What a wonderful 11 weeks I have been able to spend here in the United States. I have learnt so much and made a wealth of contacts within the beef industry. What an amazing opportunity to be able to learn about, and from, one the worlds largest cattle and beef producing nations.
From National Junior Breed Shows, purebred breeding operations, artificial breeding centres, feedlots, abattoirs and universities, I certainly was able to cover a lot of the beef industry in the US. This of course would not have been possible without the generous help of so many people! I will get to thanking these people at the conclusion of my study tour. It is not all over yet though! Now back to Canada to look at some more breeding operations.
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I was able to tour extensively a feedlot in Lockney, TX, operated by Cargill. It was originally an independent feed yard until purchased by Cargill a number of years ago. It is permitted to hold 70 000 head, however is currently feeding around 52 – 53000 head. The cattle purchased for the feedlot are from all around the US, with the big majority being Angus cattle. It is a unique feed yard in that it does not do a days feeding program, 80 or 120 days for example. Instead, after the cattle have been started on feed for a certain amount of time, they are weighed and scanned for fat, marbling and REA (EMA). They are then put into new mobs accordingly, so cattle are placed together that are similar in terms of fat depth, marbling and rib eye area. They are then feed accordingly to their scans, which in turn maximizes efficiency of the whole system. All the cattle in a group therefore should have similar quality & yield grades.
They have 6 different rations which they feed the cattle, depending on which stage they are – from entry into the feedlot to a finishing ration. Like the majority of cattle feed in the US, it is a corn based ration with the ethanol by-product, Dried Distillers Grain also used. There is also a number of other components that make up the diet, which includes a number of micronutrients, like zinc and copper.
The cattle are fed 3 times daily and about 650,000 gallons or water is used per day. The pens that house the cattle are cleaned once every week to remove manure and try ensure the animals are always in good health. It is then stockpiled and taken by an independent company for different purposes.
Unfortunately due to regulations put in place by Cargill, I was unable to take any photos at the feed lot, so I cannot share any with you!
A trip across to the other side of Texas after WHR Shorthorns to visit Texas Tech University. I got to spend the week at the Animal & Food Sciences Department. When I first arrived, I got a tour around the Gordon W. Davis Meat Science Laboratory. The Meat Science Department has their own miniature processing facility which has the ability to process cattle, sheep, pigs and goats. The University’s meat judging team is then able to use the product to train for upcoming competitions. The product is then put in retail packages and sold through the university under the label Red Raider Meats. All the products are US inspected and passed by the Department of Agriculture. Anybody can buy the meat and the money from the sales goes toward funding scholarships at the university. I also met with a number of the staff and faculty members throughout the week and talked about some of their research projects that are currently being undertaken. I went into the ICFIE lab (International Center for Food Industry Excellence) where they were doing experiments on bacteria levels in bovine lymph glands and faecal matter. They were doing analysis for several different bacteria, with results from these in a matter of hours with a new system, known as BAX system.
I got to sit in on some classes and also go out to the university farm, where they run a SimAngus program. They had their cows and calves in a dry lot feeding them, due to the drought being very prevalent in that part of Texas. They also sell some half blood bulls, produced via their breeding herd, privately throughout the year. It is much cheaper to feed them this way instead of find pasture land to lease and graze them on. They also have a feedlot for which they do a number of trials in, and also have their own feed mill so as they can mix their own rations according to the different types of research being undertaken.
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!
After leaving the Jordan family and a long day traveling, I arrived in Mexico, Missouri to visit the SydGen Angus herd. The herd was established in 1952 and operated as Sydenstricker Angus Farms and went under the S A F prefix. Then a little over 10 years ago they started to operate as Sydenstricker Genetics to signify the business they are in and bring forward a unique naming prefix for their cattle, in SydGen. Two of perhaps the most identifiable bulls in the Angus breed, S A F Fame and V D A R New Trend 315 are also buried on the property.
We toured around their entire herd, which included weaner and yearling bulls, cows and calves, and joined heifers & cows to calve this autumn and herd sires. They have around 800 breeding cows of which they will calve 500 this autumn and 300 in the spring. Of these calves, around 25% would be by embryo transfer. They run their cow herd on about 3000ac of owned and leased land. We got to talk a lot about genetics and cattle throughout my time at Sydenstrickers, which was great!
It was great to work with the SydGen team for the week, and a very busy one it was at that! We hauled sale cows from different pastures back to their home place for their upcoming sale this November. We also preg checked cows, did pre weaning treatments for calves, tattooed calves, fly and worm treatments, put out mineral and blocks, fed cattle and other general duties. Like a lot of the country, it is very dry where Sydenstrickers are, and as their corn crop wasn’t as good this year, they chopped it all and made it into silage, which they will then be able to utilise as feed for the winter. Thanks to the Sydenstricker crew for a great week!
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.
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.