What Are You Reading?

When I was growing up I hated to read. I thought it was boring and a complete waste of time. I did like a good ‘choose your own ending’ book, however. Recently, I have picked up the habit of reading again. Reading as an adult is a lot different. My perspective for the world and my surroundings influences what I read and how I interpret things.

Like so many, social media platforms like Facebook are very popular. Many of my friends are fellow cattlemen. I enjoy seeing their families and reading about their challenges from around the country. However, I really can’t get my head around the problems some ranchers are having with 1) conception/preg rates, 2) end product emphasis as it relates to maternal ability and 3) feet.

Here at CAM, I suppose we take a very simple approach. The cows must work for us and provide income. Cows that are problems don’t stay in the herd and go to town. It is imperative cows breed and have a calf every year. If we are using genetics that negatively impact fertility and do not promote our bottom line, we simply stop using them. Again, reproductive efficiency is the foundation for every herd in America and CAM Ranches is no different.

This brings me to the second point. At CAM Ranches, concentration on end product traits is paramount to our customer’s success. Cows must still be cows and we do not keep cows around that cannot function in our environment. Dr. Scott Greiner, Virginia Tech, will tell you, unequivocally, that improved carcass traits are not detrimental to a cow’s ability to conceive and raise a calf. In popular press and social media we see the term “maternal” bantered about quite regularly. Maternal can be construed to mean several things. For the production herd, maternal ability is displayed as how well the cow will protect and raise her calf within a given environment. Maternal can also mean moderate and big bodied to the folks that prefer phenotype over everything else.

Foot structure in Angus cattle is a hot topic. Frankly, bad feet are in every line of Angus cattle and have been documented back several generations. It’s not that hard to fathom as we, like so many others, depend on genomics to provide much needed predictability in cattle long before they ever have any actual progeny. We use sires that excel, genomically, for traits of merit. Long story short, if you keep narrowing the population in an effort to predictably produce cattle that hit multiple targets you will get some instances of bad genes rearing their ugly head.

Tying this all together, why can’t producers learn to read data, objectively use it and cull like the previous generation instructed? It’s really that simple. If the cattle don’t fit your environment, don’t use them. I recently got closeout data for 32 steers sold in May. These steers were sired by young bulls such as GAR 100X, GAR Prophecy and GAR Daydream. Proven sires included GAR Prophet, GAR Sunrise, GAR Sure Fire and GAR Advance. These steers were 15 months old, out weight of 1450, 64% dress, 46% Prime, with the balance being mid-Choice or better. These numbers are what I find fun to read. It’s time we all embrace the fact cattle will be consumed eventually. Not concentrating on what you can control (i.e., high heritability associated with carcass traits) will not help your customers make money. Even if cattle sell at weaning, not breeding these cattle for improved carcass merit is like quitting a football game in the third quarter. Somebody will feed them, somebody will consume them. Let’s make sure the experience is grand and we continue to grow our market share while simultaneously concentrating on maternal, good-footed cattle.

Feast or Famine

“Feast or famine” pretty well describes our current weather pattern. We’ve been fortunate, as of late, to receive some timely rains. The overseeded pastures are beginning to spring to life. As long as old man winter isn’t too brutal, we should be okay through the winter with available hay stores on hand.

This time of year is always fun, both professionally and personally. Personally, we really enjoy the Christmas season watching the world through the eyes of our children. They see the best in everyone. They can’t contain their excitement and are beginning to understand that giving is as much fun as receiving.

Professionally, this is breeding season on the ranch. This is the time that sets the path for the next 2-3 years and, hopefully, beyond. Visitors to the ranch typically inquire about how we select sires and why we do what we do. Our operation is no different than most really. We always strive to produce what our customers demand. In our scenario this can be two quite diverse groups.

We try to identify 5-7 sires each year that we think will cross good on our heifers and cows. In this group will be two young sires that aren’t all that proven. The remaining bulls will be sires with actual progeny performance records and carcass information. I was asked the question the other day, “what is proven”? Proven, to us, is a sire with approximately 30 carcass records. Notice, we do not concentrate on birth, weaning or yearling information as most of the sires selected come from documented, progeny proven pedigrees that excel for growth performance. Further, the American Angus Association has thousands of growth performance phenotypes available to train the genomic panels responsible for genomically-enhanced EPDs. Not so with carcass traits. Frankly, there aren’t enough bulls in the breed that have documented carcass data. We strictly use young sires that are sired by bulls with a desired number of carcass progeny to help give our customers a reasonable chance to be successful. The proven bulls simply keep us on the right path. We demand CED over 10, with marbling and ribeye over 1.00 in most instances. We like all the growth we can get, just as long as we don’t make our cows too big. We follow feed efficiency, but in reality those traits are in their infancy (i.e. not enough actual phenotypic measurements to put faith in genomic markers associated with residual average daily gain and dry matter intake). We don’t chase extremes, rather, we intend to keep cattle middle of the road until we have better information. Oftentimes, super high $Beef bulls are the result of extremely high carcass weight and residual average daily gain. We don’t use most of these sires as they don’t have documented progeny performance through the feedlot phase.

