After a short plane ride, I finally arrived in the Lone Star state to have a look at the WHR Shorthorn herd of the Rasor family. As we were driving through the front entrance to the property, the herdsman was holding up a Rattlesnake that he had just killed!!! What a great introduction to Texas!
The Rasor family run around 300 cows. 150 being registered Shorthorns, with the other 150 being recipient cows. They flush about 10 of their best cows every year and put their embryos into these recipient cows. One day was spent pregnancy testing some of these cows and heifers that had either been joined by either A.I or natural service, or had embryos implanted. The cows were preg checked by ultrasound. One of the heifers that was checked was in calf about 30 days and you were able to see the foetus pretty clearly, along with the heartbeat.
I also got to help out with their show cattle, of which they sell a number of (mostly heifers) to junior cattle enthusiasts every year. They give these young people all the assistance they can to get them more involved and to be successful in the beef industry. They have a production sale every year, held the last Sunday in March, selling show prospect and donor females, as well as bulls. We also did some general cattle work, which included taking some cull cattle to a sale barn and weaning calves.
As well as having cattle, Sydenstrickers also operate 10 John Deere tractor stores, all located in Missouri, which also includes one of the largest outlets in the United States! They have all sorts of machinery, new and used which includes combines, tractors, mowers and ATV’s and precision agriculture equipment that utilises GreenStar precision technology that is able to gather information, reduce input and labor costs, increase efficiency, or better manage land and water resources. I got a tour of their entire store from the offices right through to the workshop which included a massive wash bay that is big enough to get a combine into!
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.
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.
While still staying with the Jensen family, I visited Ohlde Cattle Company near Clifton, Kansas. They run a total of 800 cows, with half of that number being registered Black Angus. Those involved in the Angus breed may recognise them as O C C. They are breeding a more moderate sized cow, with the aims of increasing efficiency and doing ability. As well as their purebred Black Angus operation, they have a herd of a number of different breeds which includes Simmental, Hereford, Charolais, Red Angus, Shorthorn & Senepol. They were instrumental in the development of the Senepol breed, and also exclusively developed high percentage Angus cattle, known as Angus II. They are normally about 7/8 Angus, with the other 1/8 being beef fresian. They A.I. 500 every year, which includes all their heifers being done at least once. They sell around 250 bulls annually that are mainly registered Black Angus, but also sell some crossbred bulls, like the Simmental/Hereford cross calf shown. I was able to look at their mature cow herd, as well as some of their herd sires, and talk with them about their unique approach to breeding.