Jeff & Lisa Liston
1234 606th Ave.
Lovilia, IA 50150
Odds 'n' Ends
Beef - because there is no such thing as a chicken knife.
The short version of how we choose cattle:
Description of a Bull: (thanks to old time breeder and
promoter Dave Canning) We want our bulls to make 2 tracks in the snow.
Description of a cow: (thanks to our friend and cattle
breeder Dr. Bob DeBaca) She needs to look like a ballerina in the front
and a German cook in the back.
Cow Psychology fact: (thanks to friend Bill Eaton from
Illinois) Cattle will almost certainly find a 2 foot opening in a fence
or gate, but will generally refuse to go through a wide open 16 foot gate.
And then there is a longer version of:
Choosing the right cattle: The cattle and bloodlines
you choose today impact the life of your herd- whether it is 5 years,
10 years, 20 or more. What is your market? What is your management style
and what are your time and feed resources? Are you planning to maximize
profit or performance? Are you considering gross profit or net profit?
Are you tied to one breed for any particular reason, or looking for herd
characteristics that transcend single breed traits? These are important
questions, and each of them needs to have serious consideration for anyone
planning to have herd “stayability”. Your labor and pasture
resources might mean 5 frame (or less) work best. Another program’s
labor, feed and marketing target might be best met by 6.5-7 frame cattle.
A program’s production level will be determined by the amount of
inputs they are willing to provide. Personally, we keep in mind that 95%+
of all cattle sell by the pound, and clipping doesn’t change the
weight. The balance of traits that we are keeping in mind are fertility,
efficiency(ease of fleshing), longevity, and carcass value. Through the
years we have found ourselves in need of “adjusting” the herd
back to the goals we feel are important. For example, keep your top performance
heifers only for a few years, and the frame and mature size of your herd
starts creeping up. It is natural for a person’s eye to go to the
biggest and fleshiest animals in a pen when making decisions. But with
knowledge of the pedigree and growth curve of a bloodline or particular
female you can better sort animals that can really be contributors to
the herd over a long period of time as compared to those that go beyond
the parameters of your goals and resources. By maintaining the balance
of characteristics essential for our program, adjusting the herd back
to our choice for optimum trait performance does not involve major herd
overhaul. The animals and bloodlines that have fast early growth and quality,
but also level off their growth curve early enough to stay in an optimum
mature range cow size for a certain type of program (whether that is 1100#,
or 1200-1300#), need to be the foundation for any herd really working
toward the commercial producer’s market. One interesting comparison
is breeding cattle to raising a corn crop. The science of raising corn
has developed into higher population, smaller ear size, shorter stalk
growth. By following this direction, yields per acre have increased dramatically.
In raising cattle, we tend to talk about our weaning weights, or maybe,
if more sophisticated, adjusting these weights according to the percentage
of live calves sold compared to the total number of cows. However, a net
profit approach to knowing what you have would be to figure the number
of pounds of calves sold per acre of land under use. The cost of production
per calf deducted from gross income which would then be used in adjusting
the income per acre would really be the best way to know what “production”
in terms of income we are producing. (We are still working on this formula
for our herd.)
Use of EPD’s: EPD’s are useful, but not
the end-all answer to breeding of cattle. They have a certain seduction
for some who think they can break down the art of breeding to a risk-free
equation for success. The science of agriculture is certainly useful,
but as with any tool, not every part of the science works the same for
every program, purpose or environment as it does in the laboratory or
controlled field study. One important factor to consider is that using
EPDs to get the biggest numbers possible across the board means that everything
else in your equation for raising cattle must also be present in just
the combination to support this maximum production. If your forage production
is native grasses, there is probably not enough nutritional power to use
the biggest EPD numbers with the results expected. In the sequence of
raising cattle and making decisions, keep in mind that your production
and bottom line will be limited by the weakest link in your program. That
could be the forage available (most native pastures aren’t going
to support 30# milk or 60# ww without major supplementation or fertility
problems). It might be the time and labor available (can the cattle be
sorted, moved, vaccinated, weaned at the optimum time?). It could even
be your marketing efforts (you hope for better than average prices at
a sale but do not have the cattle in the body or fitted condition buyers
expect). We find that we use EPD’s more for AI bull selection than
for our own replacements, but even there, many goals are not met by working
toward maximizing EPD numbers. We would never cull a good calf due to
poor EPD’s, nor would we keep a poor animal for the sake of great
EPD’s. Actually, when anyone analyses their herd, the oldest cows
should be considered the optimum EPD and phenotype to choose. Those cows
that are “time tested” must have the size, metabolism, ability
to get bred, and raise a calf (even if it is not the very best it was
good enough to stay around for years) that “fits” the management
and resources that a person has. We are working on a formula for longevity
that can be used as a predictor for replacements for our herd. More information
on this will be posted when it is refined.
