WR WEEKLY NEWS

2018 Kawasaki Mule PRO-FXR

Howdy readers, Mark here.  This past September 26 I had the awesome experience of visiting coastal California’s famous Hearst Ranch, and it was incredible. I could go off on a whole other story about it, but we are here to introduce this good-looking machine.

This was the first time the ranch management has allowed anybody on the private property, which was an honor especially to be doing an event of this magnitude. We toured miles of the outfit, high and low, on a virgin off-road trail, which was quite difficult in places and put the PRO-FXR through its paces, for sure. As you can see, this isn’t your typical old workhorse; Kawasaki has kinda taken after the modern truck market with the sporty aggressive look. It might not be everybody’s cup of tea but if you got the extra bucks and want to look good while you do your chores this is right up your alley. 

It basically drives like a car, only turns it on a dime; it’s quiet, and has plenty of power with an 812cc 3-banger. The PRO-FXR has awesome downhill engine braking, and shifting into 4X can be done below 12 mph, which is definitely nice. The high output alternator gives you the juice to run all kinds of accessories that Kawasaki manufactures, from light bars to a Bluetooth sound system.  You might need that winch out on the ranch, too.

Towing capacity is literally a ton off a standard 2-inch hitch receiver, with a 1/2-ton carrying capacity in the steel dump bed.  There is an automatic 1/2-ton bed dumper accessory – just a flick of a switch. They also offer over 40 accessories!  I could go on and on but basically I just had a blast driving this awesome machine all over the Hearst Ranch and witnessing the astounding views.  I would absolutely recommend this Side x Side to anybody who likes to ride in style, work hard and have fun doin’ it…out.

 

 

BRD-Back to the basics

Great advice for Fall Run

By Tim O’Byrne

Photo by Valerie Johnson

I know…it’s Fall Run…you really don’t have time to have your nose stuck in a Working Ranch magazine right now.  I mean, look around.  There’s a lot to do.  What if somebody caught you?  Ahhh, just tell ‘em you’re getting ‘inspired’ to improve your animal health management practices, or better yet, you’re getting ‘educated’.

It is our duty here at WR to root out dependable sources of valuable information, and one of my favorites is Dr. Jim Sears, Senior Technical Services Veterinarian with Bayer Animal Health.  He’s the kind of veterinarian that I would enjoy shadowing on his comprehensive travels of the beef producing countryside.  Dr. Sears is my kind of guy when it comes to cattle…he makes plenty of field visits, observes, questions, and takes note of what’s actually going on out there.  When I asked him recently to give us some advice on how to get a handle on BRD this fall, I hit the jackpot.

“I would start with the basics and work down from there,” Dr. Sears suggested calmly, his voice reflecting confidence and insight borne of decades of keen industry involvement. “To me, that means being prepared with your facilities, maintaining the herd’s nutritional needs and having a clear strategy on what you plan to do and what you may need to do,” he adds.  

I wondered if he was going to suggest scribbling something down on a surface other than a wore-out leather glove.  Indeed, he did.  “Have those plans ready so you’re not scrambling at the last minute.”

Special care area

Dr. Sears makes a good point about getting the handling facilities squared away (which is probably where you were headed before you got all engrossed in WR magazine).  Every set of working pens has a gate that needs rehung, or a chute that needs greasing, or a drug room that needs cleaning (or a fridge that needs to be replaced…c’mon, thirty years of service is enough, already).  We got to visiting about a strategy for handling a bad BRD break.

“You sometimes end up with more sick calves needing special attention than maybe you were planning for, and it becomes important to have a hospital or special care area ready to go.” Dr Sears considers.

At this point, I asked whether it was a good idea if we should maybe pull the sick calves off the hay meadow, treat them and segregate them on a different water supply and away from the big bunch for a few days in order to minimize disease transmission.

“There’s a lot of good points to that,” he ponders, “but it depends ultimately, and heavily, I believe, upon an assessment of what the needs of the calves are and where the least stressful place for the calf will be.”

So, the debate is 1) take that calf away from his buddies, off the pasture and pen him on a dry diet with others in varying stages of BRD affliction, or 2) treat them as efficiently as possible and get them back to the bunch.  What to do…?  

“I’ve met plenty of producers who, when they identify a case of BRD early, they handle them very slow and stress-free in order to get them doctored,” Dr. Sears shares.  “Then, they turn them right back out with the rest of the calves, which would not accomplish the traditional approach of separation of those calves. You have to guard against short-changing those particular [segregated] calves in too small of a pen, or one that’s not dry enough.”

I’m beginning to lean more towards early pulls (I’m talking ‘the day before they get sick’ early, which is an art form unto itself we intend to discuss at great length in a future issue), low-stress treatment, then getting them back out with their buddies to avoid a rumen upset caused by penning them on dry feed, then kicking them back out on irrigated pasture or fall grass four days later.  Hmmm….lots to consider.

Low Stress for Success

If you’ve been reading WR for any length of time, or if you tune in to our WR Radio Show, you’ll know that we promote Beef Quality Assurance and low-stress cattle (and crew) handling relentlessly.  Dr. Sears agrees wholeheartedly that calm actions should be a cornerstone of a successful management strategy.

“Have your facilities and the processes and interaction with your calves, have them conditioned so that you can get them in and get your hands on them [for treatment] without riling up the whole herd,” Dr. Sears advises.  “Low stress handling is one of those things that’s hard to attach a dollar figure to, but in the big picture it’s hard to deny that when you have that practice in place and those calves are easy to handle, you can easily get them into a facility for treatment without stressing them out too much, it’s just got to be a benefit.”

It’s all coming together for me now.  Dr. Sears is recommending we start with the basics; good facilities, good nutrition, and good low-stress livestock handling.  

