Blake Sherrod, owner of Sherrod Farms in Oneonta, Ala., has been called “a student of the Angus breed” for good reason.
Back in 1993 when he purchased his farm, he didn't know much about the cattle business, but he was interested in cattle, and wanted to learn more.
“There were commercial cows on the farm when I bought it… a real mixture,” he remembers. “We had just about every breed you can imagine.”
It didn't take Sherrod long to start looking for ways to add uniformity and value to his cow herd, and after consulting with Dr. Bob McGuire at Auburn University, he made the decision to use Angus bulls in his program.
“I really needed some uniformity in my herd,” Sherrod explains. “Dr. McGuire suggested Angus bulls, so I decided to look in that direction.”
Once he had decided on Angus bulls, Sherrod began pouring himself into the task of learning about the cattle and the Angus breed.
“I read 50 or 60 books, went to seminars and talked with cattlemen across the country,” Sherrod laughs. “I probably didn't study that much in law school!”
He also began studying Angus pedigrees, EPDs and production records in his efforts to make breeding and mating decisions for his commercial cow herd.
“The more I studied and learned and worked on individual matings, I realized that I was doing what people with purebred programs do,” he says. “I decided that if I was going to spend so much of my time on it, I needed to be in the purebred business.”
Acting on the advice of Dr. McGuire, Sherrod had previously purchased an Angus bull from a small breeder in Notasulga, Ala., B & M Angus Farm, owned by B.B. and Mildred Darnell. Sherrod was so impressed by the uniformity of the calves he was getting out of the bull, which were also averaging 50 pounds heavier at weaning than any of his other calves, that when the Darnells decided to retire after 32 years in the Angus business, Sherrod jumped at the chance to buy their entire herd.
“I recognized a golden opportunity to purchase one of the finest and most established Angus herds anywhere,” he recalls. “I was also extremely fortunate to have Mr. Darnell join our farm as managing consultant.”
With Darnell's help, Sherrod began the process of putting his well thought out plan into action, building an Angus herd based on proven females through embryo transfer.
“Mr. Darnell didn't know much about embryo transfer either, so we kind of learned together on that one,” Sherrod says.
The Sherrod plan was basically this – acquire the best available genetics and use embryo transfer to build an Angus herd, producing quality in mass. Toward that end, Sherrod traveled the country and purchased proven donor quality females from such well known Angus herds as Gardner, Wehrmann, Bon View and Woodhill. He also purchased semen on some of the most well known herd sires in the country including EXT, Right Time, 8180 and 6807.
“In the beginning, embryo transfer was an experiment,” Sherrod explains. “I had to see it work before I jumped into it. We selected a few of our best cows and put them into an embryo transfer program.”
Obviously, the experiment worked. Today, Sherrod's herd numbers 250-300 brood cows, a herd built through extensive use of embryo transfer. In 1996, Sherrod hired Bruce Randall as manager to oversee the day-to-day activities of this large operation.
As his herd has grown in size, Sherrod has refined his E.T. program and cut back on the number of donors he flushes. He currently flushes four to eight donors each year, and all of them must make it through a strict selection process. All of Sherrod's donor females are typically five-years-old and must be proven, with a documented history of successful embryo production. Sherrod studies pedigrees, EPDs, and looks at what each donor's progeny has done. Another important qualification for a donor in the Sherrod program is consistent embryo production, ideally averaging eight or more eggs with each flush.
Once a cow makes it into the donor program, she is collected for one year (about seven times) and then bred to have a natural calf.
“Ideally, after we collect a donor for a year, we will have 70 or 80 embryos,” Sherrod explains. “That's about all we can use from one female.”
After they are harvested, the embryos are frozen and implanted later into recipients for fall and spring calving seasons. Sherrod estimates they calve about 150 E.T. calves each year.
This year, due to space limitations, Sherrod is sending 200 embryos to a commercial operation in Virginia to be implanted in May. In October 2000 he expects to get back 100-120 calves. They will also implant around the same number of recipients at the farm.
“We just don't have the acreage to run the number of recipients it takes to implant all of these embryos,” he explains. “This works really well for us, and we produce twice as many E.T. calves each year.”
In order to market some of these quality calves, Sherrod is making preparations for his first female sale, to be held April 3, 1999 at the farm. They will be selling 60 lots, which will include many of Sherrod's proven donors and their progeny, mostly first and second calf heifers.
“I realize this is not the purebred way,” Sherrod says, “but our philosophy is to get 70-80 embryos from each donor and then sell them while they still have a productive life.”
Sherrod has been so pleased with the quality of his donor females and the resulting heifer calves, he says most of his future donors will come from within his herd.
“I have been so satisfied with our donor females and what they have done,” Sherrod says. “They have consistently produced heifer calves as good or better than their mommas….The heifers are proving themselves in our herd and will be our donors for the future.”
Sherrod has also worked hard to create a market for his bull calves, and for the last two years, Sherrod Farms has hosted one of the strongest Angus bull sales in the Southeast. They have successfully sold 60 bulls each year to buyers from across the Southeast.
“Our program is aimed toward satisfying the commercial bull buyer,” Sherrod says. “We understand that in the end, that's where we have to make it work.”
In an effort to insure buyers the highest quality, Sherrod doesn't offer any bulls for sale private treaty. They are all sold with their contemporaries as two-year-olds or coming two-year-olds in the Sherrod Farms Bull Sale held in October.
“We want our buyers to know that the bulls haven't been picked over,” he says. “These calves are together from the time they are born until they sell. We don't take any out for private treaty sales or bull tests.”
The bulls are also held to high standards, just like their female counterparts. If a bull falls below 90 percent ratio, he is culled.
“We have a strict culling process,” Sherrod says, “but really, our bulls have performed so well, we don't get many culls. Most of our culling has been due to injury, not performance.”
In the future, Sherrod hopes to eventually be able to sell 100 bulls each year through his bull sale. He also plans to continue to build and improve the genetics of his herd through embryo transfer.
“We will always use embryo transfer in our program,” he says, “because we can take the top one percent of the cow herd and increase their number of progeny…it is the best way to raise the quality of the cow herd by mass producing your best cows.”