We sell our females in Wadley, Georgia, with Ogeechee Angus Farm on the second Saturday in April. In the southeastern U.S., producers want a functional cow with a little extra milk. They still demand a cow “look the part.” Longevity, structural correctness, udder quality and docility will never go out of style. The females we generate cover these bases or don’t stay around very long. They also excel for end product traits as documented by pedigree proven feedlot performance and carcass merit in the sires we use.

Our bulls are sold through three sales at Gardiner Angus Ranch (GAR) in Kansas. Given the geographical and cultural differences from the southeast, the clientele present at these sales often have different preferences as well. Thankfully, having spent a large portion of my life in Oklahoma, we have a bit of insight to this varying viewpoint. Bull customers in the west depend on calving ease direct (CED), growth, and end product merit. Ranches here are big and labor is not plentiful. Ranchers depend on the bulls to sire optimum sized calves that are born without assistance. The trick is to balance these growth traits with impeccable end product merit. Currently, 70% of fed cattle grade USDA Choice. I would venture to guess that customers at GAR were at that level several years ago. They want more every year as many depend on retained ownership premiums to add additional value. They demand we push the envelope on calving ease and end product traits, while simultaneously creating cattle that have longevity and maternal ability.

We enjoy servicing all our customers and helping in any way we can. If we can ever be of service to you please don’t hesitate to contact us or schedule a visit. The response we’ve seen for CAM Nutrition has been overwhelming. For this we are grateful. We can always be reached through our website or on our cell phones.


Man It’s Dry!

“Man, its dry!” As I talk to fellow ranchers, this seems to be the common theme. Growing up I always heard Dad describe our current conditions as “drier than a popcorn fart” (again, his words, not mine). These words come back to me as my boots crunch through my barren pasture. I, too, have concerns, but try to remind myself that times like these will make us all better managers.

When I was little, I was around some very “colorful” people. I remember an old rancher named Rex Lawler in Orlando, Oklahoma. He smoked like a train and only drank black coffee as I remember. He raised Hereford cattle and was dang stubborn about changing. They had a great set of cows they eventually turned Angus bulls on (another blog for the future). My point is he was the walking definition of hard-headed. To manage cattle through a drought with winter staring you in the face, we must be stubborn; we should all stick to our guns and do what we know to be correct. Pastures may not get overseeded this year. Hay will be short for most producers. So the real question is, ”How do we stretch our resources as far as we can while still producing a desirable, healthy calf?” First and foremost, accurate and simplified supplementation is usually the best mode of action for a cow to stay productive.

Now for a bit of science. Cows have nutritional needs based on metabolic demand. Nutrition should include the basic needs of protein, energy and vitamin/mineral status. Academic careers have been devoted solely to these topics. Simply put, all three nutritional categories need to be provided based on stage of gestation, level of production and general environmental concerns. Typically, cows should be supplemented with protein, assuming plenty of forage is available for them to digest. In our current drought situation, forage quality will be a concern and limited in some areas, especially in late winter. Strategic supplementation of by-product feeds to help control cost will be essential. I’m very lucky to have my father feed cows daily. Good or bad, he tells me about cow groups and what he feels we need to adjust. By accurately and objectively evaluating body condition score (BCS), cow herd supplementation can be adjusted. If you aren’t comfortable evaluating BCS, take a trip to your neighbor’s place and see how your cows stack up.

At CAM Ranches, we take a very hands-on approach and develop our supplementation strategy prior to calving. Like everyone else we routinely worry about first-calf heifers. If we do a good job with them we feel as though the rest of the cow herd will be fine. The goal is to provide an increasing plane of nutrition for at least 45 days prior to breeding and attempt to maintain this supplementation through the breeding period. By not deviating, producers can expect a tighter calving window and generally bigger, healthier calves that will wean off easier.

I’ve had the privilege of meeting many producers around the southeast in my travels. Interestingly, my major professor always thought of mineral as “rocks” and I tended to agree. We now recognize that mineral nutrition has a very important impact on not only this calf crop, but also for the gestating calf. Many questions concerning an economical mineral program dominate most conversations. There isn’t a silver bullet approach unfortunately, especially given the current economic outlook! Vitamin/mineral status is very important to insure optimal cow herd fertility, vaccine efficacy and reduced morbidity of calf crop. We always advocate for a breeder type mineral that will provide heightened levels of phosphorus, zinc, manganese, copper and cobalt via organic sources, especially in times of stress (i.e., drought, reduced forage quality, winter, etc.). We are careful to also supplement sulfates and oxides in the right proportion as ruminal microbes have a requirement for inorganic minerals to help them do their job.  After breeding we transition to more of an all-purpose product for our gestating cows that we use through spring and summer. The real key is to implement a mineral supplementation strategy to balance feedstuffs and forages year round, while also keeping your banker happy!

Thanks for reading our inaugural blog for CAM Ranches. If we can ever be of service to you please don’t hesitate to contact us or schedule a visit. We can always be reached through our website or on either of our cell phones. They’re always on… just ask my wife.