Quality cattle and healthy soils, McConnell brothers work together to achieve optimal results
Dix, Neb. – Over the last 10 years, Royce and Ryan McConnell have taken their management of McConnell Angus to a new level, honing in on producing the best bulls while also developing their land base to be as productive as possible.
“Our grandfather, Clifford McConnell, bought his first registered Angus cow in 1962,” explains Royce. “We started in Colorado and moved to western Nebraska in the late 90s.”
Clifford passed the ranch to his son Roger. Roger and his wife Rhonda now work together with their boys Royce and Ryan, who are the third generation on the ranch. Royce and his wife Lisa’s four children and Ryan and his wife Annette’s five children are the fourth generation raised on the ranch.
“We built the herd up and have sold both bulls and females private treaty for years,” says Royce.
As they have grown and expanded, McConnell Angus now hosts an annual sale at their ranch, north of Dix, Neb., selling both bulls and registered females.
The first Friday of February is sale day for McConnell Angus, but coming up to that date, the family focuses their time and energy to breed a bull that is functional and works for their customer.
“Our perfect bull is one that is functional, has a good disposition and sires a lot of replacement females,” Royce says. “We’re all about the mama cow. If we have a good mama, we can raise good bulls.”
Their ideal bull also utilizes feed well and doesn’t lack in fertility.
“We like to match our genetics to get a perfect balance as we’re breeding,” he continues. “The fun part of this business is finding the genetics that allow cattle to survive and thrive in our area while producing pounds and profitability.”
The right environment
McConnell Angus also focuses on bulls that perform in the climate where their customers are raising cattle.
“Our PAP genetics set us apart,” Royce says, noting they have used pulmonary arterial pressure (PAP) testing for over 20 years. “We run cattle that work at high elevations.”
The bulls are sent to Laramie to 7,360 feet, where they are acclimatized for the summer and tested in the fall.
“We breed our bulls to thrive in the plains, as well as the high altitude areas,” Royce explains.
McConnell Angus has always sold females during their annual sale.
“There is a lot of demand for a good, productive cow that can raise a calf,” Royce says.
Ryan adds, “We like a cow that has depth of volume and fleshing ability, as well.”
They retain their replacements and sell heifers to maintain cattle that work well in their operation.
They meet that need by raising their cattle in range and pasture situations with minimal additional feed resources.
“We calve in August and September,” Royce explains. “Our cattle are pastured in western Nebraska, and the bulls are raised until they are a year old. The bulls are then sent to Laramie to be PAP tested, and everything is brought back here later.”
Calving in August and September allows McConnell Angus to develop a more mature 18-month-old bull to turn out with their cows. It also allows the bulls to perform better at high elevation.
“We don’t fight the elements of winter or spring calving, either,” he says. “I could calve 300 mama cows by myself out in a pasture.”
“Everything we do is around a mama cow,” Royce emphasizes.
McConnell Angus also utilizes an intensive grazing strategy, which keeps green grass in front of the cattle all the time and increases their gain. The grazing also improves the quality of their soils.
“We develop the bulls starting in early April when they go on green grass,” Royce says. “From early April to the first part of June, we move the bulls between four and six times a day.”
“Cattle are poor managers on their own,” Ryan explains. “They do what they want, so we manage them to benefit both the cattle and the soil.”
The cows and bulls run year-round in pastures. No grain is fed to the cows, and they work for their feed, even digging through snow to get to grass.
Royce explains, “We develop the bulls on pasture so they are well developed and ready for our customers.”
The females are run using the same strategy, benefiting the cow in both longevity and productivity.
“By grazing this way, we were able to increase our numbers without any more input cost as far as land,” Ryan says. “The cow is basically our swather and fertilizer. We have greatly reduced those costs.”
“Wildlife have also increased and benefitted from this way of management,” Ryan adds.
They use solar wells for their water tanks, making it easier to distribute cattle grazing.
The majority of the pasture land is a grass hay mix, primarily orchard grass, brome grass and alfalfa. The pastures are harvested for seed and then grazed.
The McConnells also raise cover crops, which they graze in the winter.
“We plant an eight-way mix that includes, sorghum, turnips, radishes and oats,” Ryan explains. “We like the cover crops for grazing, but it is hard to beat orchard and brome grass for winter grazing.”
By grazing their pastures, rather than harvesting them for hay, the McConnells also reduce fertilizer and equipment costs. They also spread straw and manure from the bull pens over their fields after composting it.
“We haven’t fertilized our best pastures in four or five years,” Ryan says, noting that organic matter has increased remarkably from their grazing strategy.
As they look to the future, Royce and Ryan agree they will focus on continuing to intensify and improve their cattle herd and the land.
“It can be hard to balance our inputs and still raise a product our customers want,” Royce says. “We want to continue selling 200 bulls like we do today, but we’re raising the bar on the product we put out.”
“We want to keep moving in the same direction,” Ryan says. “We’ll keep working to continually intensify the management of our ranch.”
McConnell Angus can be found online at mcconnellangus.com.
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at email@example.com.