Going further north in the US, to visit Waukaru Farms, didn’t seem to cool the weather down, but a swim in Lake Michigan certainly did! Waukaru is a Shorthorn herd located in Rensselaer, northern Indiana and owned by the Jordan family. The first registered bull purchased by the family was in 1902, which perhaps makes them one of if not the longest running purebred Shorthorn herd in the United States. It felt very much like home when I arrived at their place and saw this sign!
Along with breeding Shorthorn cattle, they also raise some crops, with 1225 acres of land this year planted to field corn. After the corn is harvested, they are are then able to utilise the corn stalks (left over after the ears are harvested) as feed to winter their cows on. A lot of farmers in the United States rely heavily on corn stalks to winter their cows on, and due to the prevailing drought (the worst in 50 years) that is affecting a big majority of the country, there will not be the feed available that there has been in previous years. A further 500 acres of pasture land is used to run their cattle on. They have a herd of almost completley pure red cows for greater market acceptability, and also breed some Durham Red bulls (Shorthorn/Red Angus cross). The Durham Red program is a composite breeding stratergy that capitalises on breed complimentary, between Shorthorns and Red Angus, and heterosis. This year they will join 300 females, including heifers.
I got to look around all their cows and calves, including some embryo calves and saw the mother of Waukaru Patent 8161 ET, that is being used in Australia at the moment with some great success by Sprys Shorthorns. As well as Australia, the Jordan’s have exported cattle and genetics to a number of countries around the world. We did some general cattle work, put mineral out, stacked hay, fed cows and prepared their show team for the state fair.
I was able to go and spend a couple of days with Chuck and Brian Hannon at Donor Solutions, an embryo transfer business. The first job was to semen test a young bull. The semen was collected and then put under a microscope to assess it. The microscope was connectetd to a TV screen so I could see what they were seeing and they could explain it to me. Next job was to flush 2 cows. They flushed each cow and then took the embryos into the lab and sorted them under a microscope. They explained what made the best embryos and what did not and then I got to look at them to see firsthand what they were talking about. We got to talk about different methods of flushing cows and different types of hormones used when flushing. I was also able to palpate both of the cows as one cow gave more embryos than the other to feel the difference in their reproductive tracts. They took me through the whole process from harvesting the embryos out of the cow, to sorting them, placing them into straws and then cooling them down so they can be eventually placed into liquid nitrogen.
We were also called out to a couple of farm visits (as Chuck is also a vet) to some cattle. Dr Hannon and his associates are food animal vets, which includes cattle, sheep and pigs, but no horses. They also have recently started artificially inseminating sheep and goats at their facility. They A.I.’ed quite a number of sheep and were using some fresh and also frozen semen to inseminate the ewes. I was able to watch the entire process which was really interesting and even get to help out!
The beef research unit at Purdue University was very interesting to get to look around and find out some more about the research they do with beef cattle. Purdue have purebred Simmental and Angus cattle, but the majority of them are now SimAngus (half blood). They have a sale each spring in which they sell cow/calf pairs, and the cows are left open so that the new owners can join them to the bull of their choosing. They do a lot of their research on heifers, but only until the heifers are 2 years old. Some of the research currently going on at the beef unit included measuring performance and conception rates of heifers on limited feed rations, research on the use of dried distillers grain (DDG’s) in diets, and also the use of the liquid component, CDS (condensed distillers’ solubles), that is remaining after the production of ethanol, in the diets of cattle. I was able to see their bred heifers and cows and calves, and look at where they undertake their research on different projects and talk about them.
Not quite beef cows, but cows none the less! I got to visit and tour Fair Oaks Farms in North West Indiana, a 32,000 head dairy. The majority of cows (about 99%) are Holstein Friesian, with a few other breeds making up the rest. The 32,000 cows are not all at one dairy, as Fair Oaks owns a number of dairies and the cows are split up between these. It takes 800 cows to fill 1 milk tanker, so they work on multiples of 800, be it 800, 1600, 2400, or 3200 cows at each of their dairies, so as they are never filling a half or quarter truck, but always a full tanker. They have a big rotary dairy which milks around 72 cows at one time. The cows walk onto the rotary voluntarily, and then once the rotary completes a full revolution, the cows just back out to head back to their pens. It is not very often that they have to be pushed to go onto or come off the rotary. We took a bus tour around their facilities, showing where the cows get milked, their stalls, birthing areas, waste disposal facilities and where they keep their feed to make their own specially formulated ration for the cows.
As it is located between the two major cities of Chicago and Indianapolis, a lot of city people visit the dairy. For that reason, they have heavily focused on educating the consumer to try and dispel some of the misconceptions within the industry. They also have a shop where the public can purchase their milk, cheese, butter and ice-cream.
