Jeff & Lisa Liston
1234 606th Ave.
Lovilia, IA  50150
Phone: 641-946-8135
Cell: 641-891-1270
Email: jliston@iowatelecom.net

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Turtle Rock Angus

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.

Example: 20 cows averaging 1600#
Average weaned calf = 700#
20 X 700# = 14,000# of calves
     or
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.


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