Choices, Decisions and Experiments: We have raised cattle
long enough now that we have seen several complete cattle cycles take
place, and several purebred cycles as well. That allows us to make decisions
with some experience base that can only occur with time. For instance,
we endorse Jon Bonsma’s Man Must Measure book and philosophy
for the most part, and especially regarding the desired shape of breeding
cattle. Bulls need to be heavier in their front half and cows need to
carry the heavy back end of the breeding program. That necessarily isn’t
what is being promoted for bulls at this time, but over time, we have
seen the functional results.
As time has passed, we have become firm believers in using Nature’s
cycles and flow in our decisions, versus trying to “beat”
the limits that are naturally present. For us, that means to work smarter
instead of harder. Results of this approach include rotating pastures,
frost seeding, calving later in the spring and into the summer, eliminating
routine supplementation for cows and eliminating all chemical fly treatments.
Vaccinations are kept to a minimum, only for the basics. We feel that
by artificially keeping cattle healthy through too many antibiotics and
vaccines, we are actually covering up their ability to be healthy, stay
healthy and to have a good immune system. For the past 3 years we have
scored our calves and adult animals for fly population and for their ability
to shed out quickly in the spring. As we are finding more and more fescue
in our pastures, heat tolerance is an economic factor we must consider.
By choosing the best scoring replacements from the best scoring parents,
our breeding program is going to offer “stacked” generations
of not only solid performance and carcass quality, we can offer cattle
that we know can go into your environment, whatever that may be, and succeed.
Effectively, we want your business based on the fact that our cattle fit
into your environment instead of you having to alter your environment
to support the cattle you have chosen. We believe that if we get good
results using minimal inputs and effort in our program, performance of
the cattle we sell will either be the same as in our herd, or even better
for customers who have a higher level of feed resources and often better
management practices than we implement. We have sold plenty of middle
cuts of our cows through the years. The reports from the folks that have
made these purchases have usually been what we expect and more. When we
hear that our cattle do well for others, it is music to our ears.
Birth Weights - Breed for the 70-90# range with 80 - 85# being
optimum. Bigger calves generally are going to do better in every measurable
way beyond their calving date than the smaller variety.
Actually if you generationally breed for calving ease, cows will tend
to lose pelvic size- thereby increasing calving problems- the reverse
of the goal intended. Angus females are structurally fashioned to handle
the mid-range birth weights. Since they can easily handle calves that
are .7 to .75% of their body weight, a 1200# cow has no problem having
80-90 pounders. We have measured length of spine on new born calves for
over 20 years. The tapes that are used on heart girth for BW are quite
accurate for a calf that is 24-25 inches long from their shoulder point
to tail head. However, for every inch longer than that- the birth weight
is 5 pounds heavier- with no added calving problems since the weight is
in the length not the bulk. There is a slight proportionate increase in
calf length as the heart measure increases, but not enough to alter our
finding by very much. Therefore a 27" long calf of 95# shucks out almost
exactly the same as an 85# of average length- a 75# from a first calf
heifer about the same as a shorter bodied 65# calf. We have chosen for
length of calves for some time. We also find that those longer-backed
calves at birth carry their weight advantage on regardless of their frame
size. At weaning that means about 25# advantage per inch and by yearling
it usually translates to over 50#.
