Hereford tour showcases heterosis research in action
It's something every first-year animal science student learns their first day of class--heterosis, or hybrid vigor, add dollars to a cattleman's bottom line.
Earlier this year the American Hereford Association hosted a three-day tour of Kansas cattle operations to showcase Hereford heterosis in action. From the feedlot to the purebred seedstock supplier, and from the commercial ranch to the packing line, heterosis was the word of the day.
Jack Ward, chief operating officer and AHA director of breed development, explained cattlemen are well aware of the value of a crossbreeding program using black bulls on Hereford and Hereford-influenced cows. But recent research is documenting Hereford bull efficiency in a commercial cattle operation. The goal is to get this message out to commercial cattlemen, he said.
"Larger commercial operations are starting to approach us and use Hereford genetics for heterosis efficiency," Ward said. "So far, the coffee shop talk is good."
A four-year research project at the Harris Ranch, Selma, Calif., is one study comparing Hereford and Angus bulls in real-world commercial conditions. The study evaluates progeny of Hereford and Angus bulls, when used on Angus-based cows.
Phase I results, according to AHA, showed a $78 advantage in profitability of the Hereford-sired steers versus the Angus-sired counterparts. The heifermates to that first generation had a 7 percent higher conception rate over straight Angus heifers.
The second year of data showed Hereford-sired steers with a $45 advantage over the Angus-sired steers. The third set of steers will be harvested and a report will be issued in the fall. All retained heifers were rebred, in order to measure lifetime productivity and document advantages in fertility and longevity, according to the AHA.
Ford County Feed Yard
Red and white is a predominant color scheme at Ford County Feed Yard, Inc., near Ford, Kan. Yard owner Danny Herrmann took the tour around the pens and discussed how the feedyard's licensing as a Certified Hereford Beef cattle feeder, and its participation in the Hereford Verified program adds to its bottom line.
When Herrmann and his family were first approached to join the Hereford Verified program, they were not allied with any particular breed program and, he said, they thought it would be a good opportunity to get their cattle performance feedback from processors.
"We like Herefords," Herrmann said. "We've always liked their performance. They gain better and their feed conversion is better. It's fun to get data back from the processors and forward it on to our producers."
Ford County annually feeds 20,000 to 25,000 Hereford-influenced cattle--almost half of its 50,000 head capacity. While the feedyard buys some Herefords to feed, many of its pens are filled with Hereford and Hereford-influenced cattle with retained ownership.
Kevin and Vera Schultz, of Sandhill Farms, are quietly and diligently working to improve their registered and commercial Hereford cow herd, and they have the awards to show it. For the last four years, Sandhill Farms has brought home the champion or reserve champion honors from the National Western pen show.
"We've shown a pen of bulls for about 15 years at Denver as a way to promote our cattle and we enjoy it," Kevin Schultz said. "The kids like it and it's the best place for us to get 200 or more people to see bulls at one time. Our registered guys have more confidence in our cattle at the time of sale."
The family sells registered Hereford bulls for use on commercial cows, capitalizing on the hybrid vigor of crossbreeding. Schultz said their buyers look for moderate-sized bulls with thick tops for use on predominantly black cows. "Our EPDs bring them to our mailbox, but then our bulls have to look the part," he said.
The Schultzes and their children, Brooke, Tyler and Courtney, are the fifth and sixth generations to run Hereford cattle on the ranch near Haviland, Kan. They have taken to the latest in technological advancements to improve their herd, using artificial insemination and embryo transfer, and collecting ultrasound data on all of their registered cattle.
DNA testing is another tool the Schultzes use to promote their Hereford cattle.
"For us as producers, it's really helpful to accurately predict what that young sire may do," Schultz said. "We can pull hair and DNA test and predict whether the bull has the carcass traits we're selecting for. We can turn around our breeding a whole generation faster and make our cattle better, quicker." Instead of waiting two to three years to see if a change in breeding has improved the calf crop, we can accelerate our generational turnover, he added.
In the end, though, any good beef cattle breeding program looks for performance in the feedlots and on the rail. Sandhills Farms feeds out its commercial Hereford cattle at Ford County Feed Yard. They've noticed a better bottom line with their Hereford and Hereford-influenced commercial cattle, which they attribute to heterosis--even with high corn prices.
"We can make a cheaper cost of gain," Schultz said. By selecting for traits in their breeding program from the start, they can add more value to their feeders.
In the Smoky Hills region, spanning Saline and Ellsworth counties, lie the green pastures of the CK Ranch.
Owners Jack and Donna Vanier and their son John work with ranch managers Ray and Mary Negus to raise a commercial herd of Hereford and Red Angus cows, as well as a registered Hereford seedstock herd.
CK Ranch runs a commercial herd of 700 Hereford and Red Angus cows, which are used as a testing herd for the ranch's purebred Hereford and Red Angus bulls. Its registered Hereford cow herd numbers about 225 head. The ranch participates in the AHA National Reference Sire Evaluation Program and the Hereford Verified program as a way to collect data and improve beneficial traits in its commercial herd.
This self-described "no-frills" outfit produces cattle for the commercial cowman. Manager Ray Negus explained the ranch finds value in putting its herd sires through the national Hereford sire registry program so they can collect data for future breeding decisions.
In the ranch's commercial breeding program, heterosis is a vital tool for calf improvements. They use their Hereford bulls and cows to bring growth and performance to crossbreeding programs with red and black Angus cattle.
Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached by phone at 620-227-1807, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.