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A FIRST HAND LOOK AT ROMAGNOLA BULLS

Jay Nixon

Some of you will recall that a couple of years ago, I wrote an article about attending a field day at Cherokee Hills Ranch near Paris Landing, Tennessee where I saw my first Romagnola cattle.

My reaction then, and my opinion now is that this is a breed of cattle made for today's market. They have the long body, the distinct muscling, the size and scale to produce Choice and Number One feeder cattle out of just about any herd of native cows I've ever seen. And at a time when every cattleman I know is scrambling for extra dollars when he sells his calves, this is terribly important.

I would like you to know that in the interim, I have proven my opinion about these cattle. I got so excited about them that I attended the Houston Romagnola show and sale in 1998, where my wife Lou Eda, a cattleperson in her own right, and I got to see super Romagnolas from all over the country.

During the sale, we got so excited that some of the yearling bulls were not bringing near what they should have, that we just rared back and bid on some of them. Damned if we didn't end up buying two for what we considered modest prices.

It was only after the excitement of the moment wore off that we realized we didn't have any place to put them. Lou Eda has quite a bit of country here in Karnes County, but all of it is leased. So here we had these two bulls, good ones, one from California and the other from Oklahoma, and no home for them.

We ended up with a short term lease on a little patch of ground near the ranch where we live, to be paid for by letting the owner breed four cows to these young bulls. Then, one of the men that leases our home place saw them, and after some little discussion, we leased them to him for our pick of three calves out of his 50 cows.

Admittedly, this was sort of a desperation move, so we could have a home for the bulls, but it turned out pretty well for all concerned. We were able to keep an eye on the progress of the bulls, and were able to see the first calves as they began to drop.

But let me tell you what, this fellow's cows were not what you'd call a super herd. They were, in fact, kind of a group of auction market specials, just plain South Texas cows. Up to that time, he'd been using whatever bulls came along, and his calves just weren't anything to brag about.

He was a little nervous using bulls with such large frames on his herd, and I could tell he was expecting all kinds of calving problems, because he was in the pastures morning and evening when the time came for calves to start dropping.

The young bulls thrived. Both of them are weighing close to a ton now, and they haven't been pampered. When you see the herd together, there is no doubt in your mind which ones are the bulls, because those two bulls tower over the cows like a couple of switch engines in a used car lot.

When the calves started falling, the owner of the cows came by the house to report his disappointment. All of them were little things, born weighing 60 to 70 pounds and long bodied. “Kind of scrawny, really,” was his description. And he was right. When the calves hit the ground, they weren't much to look at, little and kind of a red color. He was disappointed in their appearance, but he didn't have a single problem in calving.

Then, about when the calves reached three or four weeks of age, they muscled up like you'd put a tube in them and had blown them up. They shed the red color and most of them turned white. The rest were a lighter shade of brown or red than their mothers. They have black noses and hooves and black pigment around the eyes. And man, did they come on.

Most of these crossbred cows milk fairly well, and those calves really turned the crank. Some of the bull calves weighed more than 500 pounds at five months of age. They are long and straight, big framed, with well defined muscling, and the owner of the cows has been amazed. He never had calves that grew like these.

He is so excited that I've about got him convinced that we should put a pen of them together for the ranch to rail program so we can see what they'll do on feed and in the packing plant.

He's talking about buying the bulls from us, but I think we are going to want to lease them to him one more year. We'll see.

Now, if that herd of cows had been one of those production tested F1 herds or a good solid herd of Brangus cows, I wouldn't have been surprised at the quality of the calves. You'd expect pretty good babies out of mothers like that. But to see calves of this quality out of this set of cows is truly amazing.

The renter is talking about saving some of the heifers, and I'm trying to discourage that. Those heifers are just super looking feeder heifers, and all of them should go with their steer mates. As most of you know if you read this column regularly, I don't believe in saving heifers. It costs too much to get them into production, and the practice is a money loser, especially when you have heifers like the ones by these Romagnola bulls that will bring top feeder prices anywhere.

As for the Romagnola bulls in a commercial program, I can't recommend them highly enough. They are every bit as good as I thought they'd be. Maybe better.

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