“I think a really big principle is to consider where the primary stressors are, or may be, on your cattle and do what you can through husbandry and management practices to reduce, minimize or eliminate those stresses the best you can.”  Hence the recommendation to make a list or a cheat sheet so you don’t forget or be forced to rethink it.

Dosage Dilemma

My next question for Dr. Sears was, “How important is calculating dosage?”

“Very important.  The main thing is to not underdose,” he explains.  “That advice would be true for pretty much every kind of product you might think of, particularly with parasite products, as an example. In this case I would dose for the largest calf in the bunch.”

Temperature Trap

Having spent several years in the feedyard, I had one final question for Dr. Sears while I had him on the line.  I had worked with hospital crewmembers who seemed to be hung up on high temps (in my day it was generally anything over 104.5; probably lower today) as the benchmark for making the decision to treat a pull, but I was not convinced.  I had witnessed several excellent pen checkers who would keep an especially watchful eye out for the low temps that weren’t doing good, the 101’s, rationalizing that their fever had broken and they were downsliding in a dangerous direction.

“You’re correct,” he states.  “That [a high temperature] is at least one objective measurement we can take to try to assess the health status of a calf.  It’s certainly valid.  But you can have calves that have all the other signs – depression, off feed, not feeling good for some reason, maybe breathing hard, but still don’t really have an elevated temperature.  There’s not a standard answer there, you have to be careful.  You can have a calf that is sick with a bacterial pneumonia that has gone past the point of a high temperature.  A lot of it is the clinical assessment that is provided and then just watching the results, the response and hopefully the positive change, and be ready to adjust if you need to.”

I am grateful for dedicated and field-savvy veterinarians like Dr. Sears who give unselfishly to further the advancement of sustainable animal husbandry in this country.  In our short phone conversation he taught me this valuable lesson – it is important to remember that stress or multiple stresses can add up –  that is the root of most disease.  Reduce those stresses instead of allowing them to become cumulative.

Angus Gene Reboot

A journey through the “dark early years” delivers producers to solid genetic ground

Genetic defects are a fact of life. We are fortunate today to have technology available that makes a defect manageable instead of potentially debilitating to business the way it was just a few decades ago. But no matter how fancy the DNA tests get, managing genetic conditions successfully takes transparency, time, and thought. Over the last several years, the American Angus Association (AAA) has updated the protocols on several genetic conditions that have been discovered, allowing their members and clients to continue to improve Angus genetics.

“All breeds of beef and dairy cattle have identified recessive genetic conditions,” explains Dr. Dan Moser, President of Angus Genetics Inc. (AGI), owned by the AAA.  “Some, dwarfism for example, were identified in the 1950s, long before genetic testing was available. In order to identify carriers the suspect pedigrees had to be strategically bred and it just took too much time and too much money to test through designed matings.”

Prior to joining AGI, Dr. Moser was an animal science professor at KSU. While he wasn’t with AGI when some of the early genetic defects were identified and protocol changes were made, he saw first hand the implications with the Kansas State cattle herd.

“Since DNA testing is now available, when recessive genetic conditions are identified in Angus and other cattle breeds we can use genomics to locate the causal mutation,” he explains.  “We test potential carrier animals and find those free of the condition that will transmit the positive aspects of their ancestors.”

The AAA policies evolved with time and information. The requirement of testing may also depend on if a defect is lethal or not. Testing is required for registration for recessive conditions that are lethal to the affected progeny, like Arthrogryposis Multiplex (AM, sometimes called Curly Calf). Arthrogryposis Multiplex was first recognized in 2008. After the AM discovery, rather than cancelling or suspending the registration of AM carrier females and bulls, the AAA required that their offspring born before December 31, 2009 be DNA-tested for the AM gene and results of the carrier status would then be noted on their registration and performance pedigree certificates.

Today, heifers have to be tested but can be registered no matter the outcome. Bulls, however, can only be registered if they test AM free. Steers don’t require testing, while calves from AI carrier bulls may be registered if they were conceived less than 60 days from the time the bull was identified as a carrier. The policy is less aggressive for a non-lethal condition like Oculocutaneous Hypopigmentation (OH, or White Eye). The AAA provides detailed information about each defect as well as guidance for breeding and management. The carrier status potential carrier status is clearly noted for every animal so they can be managed appropriately.

The testing and grace period allowed Angus breeders to identify the affected animals so that they could be strategically bred to have calves that test free of the AM gene—therefore keeping the quality genetics of their parents without passing on the problem genes.   

“The Association offers education; we clearly identify carriers and potential carriers and promote transparency so that our members and their customers can be confident,” Dr. Moser reassures. “Our customer service representatives do a great job working with members and helping them understand how to breed the next generation of Angus with better genetics than the one before.”

Breeders are vigilant

Regardless of the breed in question, finding genetic defects attached to certain bloodlines presents a challenge for many producers, despite our ability to identify them.

“The identification of genetic recessives in the Angus breed created a major negative impact on our business,” says Brian House, Vice President, Beef Program and Product Manager at Select Sires. “During the period of time when AM, NH (Neuropathic Hydrocephalus recognized in 2009) and CA were identified, we tested and identified 41 bulls who were carriers of these recessives. This included bulls of all ages—older proven bulls and young bulls that were just getting started. Due to strict policies implemented by the AAA, these bulls became unmarketable—so we ended up getting rid of both bulls and semen and our sales dropped during this time. As we learned with subsequent genes being identified and the greater use of DNA testing, genetic recessives can be managed in a breeding program. Our dairy customers do this every day.”

“Through the process of testing for various genetic conditions, breeders became more familiar with DNA, testing procedures and how genes are passed to subsequent generations. This probably helped pave the way for genomic testing, which has gained rapid acceptance across the industry, and is moving genetic progress at a much faster pace,” says House.

According to Dr. Moser, the peak year for DNA test purchases for AGI was 2014. Currently they test about one-forth as many animals.

