Cattle Today

Cattle Today

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Jay Nixon

I have, of late, been on my latest round of livestock shows. Each year I tell myself I'm not going again, and one business thing or another always calls me back and I tell myself again, etc.

I watch the breed bull shows as a matter of course, mostly to reassure myself that some things never change, and sure enough, they don't. I heard judges, again this year, giving their reasons in one bull class after another in seven, different breed shows tell that they put this bull or that one down in class because of too much frame, too much size. They extol the virtues of the bulls they pick to head classes and for champion, and chief among these is always, it seems, “an ideal, moderate frame size.”

I have to wonder, constantly, where this love of the “moderate” in breeding bulls originated. I would be the first to tell you that I don't want to see any gigantic frame nine or 10, slab sided, raw boned, poor doing bulls in any pasture in America. That kind won't do and never would, but it makes me ill to see some really good, muscular, easy fleshing kinds of bulls put down by judges simply because “they are too big.”

Where did this idea come from? Don't these esteemed show judges realize we sell cattle by the pound. I can see not putting up breeding females that are big as the side of a house. They won't work. It costs too much to keep them up. But the bulls we turn out are another matter, entirely.

The cowherd in this country isn't overly large. Producers won't let their cows get too big to do well on their country. So, it seems to me, if you want to produce calves that grow rapidly, gain quickly, wean at 600 pounds or more, and kill at 1,200 pounds in less than 15 months, the growth impetus has to come from somewhere. If the cows don't have it, the bulls must.

Or maybe I'm all wrong about this. Maybe you don't need that kind of calf to make a living in the cattle business, today, but I'll tell you this much, it is far more likely that you'll make money on 600-pound weaners than on those that wean at 450 or 500. And I've seen darned few “moderate” bulls that can put the kind of grow into their offspring that will allow them to weigh 600 pounds out of most of the cowherds in the country.

If the average cowherd, especially here in the South, where most of the cows are, weighs much over 800 pounds I've been missing them all these years. They may be excellent mothers and a bunch of them are, but where are you going to get the growing power if you put a bull on them that is a frame six and weighs 1,600 pounds at full maturity. You aren't.

After making this kind of statement in talks around the country, I always have people protest that those big calves I'm talking about “won't fit the box.” What box? Packer size specifications on acceptable carcasses, the ones they'll take without docking, is from 650 to 900 pounds. Now let's use some simple arithmetic. A 1,200 pound steer that yields 65 percent has a hot carcass weight of 700 pounds. It takes a 1,400 pound steer yielding 65 percent to even come near the acceptable weight limit, and any steer that weighs 1,400 pounds has been left in the feedyard too long.

Another answer is that these old big bulls don't sire good replacement females. That's right. They don't, but I've already explained in this space several times why today's steer producer can't afford to raise his own replacements. No. He needs to buy replacements from someone who specializes in producing them and to devote all his grass and costs to producing as many good steers and muscular feeder heifers as he can. Terminal sire programs are the only way that especially smaller and medium-size operations can expect to turn a profit on today's market.

So, we don't care that we can't produce mellow, fertile, moderate-sized females with the big, long, muscular bulls we need to produce profitable steers. We're going to ship all our calves, bulls and females, when the time comes to market them. And I'll tell you something else. That feeder and that packer who ultimately buys your heifers will like the feeder heifers that come out of your big muscular bull better than they like the smooth, mellow, moderate ones.

In spite of several spirited conversations on this subject with some noted professors of animal science who insists that the “balanced operation is one that produces its own replacement females,” I still contend that we live in an age of specialization in this business. Feeder calf producers should stick to producing feeder calves. And if you are one who wants ever to have the option of retaining your production to the packing house, believe you me, you'll be glad you don't have any cull, mellow, moderate heifers to feed, nor a bunch of mellow, moderate steers to try and make show a profit.

Stop right there. I know what you're going to say, next. “If I put your big, muscular bull on my 800 pound cows, I am more likely to have calving problems.” And if you go out and buy big, coarse, splay-shouldered, big-headed bulls that weighed 150 pounds when they hit the ground, you are absolutely right. You will have calving problems. On the other hand, I've seen some of your moderate framed bulls that were built to be cow-killers. I've also seen some of the big sire breeds of bulls produce calves that hit the ground weighing 75 pounds and are long and smooth and easy to deliver. It depends on the type and the genetics and to some extent the breed.

It also depends on your cows. If your adult cows can't have an 80-pound, smooth calf without difficulty, you better look to making changes in your cowherd. Otherwise you'll have to be content with using Jersey or Longhorn bulls, so you won't have any calving problems. Then, see what you get for your calf crop.

To do the right kind of job in buying breeding bulls, you have to go to your source producer and look at the cattle and their records. You should select bulls that had reasonable weights at calving, nothing over about 90 pounds. They should be long and muscular to do the job, but their heads shouldn't be overly large, and their shoulders should be smooth and built close to their bodies. They should also be gentle and docile, so you won't have a bunch of nervous flighty calves. They should be smooth bulls, easy fleshing, not slab sided and raw-boned.

Take that kind of bull home and your calving problems will be held to a minimum. You may have a higher incidents of calving difficulty than you would with a Jersey or a Longhorn or some of the mellow maternal breeds, but look at it this way. If your calves weigh 75 to 100 pounds more at weaning and get a Choice or Number One rating from the buyers, you will make up in revenue far more than you will lose in a few calving problems.

I may be all wet, but that's my opinion. It's what I tell the producers I work with, and it's what I'd tell the show judges if they asked me, which they won't.


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