Red Angus breeder cares for land, cattle
By Jennifer Carrico
If you take care of the land, it will help take care of you and your animals, according to South Dakota Red Angus breeder Craig Bieber.
Bieber and his family have raised purebred Red Angus cattle in northern South Dakota for many years. Craig’s parents, Ron and Lois, who still help out with everyday activities on the ranch, founded Bieber Red Angus Ranch. Craig’s wife, Peggy, is also involved in the everyday activities on the ranch.
When Ron started the ranch, they had mostly Hereford cattle, but he gradually experimented with Shorthorns and eventually landed on switching to Red Angus cattle in the late 1960s.
The ranch, which spans nearly 8,700 acres and includes both owned and leased land, sets among land owned by the U.S. Fisheries and Wildlife Department. Craig believes it is important to keep this land in the best environment possible for the wildlife that live there, yet manage it so the cows are getting what they need as well.
“We use mob grazing as much as possible on most of our ground. We let cows into different paddocks at a high rate and for a short amount of time. It has helped us make drastic improvements to the pasture,” he said.
The improvements include management of noxious weeds and shrubs and growth of native grasses, which in some cases had died out.
In the grazing season, yearlings can be grazed at a rate of one animal to four acres of grass, while cows must have one acre animal to six or seven acres of grass.
“Our goal is to graze 12 months of the year, but that is hard to do. If we can get it done, we can save money, but some years it’s just not possible,” Craig said.
The area where the ranch is located is glacial till landscape. Glaciers moved and formed a unique countryside full of hills and water holes in between. While some watering systems have been added at the ranch, many of the pastures include natural water holes.
“It’s very important to take care of the land and the grazing system in order to get the most production you can from your grass,” Craig said. “My parents made it possible for me to be here and do what I love, so I plan on doing it to the best of my ability.”
Good management also allows for improvements to be made in the cowherd. Approximately 800 cows calve each year at Bieber Red Angus. They also have cooperator herds that put in about 500 embryos each year.
In 2008, 200 Red Angus cows were purchased, with the help of Ron and Lois, from the Basin herd in Montana. Another commercial Red Angus herd was also purchased in 2011 and the Biebers have been bringing them to registered status through the Red Angus Association registry system.
“We have been very fortunate to have many other ranchers who help us raise our cattle, by either putting in embryos for us or taking care of the cow-calf pairs on their ranch,” he said.
Each year, they have two production sales where bulls and females are sold. With the large number of cattle there is to choose from, the Biebers usually sell several bulls to be used as AI sires in herds across the country.
“Our mating strategy is about getting better data for our customers so they know how to select the cattle they want,” Craig said. “We would like to have a minimum of 12 heifers and 12 bulls by each sire in each contemporary group in order to get better data.”
The Biebers truly believe in their breeding program and want to show other breeders the importance of using their cattle. Only two or three outside bulls (ones they do not own) are used each year.
Each spring cows are artificially inseminated in synchronized groups. Heifers are bred to calve in February and only exposed to a bull for 25 days. Spring-calving cows are artificially inseminated over a four-day period to start calving in early March. Bulls are turned out with the cows for 42 days.
Two hundred cows are bred to calve in May and June and bull calves are held over and sold at an older age at their bull sale.
For their bull sales, all bulls are kept intact to a year of age in order to determine which ones are best in their contemporary groups. About one-third of the bulls get culled through the process of weaning and putting them on test.
Nearly 375 bulls are sold each year through production sales and private treaty sales. Bulls are put on test at weaning and measurements are made through the test including weights, ultrasound data and DNA. Data is provided to potential buyers to assist in their decision-making process.
Sales are also broadcast over the Internet to allow buyers to watch the auction and bid on cattle even if they cannot be present on sale day.
“We want the most profitable customers in the industry, so it’s our job to give them the knowledge and data they need to be profitable,” Craig said.
When selecting cattle to keep in the herd and sell in the sales, the Biebers selections are based on several traits. Disposition is an important focus because of range conditions, and they want cows that are quiet and easy to work with.
“We also want cows with good udders. When we are calving several hundred cows, we can’t worry about whether a calf will be able to get up and nurse or not,” he said. “We also focus on good-footed cattle that can travel under many different conditions. We send cattle all across the country and they need to be able to survive in the marshes of Florida, the mountains of Montana, or the prairies of Kansas.”
These are only a few of the convenience traits they cull for. Many other performance traits are also considered for Bieber’s cattle.
Nutrition and health
At weaning time, cows are also weighed in order to know how well they maintain themselves while they raise a calf.
To come closer to meeting the grazing 12 months per year goal, cows graze cornstalks during the months of November and December and into January and February, if possible. Gestating cows are supplemented with a protein feed when necessary.
The farm ground on the ranch is rented out to a neighboring farmer and corn is bought back to use in bull and heifer development.
Nearly 380 acres of hay ground provides for hay throughout the winter months for the cattle. Craig believes in good conservation practices on his hay ground as well.
“Fertility can be a challenge on the alfalfa ground. We test the soil to be sure we know what needs to be used to make improvements,” he said.
The mineral program on the ranch is very important. Mineral consumption is managed and cows are fed free-choice mineral at a rate of 4 ounces per cow per day. This mineral is a custom blend that is fed alongside free-choice salt, which can be used as a limiter if needed.
Besides a good nutrition program, Bieber also keeps his cattle on a good herd health program.
Calves are vaccinated at branding time with a seven-way modified live product; a modified live virus with Lepto hardjo bovis product is used due to the contact his cattle have with deer in the area.
Cows are vaccinated and wormed 45 days before breeding and given another round of vaccinations later in the fall.
“We also worm everything at breeding time, which seems to increase weaning weights by killing the worms at the right time of their life cycle,” Craig said.
Craig spends most of his time busy on the ranch, but has also served time on the Red Angus Association of America board of directors and is a past president of the organization, as well as currently serving on the Beef Improvement Federation board of directors.
His wife, Peggy, recently sold the small independent book store she owned in Aberdeen, S.D., for 20 years, in order to return to the ranch and help more with the cow records and financials of the ranch.
“I’m learning a lot more about the cattle than I knew before because I was spending a lot of time driving to and from work,” Peggy said.
Their son, Eric, and daughter-in-law, Megan, are expecting their first child the end of October. They live in nearby Aberdeen and assist on the ranch. A daughter, Kristen, recently graduated from Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D., and helps on the ranch when she can.
Five full-time and two part-time employees help with the daily care and work on the ranch. Bieber also hires interns to assist on the ranch.
“We believe in customer service at Bieber Red Angus Ranch. All that would not be possible without great family, staff and friends as well as great customers,” Craig said. “We really are fortunate to have a program that will work for us and our customers.”
Jennifer Carrico can be reached by phone at 515-833-2120, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.