“The rules did a really good job of eliminating carriers from the population,” Dr. Moser says. “At the time of discovery of some of the traits, some carriers were no longer used and the pace of genetic improvement slowed. Genetic improvement has rebounded since 2010 for a wide variety of traits. There was a short-term cost in genetic improvement but we have been able to make it up while eliminating the worry and economic impact for commercial cattlemen.”

Gathering information is the first step in management of genetic conditions. The policies and protocols adopted by the AAA have helped to inform and guide producers, but the success of those rules depends on producers that identify issues and report them.

“Our breeders are vigilant,” shares Dr. Moser.  “I give them a lot of credit for their willingness to report calves when things aren’t right. Abnormal calves are sometimes born as a result of the environment and are not necessarily a result of genetics. Working with Dr. David Steffen at University of Nebraska, we confirm parentage, collect DNA, sometimes are able to get pictures and x-rays and we store that information in a very detailed database should there be similar issues in Angus or other breeds. The information is gathered and tracked. We also store our own DNA. We have over 900,000 DNA samples here at the office.”

Data collection saves the day

Dr. Moser noted a situation in which an older AI sire in their archives was identified as a potential carrier of Osteopetrosis (OS).

“We were able to go to our archives and retrieve a semen sample for testing. He turned out to be free of the condition, and we were able to clear over 100,000 of his descendants in the database as well. It saved a tremendous amount of cost, not having to test every descendant,” reports Dr. Moser.

With information, education, and strategic policies in place the AAA has been able to reduce the number of cattle carrying genetic defects and continue to improve Angus genetics. But the last few years have been a DNA crash course.

“Today’s customers are very well informed, but it hasn’t been that way very long,” says House. “We, along with our customers, learned ‘on-the-fly’ about genetic conditions and their ramifications. I believe today’s level of understanding regarding DNA/genomics was kick-started in part due to genetic recessives. Are we better off today than we were before these things were identified? I would say yes.”  

Strategic DNA testing and management allows Angus breeders to produce great cattle that are desirable to the commercial customer. Making intelligent rules to handle the reality of genetic defects has allowed the AAA to stay on top and serve as a model for other breeds when they confront their own genetic defect challenges.

 

Busy & Blessed

No two Texas days are alike at Flanagan Cattle Co.

My name is Christy Flanagan.  My husband, Craig and I live in Leonard in northeast Texas.  We have a 13 year-old son named JT and we’ve been married for 20 years.  My husband is the 5th generation to live on and work the land around our home.  Farming and ranching is all Craig has ever done.  He and his parents worked together until his father Wayne’s unexpected passing in October, 2011.

For several years, my father-in-law told me that I should submit a ranching journal to the magazine, and I never had, so in honor of him I’m finally writing it.  I had helped my husband some in the evening and on weekends, but always kept a “town job”.  I had a banking career for 17 years.  After Wayne passed away suddenly, we decided the only way to keep the ranch going was for me to help Craig fulltime.  So in January of 2012, I quit my banking job and went to work on the ranch.  We’ve got about 400 crossbred Gelbvieh mama cows and some years we run about 500 head of wheat pasture calves as well.  We bale hay for ourselves and about three neighbors.  In a normal year, we roll about 12k rolls of hay.  We are also sales representatives for Nutrition Plus mineral.

My husband Craig is the hardest working person I’ve ever known.  He always does whatever it takes and never quits.  He’s a cowboy, rancher, farmer, mechanic, truck driver; you name it he does it.  But he’s also my best friend, the best husband and father to our son that I could ask for.  He’s my superhero!  

We have two guys working for us, Marty Mitchell (our brother-in-law) and Chad Brewer (our friend and neighbor).  We also have an older man name Jimmy Helms who helps us during hay season.

We love what we do and are very blessed to be able to work together doing what we both love.  Most couples say they couldn’t work together, but we love it and we pray that the Lord continues to allow us to do it for many more years.

12-Day Journal of Christy Flanagan

Sunday, February 26, 2017

My father-in-law, Wayne, would have been 68 today.

Up early this morning and getting the semi loaded with round hay to haul about three hours west of here for a neighbor.  As soon as we get Craig’s truck loaded and strapped down, he heads out and I start checking our spring calving cows. As soon as I have everything checked and accounted for, then I put our mineral and mix a batch of feed for the yearlings we have at the house.  

We had over 20 new babies today; it was a good day.  Craig got home early evening.  We quit early and got cleaned up to go see my brother and his wife and my nephew Koen.  I hate to miss a chance to hold the baby.  On the way home from Denison, we had a neighbor call with a cow out, so we stopped and helped them get her back up on the way home.  Time to hit the sack for tonight

 

Monday, February 27

I got up at 5 a.m. this morning to fix a cinnamon roll casserole for my son’s teachers. Craig spent most of the morning on the phone taking bids from cattle buyers for our calves.  We’ve got 240 head of 7 weights ready to ship.

I checked all the spring calvers while Craig was dealing with the buyers.  Then it’s time to mix another batch of feed.  While I’m doing that, Craig has to work on the overhead plumbing on our feed bin.  He fixed the plumbing so I can add the liquid feed to the feed mix.  We have a set of about 50 1st calf heifers at the house that we are calving out, so one of us checks them about every two hours.  

We had lunch in town today at a new café and it was good. After lunch, I loaded the tank trailer and put out liquid feed in all the pastures.  Craig & Chad were working on repairing some rods in the working pens that were broken. After we finished for the day, we cleaned up and went to town so I could buy groceries (one of my least favorite things to do).

 

Tuesday, February 28

My good friend Joni (who is also Chad’s wife) took JT to school this morning for me, so I got started a little earlier than usual. One of my first calf heifers had twins – are all doing well.  Craig and I took a small square of haygrazer (Editor: forage crosses – sorghum, sudangrass, etc.) and caught a few more of the yearlings that we need to sell to make even truckloads.  As soon as we have them in the pen, we go back to the shop and hook up the cattle trailers and start hauling them home.

