A Case For Composites

Using Angus and Simmental genetics, the Andersons of Pilot Rock, OR, produce cattle that offer solid performance on grass, in the feedlot and on the rail.

With their ranch located near Pilot Rock in the rolling foothills of northeast Oregon's Blue Mountains, Terry and Debby Anderson had long sought cattle that performed in tough conditions. The area gets just 12-15 in. of annual precipitation, unrelenting hot winds out of the Columbia River Gorge and “has no green forage by July,” Terry says.

But that didn't deter Anderson Land & Livestock in its quest to produce high maternal-trait, rapid, early-growth cattle with top-notch carcass traits. To achieve that goal, Terry started an extensive artificial insemination (AI) program in the late 1970s to capitalize on the industry's best genetics. He turned to both Simmental and Angus AI sires to create his own composite.

“Angus is the industry leader, while Simmental adds cutability, increased capacity, muscling and hybrid vigor. It's that theory of 2+2=5, so to speak,” he says.

Terry grew up on this ranch, which his father started in the mid-1940s. He was often frustrated with cattle that “didn't hold up” in the rugged environment.

“We want our cowherd to convert dry feed to milk and superior calves. With EPDs [expected progeny differences] and better ways of evaluating performance, as well as AI and our blend of Angus and Simmental breeds, we've produced a herd that fits perfectly into our resource base and produces offspring with exceptional feedlot performance and carcass quality,” he says.

Best Of Both Worlds

The Andersons began changing their cattle by AIing their commercial Angus-based cows to Simmental sires. In country that traditionally weaned 500- to 600-lb. calves, they upped weaning weights by 200 lbs. at seven months of age.

By 1980, they'd built a herd of 1,200 Angus-Simmental cows and began offering SimAngus composite bulls for sale in 1990. As they built the program, Terry says the aim was to produce ½- or ¾-blood siblings in order to reduce variation in the calf crop.

“We've worked hard to match genetics to cow families to produce a uniform, moderate-framed herd that's easy fleshing and consistently produces incredible calves,” he says.

Today, the Anderson cowherd consists of a straightbred Angus herd and a composite SimAngus herd with varying individual combinations of SimAngus genetics from ⅞ Angus-⅛ Simmental to ¾ Simmental-¼ Angus.

The straightbred Angus herd allows them to offer clients highly predictable calving-ease Angus bulls designed specifically for breeding replacement heifers. These bulls all have three to four generations of high-accuracy, calving-ease Angus genetics.

“We also offer straightbred Angus bulls designed for use on our customers' composite herds to help them moderate various aspects of their herd management,” Terry says. The straightbred Angus herd is bred to Simmental sires for their second and subsequent calves to provide ½-blood females for the composite herd and bulls for their clients.

The composite herd is bred both to Angus and Simmental AI sires. The lower-percentage Simmental cows are bred back to Simmental while higher-percentage cows are bred to Angus.

Terry says another advantage of using composite SimAngus bulls is the resulting uniformity in birthweight and frame size of the progeny without a significant sacrifice in hybrid vigor.

“In cowherds with a varied breed and genetic make-up, the utilization of purebred Simmental herd sires can generate inconsistency in the offspring. We've found that SimAngus herd sires developed from planned matings of high-accuracy genetics can greatly reduce the first-generation variation,” he says.

Their focus on genetic balancing has positively impacted all phases of their management, Terry says.

“The hybrid vigor phenomenon — or, as we refer to it, ‘rapid, early growth’ — not only gave us significantly better performance through weaning, but allowed us to wean earlier,” he adds.

The calves can be weaned mid August to early September, go straight on feed and be ready for slaughter in February at 13-14 months of age.

“You can actually pick an end-marketing window where profitability can be protected and start the calves on feed to meet that window of opportunity,” Terry says.

The Andersons' genetic balancing has made their program widely recognized throughout the West. In 2002, they offered more than 250 purebred and composite bulls for sale by private treaty and in the March sale also broadcast via Superior Livestock.

Terry says, “This is a commercial cow operation with a very disciplined breeding plan based in a real ranch environment. From this foundation, came our bull program because we saw a need to offer producers composite bulls that can produce cattle that will perform on the range and in the feedlot.”

The End Result

And perform they do. Anderson calves average 93% Choice with 100% Yield Grade 1s and 2s as calf feds.

As further testament to the productivity and performance of the Anderson program, the Andersons recently sold 325 bred females to another Oregon cattleman, John Wilson of Wilson Cattle Co. He plans to use the commercial cows as a foundation to produce branded beef for the Oregon Country Beef (OCB) program, which sells to upscale retailers throughout the West.

The Andersons had planned a bred commercial cow sale, but Wilson heard of the opportunity and purchased the females private treaty. The Andersons have sold bulls to Wilson and other OCB cooperator herds for several years and have established a reputation for what their genetics can offer this branded program.

“OCB product must be managed antibiotic- and hormone-free from birth. It takes special genetics to be able to produce quality beef under those circumstances,” Wilson says. “Our OCB feedlots individually track thousands of calves and yearlings each year. Anderson bull program progeny have proven themselves year after year and only get better.”

