By Troy Smith
Nebraska Beef Council
In southwestern Nebraska, near the community of Max, ranching is a nearly 100-year-old tradition for the Whipps clan.
Lindy Whipps represents the third generation of his family to run cattle along the Republican River and in the rolling hills that cradle it. A fourth generation will embrace the cow business when Whipps' son, Levi, completes his college education and joins his parent's Dundy County operation.
While Lindy Whipps is proud of the ranching tradition, he is not afraid to break from some traditional ranching practices. In the midst of his second term as a director for the Nebraska Beef Council, he also advocates programs that challenge traditional thinking.
"One thing that has troubled me since I have been a director is being asked how checkoff dollars are spent," smiles Whipps. "I am more than happy to talk about how producers' dollars are used, but I think they are being invested, not spent. My goal is to invest them in programs that will bring measurable returns to producers in the future."
The foundation for Whipps business investment is a commercial cow herd. The majority of the ranch is rangeland, but a complimentary farming enterprise includes some acreage under center-pivot irrigation. wheat is the only cash crop and all other cultivated land produces feed and forage that are fed on the ranch.
"We background our calves, and unless market conditions point us toward marketing feeder cattle, we will finish them right here too. Then, we market them through programs designed to reward individual carcass merit, like Nebraska Corn-Fed Beef and U.S. Premium Beef. We get all the carcass data back and try to use it to keep improving our quality," explains Whipps. "We are primarily cow raisers, so we still stress reproductive traits in our breeding program first. That has helped us to develop a market for replacement quality females too."
Whipps says the latest departures from tradition involve a shift in calving season and a more intensive approach to grazing management. For years, heifers were bred to begin calving in mid-February, with cows starting March 1. This year, both groups will be bred to start 60 days later. Whipps cites several reasons for the change.
"Early calving has been pretty easy with the weather we have had during the last couple of years, but that will change. Rather than run the risk of calving in a snow bank, we are going to breed them to calve on green grass," Whipps offers. "I believe it will cheapen our cow maintenance costs, in the long run. We will continue to wean in late September or early October. The cows can recover before winter sets in, and get along fairly cheaply on crop residues and a minimum of supplemental feed right up until grass time in the spring."
Whipps says their later born calves should be finished at a time when there is a shorter supply of fed cattle ready for market. That should be advantageous from a marketing standpoint, as well as being good for marketing programs that need a consistent, year-around supply of cattle.
With an eye on improved range condition and optimum animal performance, Whipps has been dividing large pastures and laying pipeline for additional watering sites. The grazing system involves moving rapidly through the series of smaller pastures, allowing each to have ample rest between grazing periods. Whipps believes the system will allow for better drought management and increased stocking rates. Its another step toward realizing optimum return on investment in land and livestock.
Mindful of the need to promote customer satisfaction, Whipps says programs designed to enhance beef quality are worthy investments of beef checkoff funds. One such program is Beef 706.
"Traditional thinking says we are in the business of selling cattle, but we need to think of ourselves as sellers of beef. The Beef 706 program is helping change the old mind-set to focus more on satisfying the consumer. It is all about helping sellers of beef to improve the quality and consistency of their product," offers Whipps.
With funding from the Nebraska Beef Council, Beef 706 courses are conducted by the Nebraska Cattlemen and the University of Nebraska. Held two to three times per year at the university's animal science complex, in Lincoln, each three-day workshop involves approximately 35 participants representing all beef production segments and allied industries.
Participants evaluate live animals and follow them through carcass evaluation and fabrication. The course is designed raise awareness of quality and yield grade differences, sources of defects affecting quality, value differences, techniques for measuring beef palatability and technologies for enhancing quality and consistency during production and processing.
"Beef 706 has done a lot of good. It is a great opportunity for a lot of producers to learn more about steps taken during processing to maintain quality and ways to create added value," states Whipps. "It makes you stop and think about things that producers, as well as processors, can and should do to improve customer satisfaction. I encourage producers to take advantage of Beef 706. And for those who have and are ready to take the next step, Beef 808 is coming. It will be excellent."
The Nebraska Beef Council is a non-profit organization served by a nine-member board of directors. These volunteer directors oversee Nebraska's beef checkoff and checkoff-funded programs. Programs for marketing and promotion of beef are funded by the $1 beef checkoff.