Producers describe operations, note customer satisfaction is paramount in seedstock productionWritten by Gayle Smith
Their operations differ. They raise different breeds of bulls, and their management practices are unique to their own operations, but there was one point these three elite seedstock producers could readily agree on – listen to the customer.
Jerry Wulf of Wulf Cattle Company, Jerry Connealy of Connealy Angus and Loren Berger of Berger’s Herdmasters served on a panel of three seedstock producers who opened the gates for questions from producers on a wide variety of subjects.
Wulf Cattle Company
Wulf is the second generation of an operation founded by his father, the late Leonard Wulf, in 1955. The ranch is headquartered in Morris, Minn., but thanks to some luck and forethought by the family, they have acquired additional operations in South Dakota and Nebraska.
“My dad started out as a grain farmer, corn farmer and cattle feeder,” Wulf told the audience. “We bought feeder cattle and sold fed cattle.”
He continued, “It was only 40 years ago that we entered the genetics business. We acquired some pastures and started to artificial insemination (AI) cows. We were impressed with what the Limousin breed offered our cattle in the feedyard in terms of efficiency and carcass weight.”
“We wanted more of those cattle back in the feedyard, so we started selling bulls and acquiring those cattle back to run through our feeding operation,” Wulf said. “Our slogan is ‘We were cattle feeders before we were cattle breeders.’”
“Cattle feeding is still the economic engine of our company. The genetics component supports that,” he noted.
Jerry Connealy is a fourth generation rancher operating his seedstock enterprise south of Whitman, Neb. It is a family run operation with his mother Donnie, wife Sharon and their son Jed and his wife Kara. Together they care for and manage nearly 2,000 registered Angus cows. Nearly 1,500 of those calve in the spring, and the remaining calve in the fall.
Connealy said every cow is AIed for two heat cycles. No cleanup bulls are used, and the cows that are open are culled from the operation.
“We try to put a lot of pressure on fertility by doing things this way,” Connealy said. “We have an annual bull sale the fourth Saturday in March.”
“The 600 bulls on this sale are weaned in the fall, turned out on after-growth in meadows, brought in during November and placed on feed until the bull sale,” he explained.
The cows are managed in a similar fashion to the commercial cattle in this area. They run on range with a protein supplement until January. The heifers are calved in January, followed by the cows in late January and into February.
“We are customer-oriented,” Connealy said. “In our business, we have to be. All our bulls are guaranteed, and we deliver them for free.”
Thirty years ago, when Loren Berger took over the family’s purebred Simmental operation, he set out to develop hybrid composite bulls.
“At that time, in the early 90s, spotted and belted Simmental cattle were being discounted. At that point, I made the decision to move to a composite type bull,” he recalled. “It was a risk. I had a lot of people tell me I would be bankrupt within five years. The only operation selling a large number of composite bulls at that time was Leachman Cattle Company.”
But once Berger started this new venture, he never looked back.
“I really didn’t know if it would work or not, but once I got started, what I found was there was more demand for these bulls than bulls available. I’ve been able to grow this operation and do very well,” Berger commented.
Berger’s seedstock operation is located 15 miles north of North Platte, Neb.
“We sell primarily hybrid bulls – Angus and Simmental. We offer both Red Angus and Black Angus genetics,” he said. “The majority of the bulls we sell are three-fourths Angus or Simmental, or half Angus, half Simmental.”
Some of these composite bulls have also been bred so they can be used on first-calf heifers.
“All of our yearling heifers, regardless of percentage, are AIed,” he explained. “We do not use cleanup bulls. We synchronize these heifers twice and breed them to calving ease bulls. These offspring become the source of the bulls we sell to our customers to be used on their virgin heifers.”
Berger calves the heifers Feb. 1, with the cows starting three weeks later. The cows are also synchronized and AIed. Cleanup bulls are used on the cows for a total of a 50-day breeding season.
“We try to focus our AI program on highly proven AI sires,” Berger says. “Virtually all of our customers keep their own replacement females, so for us, maternal traits are extremely important. The only way we really know how a bull’s daughters are performing is if he has a vast or large number of daughters in production.”
They hold an annual bull sale in February. During this sale, Berger offers 200 bulls that are handpicked from 800 cows. A portion of the sale offering is hand-selected from herds that are cooperators of the Bergers.
“These are people who have bought females from me in the past and use the same AI sires I use. I go into their herd at weaning and select the very top end of their bull crop. I bring those bull calves to my ranch, where I develop and progeny test them. Genetically, they are identical to the bulls that originate on the ranch,” he explains.
Since he raises hybrid bulls, Berger says it is more of a challenge to obtain EPDs and genetic data on his cattle.
“The data we collect is processed through the Simmental Association. We get crossbred EPDs, so we can compare one-half bloods, three-quarter bloods and seven-eighths bloods and make a legitimate comparison regardless of their percentage,” he said. “Our goal as a seedstock producer is to provide our customers with a simple and easy method to maintain some maternal heterosis in their cowherds and to take advantage of breed complementarity.”
Berger noted, “When we look at the advantage of the crossbred cow in terms of fertility, longevity and lifetime productivity, it is really hard to ignore when we look at the economics compared to a straight-bred cow. We see this every year in our own herd because we have some cows that are essentially straight-bred Angus – fifteen-sixteenths or higher.”
Berger also sees hybrid cows improving fertility.
“Each year we pregnancy check, we find more opens and late-calving cows among those high percentage Angus cows than in our half and three-quarter bloods. They are managed the same. The only difference is their percentage,” he says. “Because of this, we try to offer a program that allows our customers to maintain that hybrid vigor in their cowherd and do it in a way that they can manage them as a single breed.”