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Guggenmos River Ranch wins CAB honors

By Miranda Reiman

Dusty floors; a well-worn couch; stools for pulling up to the workbench or leaning on while discussing the hot, dry weather--it could be any other in-barn office, until you see the wall, literally covered with data.

At Guggenmos River Ranch, near Brewster, Neb., there's no need to tuck away what they analyze constantly, so it hangs there, easy to explore. The wall covers calving records, doctoring notes and matching carcass data for calves fed in the pens just outside.

The family is anchored by Walter "Bill" and Ramona, who started building the cowherd with Angus cattle in 1953.

They incorporated in 1991 and licensed the feedlot with Certified Angus Beef LLC in 2003. This year, it was honored as Feedlot Partner of the Year for less than 15,000-head capacity at the CAB annual conference in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., Sept. 19 to 21.

The Guggenmos family--which includes son Larry and his wife Patty, as well as younger son Roger, his wife Cindy and their children--shares the recognition with longtime employees George and Loretta Epp.

"The long, long story, short, is a bunch of years of trial and error in genetics, and this is where we are," says George Epp, who has been with the family for a dozen years.

"But," Larry pipes up to make the point that it takes a system to find those errors. "You can't discount the data, because if you don't have the data, you just don't know. If you sold a potload of cattle and you don't know who's who and you have five outliers in there, which five cows do you get rid of?"

Larry and Patty came back to the ranch after 14 years away, when Larry traded power-plant construction for building a cowherd. It numbered 350 head when the family asked the Epps to join their team and redouble efforts to get to 700 Angus-based females.

Their progeny testing relationship with Accelerated Genetics laid the foundation.

"You talk about an infusion of good genetics," Larry says. "We changed more in five years than most ranchers can do in a lifetime."

And they measured that progress. Patty still enters the data into a spreadsheet each year, and they use it.

"We try to get the hardest feeding and the easiest feeding genetics so they meet in the middle," he says. If they're not grown first, some high-marbling cattle will finish before they hit 1,000 pounds live weight, Larry notes.

Creep-fed calves wean into the feedlot in October and November with groups split four ways, according to their pedigree. They put the most genotypically alike groups together and feed to the average.

To limit stress, processing waits until a couple weeks later.

Roger ramrods the farming operations, which supply the cattle with corn, hay and silage. Distillers grains are procured locally, and Larry steps the ration up so cattle are ready for marketing after six months on feed.

But they don't head south to the Grand Island, Neb., JBS plant the following spring without additional scrutiny.

"If people help us sort, it drives them nuts because it doesn't look like it makes any sense," Larry says. One animal might look overdone, but they say it needs a few weeks. Another might appear like it still needs some time, but Larry says, "With George's ability to remember three-generations back, we know it needs to be gone"

They usually start off selling a "sample" group for a flat bid, just to test the new genetics and make sure their eyeball sort is precise, but this year Larry took a chance and gridded the first cut, too.

"If I'd have taken flat money on those, it would have hurt. They graded like a house afire," he says. They made 68 percent CAB and Prime.

This year's total, 454 head, went 61 percent CAB and CAB Prime overall.

Those cattle also helped the family reach the Silver level in the brand's Thirty-Aught-Six (30.06) program, which recognizes loads that hit the target of at least 30 percent CAB and Prime with no more than 6 percent outliers. They've sold 1,000 head that meet that designation as of this summer.

"When we started on this high-quality trail, I thought everybody else would be right behind, but it hasn't happened yet," Larry says. "I can't figure out why."

The combination of feedlot traits and mothering ability led the ranch to Angus, and that all-around package keeps them from crossbreeding.

"That's the thing," Loretta says, "after all these years of building up quality, it's kind of hard to want to change anything and more than likely go the other way."

Date: 11-26-2012

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