We get all the calves home and push the ones behind the shop into the pen then we start sorting.  We ended up with about 180 head so we sorted them into two pens of splitting the steers and heifers.  We get them settled in the pens and mix a batch of feed so we can feed them.  

We had to quit about 5 p.m. to clean up to go to a mineral meeting the local feed store was having.  We started pulling out of the driveway to go get Chad & Joni and we saw the steers were out and crossing the creek.  It was nearly dark and there was nothing but a hotwire to hold them so we knew that we had to get them up before it got dark.  We jumped in our old feed truck and started calling them and sounding the siren.  Fortunately, the pasture they were in was where our 1st calf heifers are and they are broke to the feed truck.  They came running and brought our wayward steers with them.  We pushed them all up and sorted the steers out (the last few minutes were by flashlight).  Since we had missed the meeting, we went to the café and ate a steak before calling it a day.

 

Wednesday, March 1

Craig went to the “coffee shop” first thing this morning.  I dropped JT off at school and dropped off his school uniforms to the drycleaners.  Craig had to move some hay around with the semi so we had enough hay to mix feed for the calves and to feed the 1st calf heifers. While he was moving hay, Chad went to feed our fall calving cows and check on them.  I worked on getting the tires aired up and flats changed on our homemade feed trailers to use in the pens.

We all met in town at the Mexican food place for lunch and then went back and finished our jobs.  Once we were finished and had everything fed and tended to, we went south of town to get some bulls up. We went back to the pens to sort off 70 steers and 70 heifers to make two truckloads to sell.

Craig had to go check on a field that we are going to sprig as soon as we get roots. We’ve decided after talking to the buyers that OKC West is the best avenue for us to sell our calves this time, so we’ve lined up two semis to be there first thing Monday morning. Had to make a late run to the next town for some more plumbing supplies.  

 

Thursday, March 2

I dropped of JT at school then picked up Craig at the body shop where his truck was going to be painted.

I had to make a quick trip to run Craig back home and double back to Bonham for a FSA County Committee Meeting. The meeting took longer than I had expected but I was out by 11:30, so then I headed to Fort Worth to pick up a load of mineral from the plant.    

Later, I stopped by a feed store in McKinney to discuss mineral with them. Chad and Craig moved hay around, fed, and checked the cows while I was gone. Marty has been running the field cultivator this week getting the ground ready for sprigging.

Home for the night.  Grilled cheese for supper and catch up on laundry.

 

Friday, March 3

Joni took JT to school again this morning, so Craig and I got the plowing tractor moved to the next field that Marty needs to run in today.  Chad is spending the day welding at the pens and making gates.  I mixed a batch of feed and fed the calves.  Craig is cleaning up one of the feeding tractors and servicing it.

Lunch with Chad and Joni then back to work.  I spent the afternoon checking my spring calvers.  We’ve got about 70 babies on the ground so far. I killed a wild hog while I was checking cows.  Didn’t have my A/R with me, but I did have my .44 pistol.  Craig and I had to go south of town and take down a barbed wire fence and put up a temporary hotwire so the landlord could do some dirt work on the dam of the pool. Head home and start supper:  Shrimp Scampi for JT and I and chicken wings for Craig.  Set out some meat to thaw for tomorrow’s lunch.

 

Saturday, March 4

Saturday is our Sabbath, our rest day, and we don’t work from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday unless it’s an emergency.  It was cloudy and misting rain this morning.  I fix breakfast and get JT out the door to church with my mom.  The youth is doing a special mission’s fundraiser for kids in Africa. Clara Belle (my yellow lab) and I checked the 1st calf heifers on the side-by-side.  

When we got back, I started a roast and a pot of beans.  Once I had it cooking, I started on a big pan of spaghetti for a local family in town whose daughter is battling bone cancer. After the spaghetti, I whipped up a big pan of enchiladas for us to eat for lunch.  Mexican food sounds good on a dreary day.

Clara Belle and I go to check the heifers again after lunch and take a quick nap.  JT is headed back to church this evening for youth program practice.  Craig and I take Chad and Joni’s daughter, Courtney, out for Hibachi.

 

Sunday, March 5

It’s misting rain and cloudy again, but we go ahead and mix a big batch of feed and get everything fed.  On our way to Bonham to get a new pipe wrench and some air fittings we delivered two round rolls of haygrazer to a friend from church. Grabbed a hamburger from Braum’s.  

 

Craig and JT cleaned up the shop while I met some other FFA Booster Club families to take the food to the family I mentioned. Stopped by Chad & Joni’s on the way back, I bought Courtney a pistol and I want to surprise her with it.  We mixed another batch of feed and feed the calves as it’s getting dark, they will ship in the morning so we want them to be good and full before they go on the truck.  Got cleaned up and went out for Mexican food, we’ll save the pot roast for tomorrow night.

 

Monday, March 6

Shipping Day!  JT doesn’t have to go to school today since we’re shipping calves. I meet the trucks at the nearest truck stop at 7a.m. and lead them back to the pens.  It’s still misting and raining and yucky today but the trucks can stay on the rock to load.  We loaded 70 steers on the first truck and 70 heifers on the second truck.  

As soon as the trucks are loaded and gone, we set in checking cows and feeding.  Craig and I met Chad and Joni for lunch at the café.  Craig and Chad worked on setting some line posts for a neighbor.  JT and I head north of town to check the spring calvers.  Craig, JT and Chad are going to the neighbor’s to help him load his trucks while I must clean up and get to a PTA meeting at JT’s school.  But I do manage to get all the cows checked before I leave.

