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Range-Raised Genetics

In breeding replacement females, this sprawling Western cow outfit keeps an eye on highly heritable traits for prospering on the range.

The Padlock Ranch wants to help you fit into your genes. Joining a growing legion of ranches producing replacement cattle, the Padlock is stamping out its own brand of range-raised genetics with a focus on hybrid vigor.

“The basis of our crossbreeding program is to pass on the maternal characteristics of the cow herd — producing cattle with a well-balanced blend of milk production and moderate frame size without compromising yield and grade,” says Wayne Fahsholtz, Ranch-ester, WY. Fahsholtz is president/CEO of the Padlock Ranch.

The Padlock, at 13,500 cows, is listed as the nation's eighth largest cow-calf operation.

Whether a rancher is small or large, in an alliance or just shooting for a terminal cross for the commodity beef markets, Fahsholtz says the Padlock program can supply females with longevity and efficiency.

“Our bulls come out of a herd of ‘super cows’ that have had a calf every year up to nine years,” explains Fahsholtz. “We're confident that the females we pick for replacements are able to pass along, among other traits, their longevity.”

The efficiency key, first and foremost, comes in the form of heterosis — or hybrid vigor. Fahsholtz says the best way to achieve maximum heterosis is to bring new breeds and bloodlines into an existing base herd.

“Gaining maximum heterosis should be the single most important production consideration of any cow outfit,” he explains. “This means crossbreeding.”

Research conducted at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center, Clay Center, NE, shows composites offer the best way to maintain hybrid vigor on a consistent basis, he adds.

The Padlock began a crossbreeding program in the late 1950s by breeding Angus bulls to Hereford cows. Since the early 1970s, the focus has been on producing British crossbred females with a high level of maternal characteristics. In the late 1970s, Shorthorn bulls were imported from Canada and the ranch developed a Red Angus, Polled Hereford and Shorthorn three-way, rotational crossbreeding system.

Composite Breeding In Place

Composite breeding not only maximizes heterosis, it eliminates the need to manage three herds necessary for the crossbreeding system. The ranch is currently tweaking its composite breeding program to emphasize black-hided cattle. In addition to the traditional Padlock Red Composites, black composite bulls have been brought into the herd from Leachman Cattle Co., Billings, MT, and Shugert Farms, Lore City, OH.

“Composite breeding allows us to maintain the level of heterosis needed for cattle to thrive in our environment,” says Fahsholtz. “And, the market is demanding black calves from moderate-sized cows.” The composition will be ⅜ Angus, ¼ Shorthorn, ¼ Tarentaise or Gelbvieh and ⅛ Polled Hereford.

Annually, 100 to 125 bulls are selected from a pool of 550 to 600 herd sire candidates. They are put to the test in the feedlot and evaluated for growth performance, soundness, fertility and ultrasound carcass traits. The selected bulls are then used on the cow herd.

“All the calves are weaned in our feedlot,” adds Fahsholtz. “Heifer calves are weaned and backgrounded on high roughage rations. They're tested for gain and scored for frame size and muscling, then sorted into three phenotypic groups.”

The heifer groups are then artificially inseminated, summered on native range and pregnancy checked in the fall.

Since 1996, Padlock has range-calved its first-calf heifers rather than using calving sheds. The heifers are bred to small-frame bulls and planned to calve the first week of April. Fahsholtz says range calving produces better mothers.

Bred Females For Sale

The Padlock Ranch annually offers approximately 1,500 of its bred three-year-olds for sale.

“These young cows have successfully given birth to their first calf in range conditions and are pregnant with their second,” he says. “They're ideal for ranchers trying to manage the expense of developing and calving first-calf heifers. We're especially interested in entering into long-term relationships with terminal cross breeders.” Historical feeding and carcass data are available upon request.

Fahsholtz says he'll sit down with a prospective buyer and pencil the costs of buying replacements.

“Most times, we find that a ranch with fewer than 500 head can buy replacement females for less than what it costs to raise them at home,” he says. “We're finding that ranchers more and more are recognizing they don't need to raise their own replacements as long as they can find a reliable source of breeding cattle.”

For more information contact Fahsholtz at or 307/655-2264.