Replacement heifers - Keeping and buying replacement females that
are the largest frames and weights will eventually increase the size and
weight of your cow herd beyond the range of economy. There have been many
studies done showing that the most profitable commercial method of cow/calf
operations is to have mid-size females. Much like corn yields, they have
found that the smaller but heavier grazing population brings in the most
yield per acre- and that is really what cows are meant to do as well-
produce a yield of calf weaning weight off of your forage ground. In fact
the "pounds per acre" should probably be more meaningful for commercial
men in the future than weaning weight averages.
20 cows averaging 1600#
Average weaned calf = 700#
20 X 700# = 14,000# of calves
25 cows averaging 1250#
Average weaned calf = 625#
25 X 625# = 15,625# of calves
Same pasture, mid-size cows = 1,625# more payload
As a purebred bull producer we try and have bulls for customers that are a
frame size bigger than their cow herd to maximize the use of their females,
allow them to keep the more efficient size brood cow herd but still profit
from the larger, heavier calf that can be produced. Also keep in mind
that in a herd that calves females at 2, the heifer's yearling weight
represents 60% of their mature size. A yearling heifer that is 750-775
pounds is usually going to make a 1250-1300# mature cow. A 525# weaning
heifer that gains 1 1/2 pounds from weaning to yearling is going to hit
that target. A 600# heifercan even be brought along slower.
Importance of Milk Quantity: Bigger is not always better, and
those milk EPD's need to be watched. Years ago I knew a dairyman who milked
1/2 Holstein-1/2 Angus cows to increase the butter fat content of his
product for a niche market he accessed. Angus milk has a quality of fat
content that is more important than the quantity for producing calves
that weigh heavy and have slick hair coats. Voluminous udders on cows
are not worth the loss of their efficiency on forage to produce and breed
back without special feed or treatment. I have had many visitors to the
farm point at a larger type udder and comment about how she must be a
good milker- only I knew that she does not do very well in comparison
with other cows that do not have the big bag look. Unfortunately, I have
probably made similar comment when looking through other breeders herds,
and was probably no more right there than visitors at my place. Bottom
line is that milk is another one of those characteristics that needs to
be kept in balance to keep us in the beef business. Genetics, phenotype
and feed resources, matched with the "right" amount of milking ability
all need consideration when selecting Breeding cattle that match your
labor, farm enviornment and marketing goals.
I'm not sure where I found this many years ago, but there are some things
that don't change:
What is a Rancher?
Ranchers are usually found where there's cattle feeding, branding,
trading, roping and doctoring. Bankers hate to see them coming, little
boys admire them, city people visit and don't understand them, television
glorifies them, but nothing discourages them.
They like fairs, rodeos, auctions, dogs, dances, neighbors, forty dollar
boots and Saturday in town.
Ranchers don't care much for poodles, dudes, government men, fixing fence,
screwworms, cold weather, lightning, dairy cows, sheep, brush or weak
coffee. They put up with their relatives, worms, flies, floods, blizzards,
drought, bad luck and bad weather.
Today a rancher must be a salesman, animal nutritionist, vet, biologist,
weather forecaster, and a banker's calculated risk. He handles more money
than most businessmen and makes less clear profit than a paper boy.
No man is so far from Church, yet so close to God.
He carries in his pocket at any one time: chew, knife, staples, tally
book, business cards of every politician in the county, cattle eartags,
fencing pliers, $1.98 watch, billfold (empty) and a curry comb.
No one gets kicked, run over, stepped on, bruised, cut up, or as mad as
he does in a single days work.
He is overly optimistic in: The cattle market, next year, the 10 year
old cow that's never calved, range and pasture conditions, the hay crop,
and his twice renewed livestock loan.
No one is as generous, big-hearted, friendly, dependable, wise or honest,
and he will swap anything except his spurs, rope or bits.
The rancher is a producer of red meat, the hope of the future, the self-made
man of today. Big business doesn't fear him, the government doesn't subsidize
him. He relies on free enterprise and the hope that next year will be
as good or better than last. He doesn't cry on shoulders when hard times
hit, but resolves to do better if he can. He is the epitome of the American
ideal, and knows that he either must survive without government aid or
perish with it. He recognizes that our government is not there to govern
us, but to help us protect our rights for our families and our future.