 

Tuesday, March 7

Started raining about 3 a.m., not a big rain, but enough to make the pastures slick.  After I took JT to school, I went north of town to check cows and managed to slide my truck off the pool dam and in the edge of the pool.  Spooked me a little, but Craig was nice about it when I called him to come pull me out even though it was my new truck.  It took him a couple of tries but he finally got me out.  I finish checking the cows and start feeding.  When I got to Trenton to feed the fall calvers, there was a 300 lb. heifer with her head stuck between the barn and a tree.  I had to work at it for a while but I finally got her out.

Craig and Chad working on the plow today.  We need to quit and get cleaned up mid-afternoon to go to a funeral for one of Craig’s cousins.  Just as we’re grabbing a quick bite, we get a phone call that we have two yearlings out on a busy highway in Trenton.  I jump in the feed truck and head that way to make sure they aren’t in the middle of the road.  Craig and Chad pay out and then meet me up there.  We’re able to get them back in fairly easily and without incident or anyone getting hurt.  We get the fence fixed and Craig and I head home to shower and change for the funeral.  Headed home, my mom had brought JT home from school and he’s got a project due tomorrow that he’s been procrastinating on, so I set in and try to help him get organized so he can knock it out.  We work on it until 10 p.m. but finally get finished.  Craig checked the heifers for me.  I cooked breakfast food for supper and we all crashed.  

 

Wednesday, March 8

Up early and on the road.  Chad is going to work on welding on a new set of pens we’re building north of town.  Marty is going to be plowing.   We’re headed to Oklahoma to look at some young bulls. Today is the day our calves are selling at OKC West so we decide to go by the sale barn and watch them sell.  

We decided to go in the café and have a steak while we’re waiting on our neighbor’s calves to sell. We get on the road by about 7 p.m. so we can be home by the time JT gets home from church.  Long day, lots of miles, but it was a good day.  And the windshield time always gives Craig and I a chance to brainstorm and discuss new ideas, future plans, and count our blessings.  We are truly blessed.

 

Thursday, March 9

I took JT to school this morning then helped Craig get moved around.  He’s putting out fertilizer for a neighbor.  After I get him situated, take him fuel and lunch, I decide to sneak away to meet my friend Traci for lunch. I walked in the café and sat down –  just as I was about to order my drink, Craig called and he’d blown a hydraulic line on the sprayer.  I told Traci I was so very sorry and I had to leave right away.  She said she didn’t have anything planned for the afternoon so she decided to just go with me.  We went and got Craig and took him to get a new line made then got him going.  Traci and I spent the rest of the day checking the cows and feeding the calves.  It was nice to have the company.   

Well this was just a brief glimpse into the daily activities around here.  No two days are ever the same and we usually start on Plan A and end up with Plan M or N before lunchtime.  But it’s a great life and we are truly blessed beyond measure.   

New probiotic reduces livestock burps

The search to reduce methane emissions in the form of belching, flatulence and manure, may have found a workable solution. Mootral, a new natural feed supplement, claims to instantly reduce cow methane emissions by some 30 percent. The supplement, made of garlic and citrus extracts, is compressed into pellets and mixed into cattle feed. The two compounds improve animals’ ability to digest without emitting excess methane. Mootral does not reduce the number of cow burps but restricts the amount of methane the animal releases.

BQA launches new transportation program

The Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program has initiated a new training and certification program for cattle transportation. Known as Beef Quality Assurance Transportation (BQAT), the new course provides cattle producers and haulers with comprehensive training based on their roles in the cattle industry. Online training will be available immediately, and in-person training classes will begin soon. For more information, visit https://www..bqa.org.

Value In The Valley

Enveloped by town and tourists, Lockhart Cattle Company found ways to make their venture work

Photos by David Stubbs and Melissa Hemken

Only a handful of working ranches remain among billionaires’ gentlemen ranchettes in Wyoming’s Jackson Hole Valley. One of remaining active cattle producers is Lockhart Cattle Company. Sandwiched between Jackson Hole Community School, Smith’s Food and Drug, and downhill ski runs on Snow King Mountain, Lockhart headquarters includes Teton County’s first milled plank and wooden peg house and barn, built in 1909. Purchased by Bruce Porter in the 1930s, urban sprawl has Porter’s great-grandson, Chase Lockhart, building a new ranch paradigm in town.

“It is convenient,” says Chase Lockhart of ranching within sight of the grocery store. “If I lived out at the end of the road in Big Piney [Wyoming] and ran out of coffee, it would be a 20-minute ordeal. Here, in two minutes my problem is solved.

“Though I can’t tell you how many people drive in here, saying, ‘You got a cow out there having a calf!’ Like, ‘Good, that’s what they’re supposed to do’.”

Nearly five million tourists annually funnel through Jackson, full-time population 10,135, to visit ski resorts, and Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. “Most people that come to Jackson,” Lockhart continues, “don’t know the difference between me, and the guy at the shootout in the town square or leaning on the bar wearing a cowboy hat.”

Many Jackson residents also don’t understand the financial challenges and variability of the ranching business. In 2004, the Lockhart cattle herd contracted brucellosis from grazing among elk. Regulations at that juncture forced the family to destroy the entire herd; calves, cows, bulls and yearlings…close to 900 animals. At the time, the Lockharts held the last active grazing permit in Grand Teton National Park. With no cattle, they filed non-use on the permit and the park fully closed grazing access.

The family re-grouped, and decided to transfer ranch operations to Chase and his brother Cody. “We leased the ranch one summer,” says Chase Lockhart, “and hayed it the next. But if I’m going to hay, I want to feed it to my own cows. So I began re-building the herd.”

To add value to his cattle, Lockhart purchased registered Herefords to sell bulls and replacement heifers. A couple years of attending bull sales and Hereford shows taught him it’s hard to compete with large producers, and the added costs of showing, heated barns, and embryo transfer were beyond his resources. “Also, I’m not really in ranching country,” Lockhart admits. “Jackson is not a common place people come to buy bulls.”

