Finding a genetics niche: SimAngus genetics produce powerful cattle for Wilson Ranch
Alva – Not many things in life are better than sorting pairs out of the calving pasture with a good horse on a sunny, spring day when the grass is green and growing, Wayne Wilson says.
“It’s a quality way of life that I appreciate and value very much,” states the third-generation rancher from Alva.
Wilson, his wife Susan and son Kellen work together to manage the Wilson Ranch. Wayne and Susan’s daughter Lauren lives in Omaha, Neb., where she attends the University of Nebraska Medical Center and will soon earn her pharmacy degree.
A century on the ranch
Wayne’s grandfather Carl settled in Crook County about 100 years ago.
“He came to the U.S. from Sweden, migrated West and ended up here,” Wilson says. “He married my grandmother Lola. They raised their family here and started the family ranching tradition we are continuing today.”
The Wilson family has always believed cattle and farming are both needed to make a well-rounded and economically viable operation.
In addition to cattle, they raise hay and small grains, which can be used to feed the cattle during dry years or as a cash crop when the harvest is more bountiful.
The operation started with traditional Hereford cattle but started changing to Angus cattle in the 1970s.
“Over time, our operation moved from a commercial cattle operation to a value-added operation. We started to place more emphasis on raising better cattle and seeking more value per head,” Wilson explains.
Moving to registered
Wilson took over management of the operation in 1992.
“We started raising bulls in 2010 after we had the opportunity to buy most of the Pannell Ranch Angus cows when they liquidated their herd,” he explains. “The Pannells are long-time friends and previously our neighbors to the north.”
“They had an exceptionally good group of registered Angus cows. When Jim Pannell asked me if I wanted to buy the herd, it didn’t take me long to say yes,” Wilson recalls.
Once they purchased the cows, the family had a decision to make.
“We asked ourselves if we wanted to raise Angus bulls, fully recognizing there were many Angus breeders in the area, or if we wanted to do something different,” Wilson says. “We decided to cross the cows with a purebred Simmental to create an improved solid black, smoothed, polled product.”
The Simmental-Angus cross appealed to Wilson because the Simmental breed is recognized as the highest ranking continental breed for calving ease, weaning weight and marbling.
“Angus have the highest ranking for calving ease, weaning weight and marbling of the British breeds. Crossing the two breeds yields hybrid vigor and combines these desirable traits of both breeds in a moderately-sized, functional package,” he says.
“Initially, we crossed the Simmental and Angus because there was a good market for the half-blood females, and we knew where we could sell those,” he continues. “We also had an opportunity to buy a semen interest in an exceptional solid black, smooth, polled Simmental bull named WAGR Driver 608T. We artificially inseminated all our cows to Driver that first year.”
“When spring came, the cows produced some really nice heifer calves, as we expected,” he continues. “What we didn’t anticipate was how good the bull calves turned out to be.”
He continues, “We ended up leaving the top calves as bulls and started selling them to a few of our neighbors. It has grown from there.”
“We have been fortunate to have cattle that calve easily because they are moderate birthweight and the right shape. They hit the ground, nurse their mother and perform well, gaining pounds through the summer,” he says. “We have very good weaning weights with no creep feed – just the mother’s milk and grass.”
Raising registered like their customers
Unlike many bull breeders, the Wilsons calve in large pastures on the range where the cows are expected to take care of themselves and their calves with little care.
“We get quite a lot of snow here, so we have to feed four or five months out of the year,” he explains. “We don’t calve anything in the corrals or the barn. They find shelter in the pastures and calve on their own.”
He continues, “We feel it is important to calve these cows the same way our customers do. We don’t feed our calves any creep feed or supplement in the summer, other than salt and mineral. We achieve remarkably high weaning weights through good genetics and Wyoming grass.”
After the bull calves are weaned, they are moved to a 60-acre pasture where they are fed Purina Accuration from feeders and long-stem grass hay on the ground.
“We don’t own a feed wagon or a mixer. It is a lower input range system where the bulls get plenty of exercise,” he explains. “We feed hay on one end of the pasture, and they travel to the other end for water and the Accuration. It seems to be a good way to develop their feet and legs.”
“They grow and build muscle, but they don’t get too fat,” he notes.
Wilson has found the best advertising comes from customers who have had success with their bulls.
“It is very satisfying to sell bulls to our neighbors and see them work wean higher value calves. It is important to us that our bulls do their jobs in the pasture and our customers get the performance they expect and deserve,” he says.
“Our goal is to keep our customers happy, improve our offering each year and eventually market some of the heifers at our production sale,” he says. “Long-term, we would like to eventually integrate our program with a feeding operation to track the benefits of what we’re doing.”
Wilson adds, “We would like to give our customers an option for a better market for their product and more dollars in their pockets. Often they just don’t get paid a bonus like they should for raising good cattle.”
The Wilson Ranch SimAngus bull sale is held annually on the last Friday in March at St. Onge Livestock Auction in St. Onge, S.D. Learn more about Wilson Ranch at wilsonsimangus.com or by calling 307-467-5550.
Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org