By Clifford Mitchell
Favorable marketing conditions for certain segments is putting more pressure on the industry to identify high quality products.
The search for this quality end product has formed several different incentive plans within the industry, some defining quality as a Choice grade, others focused on the yield grade, while others stress certain breeds or an all natural status.
However, until the marketing system changes, the industry must face facts, pounds are still the driving force. Whether the marketing point is at weaning or to the packer, Continental-influenced cattle usually will weigh more at weaning and have a higher yielding carcass with more total pounds of red meat.
Most of the time, the coffee shop talk is based on a price per pound--not a gross dollar figure for the animal. The cow-calf producers can take a pretty good hit if their calves weigh a 100 pounds more when they sell them. Certain branded programs have also benefited greatly from the ability of the Continental breeds to turn their hides black.
While most Continental breeds are specifically designed to fit a program as terminal cross genetics, certain exotic cross cattle do a good job of combining the necessary traits to fit a program designed to maximize profits.
In the north central Kansas combination wheat and rangeland country, Post Rock Gelbvieh operates near the town of Barnard. The operation is operated by Bill and Marlene Clark, along with their son, Leland, his wife, Jan, and daughters, Megan and Meredith, and son, Quentin.
The Gelbvieh cattle that walk the pastures replaced the Polled Herefords Bill Clark ran years ago.
"We started in 1986 with eight Gelbvieh cows. We decided the Gelbvieh had the best combination genetics within the Continental breeds of cattle," Leland Clark says.
The Clarks built their herd around cow families, starting with those eight females, then being very selective when they brought a new family into the herd.
"Our whole program is built on cow families. Cows that sort themselves to the top year after year," Clark says.
The highly maternal cattle are subject to udder problems and sometimes did not fit the areas they were brought into. A concern breeders have tried to correct with mating and management decisions.
The Clarks contend, with the right selection pressures and management, breeders can propagate the desirables and eliminate the undesirables.
"When we selected our foundation, teat size and udder quality were very important to us," Leland Clark says. "If we get them milking too much, it will take care of itself if we let it and don't make excuses."
"Udder quality was a real concern under our management system. We wanted to select cows that would last in the program," Bill Clark says.
Calving easequestions also have been raised with the Gelbvieh cattle, another problem the Clarks chose to eliminate when they selected their foundation.
"We have never had a calving problem, because we selected for calving ease from the beginning," Leland Clark says.
"The Gelbvieh association has a calving ease number in the Expected Progeny Differences," Bill Clark says. "The calving ease number is right, we get a long with a little more birth weight."
With the black hide being the only color most order buyers can associate with quality, prices paid have forced most breeders to use hide color as a marketing tool.
"We happened to be fortunate enough to have some of the good, early blacks in the breed. You better have good black bulls to get the customers here," Bill Clark says.
According to the Clarks, the black bulls are the drawing card for their bull sale, but they don't always make their buying choices that way.
Since 70% of their customer base is repeats, the Clarks have to keep identifying top genetics within their herd and providing their customers with a genetic alternative to what they have bought in years past.
"We use four cooperator herds to help us get the numbers we need and increase selection pressure. Most of these bulls will be artificially sired by Post Rock genetics," Leland Clark says. "This also helps get the quality, composite bulls we need."
The Clarks have a line of black and red composites they developed using Angus and Red Angus genetics.
Cooperator herds go through the same selection pressure as the cow herd to identify the keepers. The Clarks look for good operators with common selection goals.
"Similar breeding philosophies have to be present to work with us," Bill Clark says. "We developed our composite line to give our customers a different option."
There has been discussion within the industry that halfblood bulls will just add to the genetic mongrelization of the cow herd, siring calf crops that are not uniform, with just as good of chance that the bad traits will shine as well as the good. The Clarks disagree with this philosophy and look toward some of the breeding philosophies in other parts of agriculture that help prove the composites have a place.
"Our customers who have used the composite bulls really like them," Leland Clark says. "Nobody plants single parent corn. Everybody plants hybrid corn. Composites will have to be part of the breeding program to help maintain breed composition."
Being able to identify homozygous black and polled genetics has helped cattlemen capitalize on these known indicators of profit. The Clarks have seen the demand for polled bulls from their customers and are in the process of identifying the homozygous polled cattle within their herd.
"Our customers are wanting homozygous polled cattle, we are working on proving some cows are homozygous polled. I hope, in five years, half of the offering in our bull sale will be homozygous polled," Clark says.
In this era of specialization within the beef industry, the Clarks decided to take the homozygous polled, homozygous black concept a step further. By using foundation Angus cattle, the Clarks are developing a line of cattle they can guarantee for to be homozygous polled and black.
"We are developing a line of cattle by breeding foundation Angus cattle to known homozygous polled and black bulls," Clark says. "It is our job, as a seedstock provider, to supply the right genetics and help our customer upgrade his herd."
The balanced trait approach the Clarks take to the breeding pasture will not change when they incorporate carcass data into the mix. Their balanced trait herd bull battery features one of the breed's top carcass sires, whose daughters are at the top of the herd.
"We have to combine all the right tools--marbling, growth, carcass weight, leanness and balance and style," Bill Clark says. "We have to add as many traits as we can and keep them in perspective."
Clark explains they have received limited carcass data on their herd, but technology will help them gather the needed data for future mating decisions.
"As ultrasound technology becomes more reliable, it will help us gather more data," Clark says. "At this point in time, we have some numbers, but don't really know how to use them."
"It takes a certain amount of numbers to get the data to work," Leland Clark says.
While most breeders identify the future of ultrasound to help sell potential herd bulls, the Clarks believe this technology could help eliminate some females at an early age.
"Rather than try to select a herd bull with this technology, why not ultrasound the females and get rid of the bad ones," Bill Clark says.
Selection criteria for bulls and females at the Post Rock Cattle Co. relies a lot on eye appeal. The Clarks use EPDs, weights and other performance indicators to help the decision making process, but eye appeal still is the ultimate decision maker.
"The numbers are no good without eye appeal," Clark says.
"Our EPDs are what our program is all about. Calving ease, performance and eye appeal come together," Leland Clarks says. "About 40% of our home raised bulls become steers."
Along with a strict culling procedure, the bulls still do not make it unless they pass a breeding soundness exam and have a minimum of 32-centimeter testicles at one year of age. The Clarks will stand behind the bulls that have passed their strict evaluation.
"We sell all our bulls with a first season guarantee and we will deliver three or more bulls," Leland Clark says. "We are going to start making more herd visits to our customers."
Promotion has been big with the Clarks. They have used the yards in Denver, Kansas Beef Expo, Nebraska Cattlemen's Classic and some local consignment sales to help get their name out.
"Word of mouth is our best advertising tool," Clark says. "If you have good cattle you better promote them. If nobody knows about them, you won't sell them."
Along with promoting their own product, the Clarks are proud to help promote the beef industry.
"We are proud to be members of the beef industry. And we have to produce a more consistent product," Clark says.
"The grids will help us produce a higher quality product with more consistency," Leland Clark says.
Post Rock Cattle Co. has definitely built a reputation for high quality cattle, but the Clarks say there is more to it than that. "We want to be known for producing a product our customers want. We are not out to make a fast buck."