Going Local

Casting for another value-added opportunity, Lockhart saw Jackson’s 200 restaurants reviewed on TripAdvisor.com, the popularity of local food, and the 145-year-steady tourism industry. “I figure half of those tourists eat hamburger,” Lockhart explains, “and if I can sell the [restaurants] a fifth of that hamburger, that’s still a lot of hamburger.”

A restaurant where a friend worked was Lockhart’s first customer, and Lockhart talked up chefs and meat counter clerks across Jackson. “We tried to get beef into people’s mouths,” he says of beginning marketing, “and that meant giving it away or breaking even on it. I did a lot of things I didn’t want to do, like host ranch tours and go to the farmers’ markets in the rain.”

The big break for Lockhart’s new business model came from Signal Mountain Lodge, a concessionaire on Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park, signing a ground beef contract with Lockhart Cattle Company. “They sell an absurd amount of hamburgers,” Lockhart says. “They buy 12,000 pounds of one-third pound patties a year. I’m like, ‘36,000 patties, coming up!’ It showed we could sell beef locally, and it makes sense to grass-finish as we don’t grow, or have a way to store and feed, grain.”

With the valley filled with dormant ranches, Lockhart easily finds grazing. “I can tie up grass relatively cheaply from guys who have gotten out of the ranching business,” Lockhart says. “I have six different private leases. Some only support 30 pairs and the largest piece can hold 200 head.”

Lockhart cautions when working lands are carved up for ranchettes, many of the small acreages are left without enough irrigation, or with no access or corrals for livestock. “But it’s amazing what I came up with,” he continues. “I stash some [cattle] on a dude ranch. [Guests] pen the cattle once a week, and I get free grass.”

In the spring Lockhart feeds three generations of one cow: a calf that’s on its mom, one born last year, and the 2015 model almost ready for slaughter. A key component to selling beef weekly is easy access to a meat processing facility, which Jackson did not have. Lockhart needed a meat processor with flexibility to do cuts and process according to client request. He connected with the neighboring Hog Island Meats wild game plant, located seven miles south down Highway 89, which the owners wanted to grow into a state-inspected locker. Lockhart Cattle Company financed the plant upgrade in exchange for part ownership and management input, and gained a close-by, custom meat processor.

“The plant still does wild game in the fall,” Lockhart explains, “and that’s a challenge. We have to shut down beef processing for several months, as the facility isn’t state-inspected when it processes wild game. But every stage of the business has challenges. After slaughter is packaging, inventory, pricing model, and distribution. Ranching is the easy part.”

Sell the Beef

Lockhart cattle finish on self-feed hay, even during summer, and finished animals slaughter at 18-30 months of age and 1,150-1,300 live weight. “The beef hang pretty consistently on the rail at about 625 pounds,” Lockhart says. “The end of July is often when I butcher a 28-month-old for a client one week and a 17-month-old the next. Customers do notice meat is smaller and less marbled.”

Most customers want one type of meat cut, so Lockhart tries to group orders according to the animal. He will accept a steak contract if the ground beef from the animals providing that steak can be sold elsewhere. “The key is to have an outlet for grind,” Lockhart says, “and be willing to break even on it. Selling steaks at a premium offsets ground beef selling as a wash. The red meat business is low margin. I try to be vertically integrated to get a little piece of the margin the whole way through.”

Selling fresh beef allows Lockhart to respond to demand quickly. Because this causes him to decline customers, he recently began to keep frozen inventory. “I say no to a lot of people,” he regrets, “because they want 50 tenderloins next weekend for a wedding. They would pay 18 bucks a pound if I had it. But I’d need to butcher 25 head to get that many tenderloins.

“For a long time I would tell people, ‘Yes, I’ll figure out how to do it.’ Then I would get off of the phone and swear. Now with steadier demand, I have flexibility to say no. I also now make all deliveries on the same day so I’m not jumping out of the swather in the middle of haying to make a $200 delivery.”

In the summer, Lockhart can deliver a whole beef to Jackson Whole Grocer & Cafe on Wednesday and it’s sold out by Saturday. His attempt to sell to his neighboring Smith’s grocer is stonewalled by corporate management.

Lockhart admits small meat-suppliers do take extra effort. If the vacuum seal blows on a couple of meat packages, he might not be able to re-stock that meat cut immediately for the grocer. “I’m not the Sysco truck with 60 other packages sitting on the shelf,” he acknowledges. “That’s why I need to make quality worth the pain in the (butt).”

Know Your Meat

Sitting on his truck tailgate, Lockhart says posh restaurants purchase 30 pounds of beef a month from him for tartare—a minced, raw meat dish. “Eye-of-round is sought after for beef tartare because it has no fat in it,” Lockhart explains. “Tenderloin is also used, and sirloin can be if trimmed really well.”

Jackson’s fine diners want delicious food presented ornately, and they want to learn about their foods’ origins. “People will look through a menu and order something just because it’s sourced locally,” Lockhart says, “rather than what they originally intended to eat.”

The best marketing tool is ranch location abutting city limits: an eye-catching two-story red barn, Lockhart brand emblazoned white on the barn’s peak, surrounded by Hereford cattle grazing lush meadow. “But when my cows get out,” Lockhart says ruefully, “they aren’t in the neighbor’s pasture. They’re in Smith’s parking lot.”

Last year, Lockhart Cattle Company discontinued registering their Herefords. Lockhart shares management decisions with his brother, who thought they might as well register the cows because they could. With beef sales growing, Lockhart suggested that not weighing calves and filling out registrations could gain efficiency.