I was able to go and watch the steer judging at White County Fair in Renolyds, Indiana. They had the steers split up into breed classes and further within their breed into 3 weight divisions: light, medium and heavy. There were Chi’s, Maine’s, Poll Herefords, Simmentals, Shorthorns, Angus, Charolais, Herefords, crossbreds and AOB (all other breeds) steers. Market heifers were grouped together, but not by breed and even dairy steers competed. Each breed division had a Grand Champion and then they competed against each other for the Grand Champion Overall Market Animal. The crossbred steer was the overall champion, with the Shorthorn steer coming in as the reserve.
The National Junior Angus Show (NJAS) was this year held in Louisville, Kentucky. The Angus have one of, if not the biggest Junior National breed shows in the US. This year, cattle from Texas to North Dakota and California to New York, 40 states in total, and even from Canada were represented. A total of 712 competitors presented around 1350 head for judging, which made it a great place to go and see the wide range of Angus genetics currently in use in the US. The steer, cows & calves, bulls and bred-&-owned heifer judging went for almost two days, but could have been over a little sooner if not for a slight complication. There was a pretty nasty storm that came across Louisville with strong winds and bad lightning. It blew the roof off the motel that a lot of people involved with the NJAS were staying at, including me! The fire alarms went off and we were all evacuated, but it was about an hour before anybody actually knew what was going on. Pretty scary stuff!!!
There were also a number of other activities at the show for the competitors, which included showmanship, a judging competition, a cook-off and a quiz bowl. In the owned heifer show, which had approximately 550 head, both the Grand Champion and Reserve Grand Champion Heifers ended up both being by the same bull. They also had a carcass steer show on the first day of the show in which they showed steers and then loaded them so they could then be judged over the hook.
On the last day of my visit with the Schlutz family, I went with them to a talk being given by the Governor of Iowa, Terry Branstad and Lieutenant Governor, Kim Reynolds. They had been in the area giving talks on the drought-stricken parts of the state and were then given a tour of the Grimm Brothers Plastic Factory, where I attended, in the eastern part of the state. A breif talk was given by them both after the tour, and afterwards people in the auidience were free to ask questions about a number of issues. After the Q & A session was held, I was lucky enough to be able to meet them both!
The Da Es Ro Angus herd of Bob & Marillyn Schlutz had been in operation for almost 60 years with around 150 breeding females. We looked at some cows and calves, their show cattle as well as a couple of their best donor cows. We looked through the pedigrees of most of their cattle after looking at them in the paddock, which highlighted what was breeding well for them.
They recently had 3 winners at the Iowa Angus Preview Show, which is held before the National Junior Angus Show as a warm up to the event. Two of the bulls they bred themselves and the other was a bull they have just purchased a half share in. As Bob is also on the Iowa State Fair Board, we went and visited a couple of county fairs. No judging was taking place, but it was good to go and tour around the cattle sheds and have a look at the exhibits.
For the past 16 years, the Blue Ribbon Foundation, a fundraising body for the Iowa State Fairgrounds, has held a Corn Dog Kickoff which supports its annual fair that is held in August. I went to the event, which is a major fundraiser and includes a live and silent auction, food stalls and merchandise stands. All the items are donated by businesses or privately with the smaller items going into the silent auction and the bigger value items in the live auction. Two of the items in the live auction made $20,000! One was a handcrafted wooden table, the other a tour of the Barilla pasta factory in Northern Iowa, plus a meal cooked by a professional chef afterwards.
There was so much food there I think I almost burst trying all the different things! There were deep fried Oreos, funnel cakes, hot beef sundaes, giant Turkey legs, fairy floss, apples with caramel sauce, sweet and salty popcorn and fairy floss (just to name a few), and of course the ever popular corn dog, or Dagwood dog as we would call them in Australia. What a great way to experience American state fair culture!
Hays Beef Development Centre and Werner Family Angus are both operated by the Werner family in Iowa. The BDC is where indiviaul feed intake data is being collected and that data is being utilised by the American Angus Association for use in improving the residual adjusted daily gain (RADG) EPD. The feeders are set up so that only one animal is allowed in at a time to eat. As they put their head through the divider to eat, there is an electronic tag reader which identifies the animal and measures how much they consume. All this data and sent to a computer where they are able to see which calves are eating the least or most and performing the best. The test that they are currently undertaking for feed efficiency and daily gain is a standardized 70 day test plus a 20 day warm up period to get animals on to and used to the feed ration.
Custom data collection is being undertaken for individual clients and the data being collected on these cattle is more meaningful if they are in sire and/or contemporary groups. At any one time there are facilities available to house 400 head of cattle (200 per shed). 300 head can be on feed efficiency tests and another 100 on bunk feeders, which can’t have data collected, but is used to fatten cattle.
After looking at the feed intake research centre, we had brief stop to have at look at some of the Werner family’s cow herd. They run around 500 Black Angus cows with no other cattle introduced into the herd, with the exception of semen. They undertake a 60%/40% spring/autumn calving and sell 150 bulls annually by private treaty.