Peanut butter and jelly, peas and carrots, beer and football. Some things just go better together. Genetics and your program? It’s easy to get lost in the “bloodline of the month” chatter and forget that you will never know what genetics are best for you if a program is not outlined in writing. First, a couple of small case studies to prove my point.
Case study #1- Charolais on the high plains.
I grew up on my family’s ranch in northeast Wyoming. After attending a Dick Divens seminar in Gillette my father decided to change our calving from March to May. To be exact, our A.I. date was usually around May 23rd and the last of the bull breds came around the time we were watching for fires started by fireworks. This tilted the nutrition of these cows to where we could stockpile native range and graze out all winter with a protein supplement. This cow herd has been A.I.’d since the1970’s and until the late 1990’s was made of Red Angus and Tarentaise. The Tarentaise breed was getting hard to find genetics from so through chance basically we ended up replacing them with Charolais. Originally it was a cheap semen deal to get data back to a breeder and they would strictly be terminal. Well, dad needed “just a few extra heifers” so our journey into Charolais cross mother cows began. We heard it then and I hear it now “Charolais should be used for terminal use only”. Well, I don’t think that is so. Eventually we started using some Hoodoo genetics which did help with size a little but in general those cattle are bred to high growth Charolais. Here is the best part, since they are not pampered to the extreme the cow size is around 5.5 frame and 1250-1350 lbs. The biggest cows in the herd are actually angus. I don’t contribute this to genetics as much as I do epigenetics and the program. The heifer calves are not fed hay, just supplemented some protein while they graze through the winter. They calve at the same time as the cow herd and are expected to breed back in a tight window. This program forces these cattle to fit into the environment that is unlike any other that I know of running Charolais cross cows. And it works.
Case Study #2- You are what you eat
I recently was looking at bulls (imagine that) and came across an interesting anomaly. There were two groups of bulls intermingled at a feedlot. Both had similar genetics (in fact there were full sib ET matings in both groups) but had been fed post-weaning for 90-100 days separately. Group A were fed a grower diet with corn and forage. Group B were fed through a mixer wagon and were fed forage and distillers. Both had an excellent mineral package. After comingling, a few things were obvious. Group A was 70 lbs heavier. However, there was no difference in frame or muscle. I’ll let you fill in the blank. Also, the most astounding thing was how much sounder Group B was. Group A throughout were more labored in their movement off of their hind two legs. This is no university study but it’s not hard to draw the conclusion that diet directly affected soundness. Usually people point to bad feet from high starch, yet this wasn’t the case here. They really had not been fed that much corn. It was strictly an issue of freedom of movement.
So where does that leave us? Here is my quick and dirty guide of how to set up program parameters so you can more readily gauge the type and effectiveness of your genetics.
How much do you want to feed?- There are many things that go into this. Most people are short the land they require to run the number of cows they need to pay the bills. However, you need to take all of this into account. How much hay, the type of hay, the base forages you have, and your willingness to supplement. You need to stay a little flexible here to account for changes in weather and forage quality. Write down your realistic ideal year and start from there.
What are your production parameters? - I think this is where it gets a little blurred. I can say I want to feed no hay, wean 750 lb calves, and have 0% death loss. This is the management equivalent of betting all your money on Kenya winning the most gold medals at the winter Olympics. Be realistic. When are you going to market and what benchmark do you want to keep track of? Weaning weight? Pounds of weaning weight per cow exposed? Profit per acre? There is lots of flexibility here. You just need to realize that if you run cattle on the desert and want to wean 750 pound calves it is not realistic to say you aren’t going to supplement the cows and creep the calves.
3.Suffice to say this directly correlates to how much you want to feed and what an acceptable pregnancy percentage is. There are multiple ways to develop heifers, you just need to sit down and pick the right one for you. If high pregnancy percentage is important to you and you don’t mind feeding a bigger cow then feeding concentrates to grow your heifer calves is probably the way to go. If your operation is based on grazing then leaving the heifers on the mothers to better learn how to graze and going a little more Rick Funston in your design is going to be more beneficial. Same thing with the bulls you buy. If you run on irrigated grass and aren’t going to be afraid of feeding cattle then you need to buy bulls that have been performance tested.Management freebulls do you no good if they can’t pack on the pounds with the extra good feedyouown.
4.I hear all the time how ‘so and so’ doesn’t do this and I just can’t figure out how he’s making any money. Forget about it. ‘So and so’ will either sink or swim and it’s none of your business. Fortunately for you, you have some things you are really great at. Capitalize on your strengths and build your program around it. Ask yourself, honestly, the above questions and come to a conclusion that fits you best. This isn’t the dairy business. We don’t have cookie cutter environments and hallucinations of, bigger is better no matter the cost. Different is okay. Just own it and be comfortable with it.
If you have time to talk cows shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or give me a call at 402.310.5056.