“We decided we are in the beef business and not the cow business,” Lockhart says of the final decision. “I raised those bulls, put horn weights on and ultrasounded them, and made no money. I was like, ‘It’s not even a hobby I want. I want to mountain bike, that’s a hobby…not a bull herd.’”

Lockhart plans to cross breed to Red Angus bulls, and hopes to try Wagyu bulls in the future. “I want to cross my cows to Wagyu to see if it helps with marbling,” Lockhart says. “The problem is Wagyu aren’t a hardy breed and don’t weather as well as Angus or Hereford.

“It’s fun to try new things, but it takes a long time. Once I buy new bulls it will be two years before their offspring are on the rail and I can evaluate beef quality. Then if I try different bulls, it will be five years before I make major changes. And I want to be on the forefront of beef taste.”

Refining the Business

Lockhart sells 70 percent of his beef in the summer, and 30 percent in the slower winter months. Current sales do not balance the amount of work. “If I can figure out how to scale it for small margins, I have a shot,” Lockhart says.

There is more demand than supply for Lockhart beef. Lockhart is penciling out how to run more cows and slaughter five days a week. “I used to think one cow is the same work as 100 cows,” Lockhart says, “because they all need water and feed anyway, but that’s not true. Every cow is more work. Every beef slaughtered and every customer comes with more problems.

“Every employee hired and every piece of infrastructure—I bought a freezer trailer to deliver meat—has complications. For the trailer, I need to work on the cooling unit, keep the tires blown up, and fix the generator. At the farmers’ market, the tent blows away. At every step there’s something. It’s not about just buying more cows.”

Value-added products, such as hot dogs and bratwurst, will reach a new market, but Lockhart needs to grow his beef herd first. “I don’t have the beef to experiment with right now,” he says. “I can’t slaughter enough beef on a weekly basis to set two aside to play around with recipes.”

Along with recipes, processed meats bring more food safety regulations, shelf-life tracking, packaging and labeling. “I still have trouble getting my label maker to talk to my computer,” Lockhart says with exasperation. “I don’t have an IT [information technology] guy.”

Through it all, Lockhart takes the long view for building a new business model for his family’s ranch. He relates growing beef to producing wine or whiskey: forecasting what consumers will want in the future. “The reason people like our beef,” he explains, “is because of the story behind it. I raise it all right here, and it never leaves the valley. Everybody watches the cattle and whole [life] circle go around.”

Return to Ranching

An interesting journey leads this young beef producer back to the land he loves

By Troy Smith

There’s a busy stretch of road running northward, from Fort Collins to Laramie. That 65-mile section of U.S. Highway 287 carries some heavy truck traffic through northern Colorado and into Wyoming. Actually, the route has been heavily traveled since 1848 or so. That portion of the highway overlaps the old Overland Trail, and was the course many emigrants followed when journeying to Oregon or California. It was the trail used by stagecoaches and freighters driving ox- and mule-drawn wagons. It became the primary road used by folk that settled the area and hoped to stay.

    One that did stay was Robert O. Roberts, who established a hotel and café, about 21 miles north of Fort Collins, in Livermore, Colorado. Situated where a lesser trail branched off from the Laramie road, Roberts called his inn “The Forks”. About a year later, in 1875, Roberts also filed a homestead claim. He would eventually sell his hospitality business to concentrate on the building of Roberts Ranch.

    The Forks remains a local Livermore landmark, although it has changed hands many times. Roberts Ranch was never sold. Often called one of Colorado’s “legacy ranches,” the property is now held by a trust, with its more than 16,000 acres remaining intact. That’s rare along the Highway 287 corridor where, starting decades ago, many working ranches were broken into small pieces and sold to city folk wanting acreages on which to build houses in the country.

    Roberts Ranch won’t be subdivided, though, because of conservation easements, which protect the ranch from development by limiting its use to agricultural production, in perpetuity.  Consequently, Roberts Ranch has been, is and will be home to a cattle operation. Resident manager Zach Thode is charged with keeping the operation on firm footing, financially.

From Woodstock to livestock

    Holding a degree in engineering, Thode is an out-of-the-ordinary, first-generation rancher. If there were farmers or stockmen in his family tree, Thode never heard about it from his parents. And by the way, Mom and Dad were flower children.

    “Yep, they were genuine, Woodstock-variety hippies,” affirms Thode, explaining how his parents moved to the Livermore area and bought a small piece of land, back when some of the large ranches were being subdivided.

    “We were off the grid. My parents, my brother and I lived in a tent, with no electricity and no running water until I was six years old,” Thode recalls.

    Still, Thode can claim he was nearly ranch-raised. Early exposure was a result of a rancher’s wife being his daycare provider. When Thode was nine years old, a local rancher and horseman took the boy under his wing. First, Richard Borgmann helped train a young horse that Thode had acquired for the price of a whole dollar. Then Borgmann offered the kid a summer job.

    “I worked for him for the next 13 years, up until I graduated from college,” tells Thode. “He taught me a lot about ranching during that time, and a lot about life.”

    Thode graduated from Colorado State University, with a degree in agricultural engineering. After college, he found work as a construction laborer and advanced to management, spending six years engaged in the construction of municipal water treatment facilities across Colorado and Wyoming. For another five years, Thode worked for Rubicon Water, a firm that designs large-scale, gravity-fed irrigation water systems for clients all over the U.S.

    Along the way, Thode also became a regional representative for BigIron Auctions, a firm that conducts online, as well as onsite, auctions of agricultural, construction and transportation equipment. Experience as a BigIron rep reinforced something his early mentor, Richard Borgmann, had demonstrated.

    “I became a rep mainly so I could learn about sales and marketing as it is done at the farm and ranch level,” says Thode. “And I learned that it’s all about relationships built on trust and respect.”