ABS Global district manager Darrell Wilkes also compliments the Anderson's breeding program. “The key to this program is discipline. They use only the proven, top-end AI sires from the selected breeds and avoid the temptation to engage in an ‘experiment,’” Wilkes says.

He adds, “There's a reason every kernel of corn planted in this country is hybrid. It's the same reason every commercial market hog, chicken, turkey and even catfish are hybrids. The power of heterosis is enormous, but the benefits of crossbreeding can't overcome poor choices of purebred parental stock.

“Terry's done it right — pick the best bulls from the selected breeds and combine them into a package that meets the needs of the commercial cowman,” Wilkes adds.

Terry says, “Our breeding program is every bit as complex as a purebred operation; it takes a tremendous amount of planning. The difference is that we're not trying to develop the next great sire. We're trying to blend the most proven, highest accuracy sires together for the end product that suits the industry.

“Nobody builds one of these programs on their own. It's a huge teamwork effort with AI companies, commercial customers, feeders and packers. By working with them, we believe we've produced the kind of cattle that fit today's branded beef programs and retail market,” he adds.

Genex's Willie Altenburg says he's also impressed with the Anderson cowherd and their discipline in using proven AI sires. The result has been multi-generations of stacked genetics in the combination of Angus and Simmental breeds.

“The Andersons have the genetics to provide the commercial beef industry with combination genetics of Angus and Simmental that can take commercial producers to the next level of cow efficiency and improved feedlot and carcass performance,” Altenburg says.

Optomistic About The Future

“With alliances and branded beef programs continuing to develop, we believe our cattle are going to be in a strong position to meet the criteria for those programs and our customers,” Terry says.

The Andersons are currently working with Agri-Beef to assist producers who utilize Anderson Land & Livestock bulls in marketing their calves.

“We're very interested in feeding calves with genetics from Anderson bulls,” says Willie Bovard, marketing manager for the Moses Lake Division of Agri-Beef Feeders. “We've got an outlet for the type of cattle these genetics produce. And we encourage producers to retain ownership on these kind of calves because it returns more value to their bottom line as well,” Bovard says.

For more information about the Anderson's composite program, contact Terry Anderson at 541/443-9213.

Kindra Gordon is a freelance writer based in Spearfish, SD, and a former Managing Editor of BEEF magazine.

A Rigorous Program

Calving primarily takes place in January at Anderson Land & Livestock near Pilot Rock, OR.

“We have a very intense synchronization program so 90% of our calves are born within 30 days. We like to calve early to get more age on our yearling bull calves for our customers who turn bulls out in early spring,” reports Terry Anderson, who runs the operation with wife Debby.

Breeding season begins the last week of March when the co-synch protocol is used to synchronize the herd. With the co-synch system, the Andersons use a combination of timed breeding and heat detection to inseminate all cows during the first cycle, and follow up with heat detection 18 days later. Replacement heifers are synchronized using an MGA one-shot prostaglandin protocol followed by heat detection. Clean-up bulls go in with the herd in late April.

During summer months, the herd runs on mountain pastures at 3,000- to 4,000-ft. elevation in dry, rocky conditions. Calves are traditionally weaned by the first of September. Bull and heifer calves are backgrounded at a small feedlot.

“Our cattle are raised in very real ranch conditions, and we expect them to perform,” Terry says.

After weaning, bulls go on a high-roughage ration and no more than 5 lbs. of grain/day. Individual performance is followed closely. For their top sale offering, Andersons select calves with an actual 205-day weight of 650 lbs. or more, and a 205-day weight/day of age of 2.75 lbs. or more, a weaning weight of more than 700 lbs. The calves also must be above breed average for actual scrotal circumference, and meet acceptable physical and semen evaluations.

“We look at actual weights, not adjusted, because this is the real world. Nobody sells calves on adjusted weight,” Anderson says. “Bulls that meet our criteria are a true test of the efficiency of their mother. We don't tolerate any defects. Our cows must produce good, solid calves every year, or be culled.”

Don Peter, DVM, of Frontier Genetics at Hermiston, OR, has worked as the Andersons' veterinarian since 1997, and says he's seen the Anderson's commitment to quality, as well.

“Having the right kind of maternal base in their herd of commercial cows is a super start. They then use only the most proven sires from the Angus and Simmental breeds in their AI program,” Peter says. “The calves that result are early maturing. At 11-12 months of age, the bulls already have impressive scrotal measurements. And, by the time heifers are ready to breed at 15 months of age, most have experienced more than six cycles, which makes for great fertility rates.”

Looking ahead, the Andersons are excited about their direction. With 350 Angus daughters of New Design 036, Rock'n' D Ambush 1531, BBC Bushwacker 41-93, and CA Future Direction bred back to Simmental sires Lucky Roll, Lucky Strike and Nichols Black Destiny, they believe they've only scratched the surface of their herd's potential.

“After all, there's no upper limit to quality and performance,” Terry says.