ve been a part of our quality grade based, so we’re very in tune with carcass quality, marbling in the cattle and growth in the feedlot.”

But when selecting their replacement heifers, they have to balance traits. “It’s finding that balance with the maternal traits to allow us to continue to accomplish what we want to do outside the feeding sector and the extensive system that the cows have to be able to fit into.”

And that’s a balancing act beyond just genetics. “If you look at anything from a singular standpoint, you’re missing another aspect,” he said. “And so being able to put a system together where we can obtain the heterosis that we want, the maternal traits that we want, the growth and carcass traits that we want, but not have to give up what we need to do to manage our rangeland and our labor and our costs. All have to come together.”

About the Author(s)

Burt Rutherford

Senior Editor, BEEF Magazine

Burt Rutherford is director of content and senior editor of BEEF. He has nearly 40 years’ experience communicating about the beef industry. A Colorado native and graduate of Colorado State University with a degree in agricultural journalism, he now works from his home base in Colorado. He worked as communications director for the North American Limousin Foundation and editor of the Western Livestock Journal before spending 21 years as communications director for the Texas Cattle Feeders Association. He works to keep BEEF readers informed of trends and production practices to bolster the bottom line.

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