    By 2012, Thode had married his wife, Sherryl, and started a family. Approached that year about managing the Roberts Ranch, the couple saw it as an opportunity to get back to ranching – something Thode had always thought he would eventually do – and raise their kids in that environment. He also recognized it as a challenge worth accepting. They did, starting in the spring of 2013.

    “The ranch had been under limited management for close to 35 years and there had been very few improvements in that time,” says Thode.

    Since then, several miles of water pipeline have been installed. More and better-placed stock watering sites, plus some cross-fencing of pastures has allowed for improved grazing management. Erosion of stream banks has been addressed by fencing riparian areas so cattle access can be controlled.

    The ranch has access to water for irrigated hay production, but its flood irrigation systems were in disrepair. Under Thode’s management, three center-pivot systems have been installed, along with a big gun sprinkler. Since renegotiating water rights, Thode anticipates adding three more pivots to provide irrigated pasture for the future.

Building the herd back up

    While Roberts Ranch had long been considered to be a 600-cow outfit, drought-driven destocking left cow numbers at 200 at the time Thode arrived. Moisture conditions have since improved but the ranch’s owners preferred to rebuild numbers through retention of home-raised heifers, rather than purchase replacements. During the ongoing period of herd-building, Thode has kept the ranch stocked to capacity by bringing in cows that he and Sherryl own personally.

    “We currently sell about 40 percent of the calf crop in January, as five-weight calves. We keep a few steers to run over as yearlings and we keep a lot of heifers,” shares Thode, explaining how a relatively large number of replacement heifer candidates are managed under an extensive, low-input development program and estrus synchronized for artificial insemination. After early pregnancy detection, heifers found open are sold as feeders.

    “Heifers are our most liquid asset,” Thode states.

    Historically, Roberts Ranch ran straight Hereford cows and, as alluded to previously, they were subject to “limited management”. That’s definitely not all bad, in Thode’s opinion, because the cows became pretty well adapted to the environment. Because they don’t eat much and they get pregnant every year, Thode wants to keep some of their “hard Hereford” genetics in the herd. However, he is using Angus and composite bulls to capitalize on the added productivity and longevity of crossbred cows.

    The mature cows run on range throughout the year, receiving little supplementation other than protein during the winter. Calving during May and June helps keep feed and labor costs low.

    “We try to keep cattle spread out in pastures. I believe that helps reduce sickness. We monitor the heifers so we can help with calving when needed, but the cows are on their own. We check them once per week,” says Thode.

    “We don’t tag calves,” he adds, noting how humans handling newborns can interfere with bonding between calves and their dams, and even spread infections. “Under our management system, I don’t see any real financial advantage to tagging calves. I know the cost of labor involved is a financial disadvantage.”

    Thode is all about cost-benefit comparison. He’s more than a little leery of debt and advocates frugality in lifestyle as well as business, saying “keeping up with the Joneses” can get a rancher in trouble. Having the fastest horse or newest pickup seldom makes much difference to the ranch’s bottom line.

    Thode’s involvement in the online auction business has been used to good advantage, not only to save money but also make it. He buys used equipment for use on the ranch, and most of it needs at least a little work.

    “I probably spend close to a quarter of my time fixing up equipment that I bought cheap. Often, I use it for a while and then sell it for a profit. Then, I do it again,” relates Thode. “But you do have to make the effort to learn what stuff is worth.”

Roberts Ranch label

    Thode fears many producers devote too little effort to savvy sourcing of inputs, or to marketing cattle. Producers whose programs are built on carefully chosen genetics and reams of performance data should use it when marketing their cattle, rather than simply hauling calves to the sale barn and hoping for the best. He admits that Roberts Ranch cattle don’t have a reputation for exceptional feed conversion rates or the highest carcass merit, but they do have sought after qualities.

    “They’re going to live,” grins Thode. “They’re healthy and they qualify for an ‘all natural’ program. We sell them at the auction barn, but I work at recruiting buyers to be there on sale day. If I can get at least two guys interested, it creates more competition. Just an extra bid or two can be enough to cover the costs of transportation and commission.”

    Thode also hopes to use the ranch’s historical significance to develop and market certified organic lines of grass-fed and grain-fed beef bearing a Roberts Ranch label. He’s also working with the current owners of The Forks about the opportunity to leverage their shared history, and put Roberts Ranch beef on the restaurant’s menu.

    Always seeking to establish mutually beneficial relationships, Thode advises young producers to establish a wide network of “neighbors” with which they can trade goods and services. A prime example is Thode’s practice of swapping hunting and fishing privileges for fence building and repair.

    “I try to avoid paying full retail for anything,” states Thode. “But you have to know how to negotiate, and that’s becoming a lost art.”

    Thode laments the fact that old-fashioned horse-trading sometimes has a negative connotation. In his opinion, in shouldn’t be that way. A good bargain, resulting in value received by both parties, should be based on honesty, integrity and trust.

     “We all need to teach that to our kids,” offers Thode. “And we need to teach them how to work. We don’t do a very good job of that anymore. A good start might be to tell them to shut down their electronic devices, go outside and get dirty doing something.”

Bovine antibodies could prevent flu outbreaks

A biopharmaceutical company, SAB Biotherapeutics, has an innovative idea–making antibodies from cattle, which could help fight Zika, Ebola, cancer, diabetes and influenza. Based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the company is utilizing advanced science to produce antibodies from cattle to treat a variety of serious health condition. This new company has recently started its first clinical trials on influenza and could produce enough antibodies to meet worldwide demand.

China’s eCommerce to sell Montana Beef

The Montana Stockgrowers Association (MSGA) and JD.com, a Chinese eCommerce firm, have proposed an initial three-year minimum commitment of $200 million in Montana beef to be imported by JD.com from BSGA. In addition, $100 million will be invested in a processing facility. If this agreement is fulfilled, JD.com’s purchase of beef will increase Montana beef export sales by as much as 40 percent in 2018.