South Dakota ranchers successfully use genetic testing to quickly improve cattle herd
Cheyenne – A South Dakota rancher shared with producers how he has added $100 a head in premiums to his finished cattle using genetic testing.
Troy Hadrick told producers during the Range Beef Cow Symposium that using GeneMax Focus genetic testing has allowed him to make improvements in his cattle herd in less than five years.
“When we started to artificially inseminate (AI) in 2012, we thought it would be 10 to 15 years before we got to where we are now,” he told producers. “But, it only took four to five years.”
“It is not because of some magic formula in our backroom. It is because we utilized tools that are available to every one of us. Because of it, we hope to pass this ranch on to the sixth generation someday,” he said.
Evaluating the operation
The Faulkton, S.D. rancher and his cousins took over management of the family’s commercial Black Angus and farming operation in 2012 from Hadrick’s dad and uncle.
“We are the fifth generation of the operation, which started in 1910,” Hadrick said.
“When we took over in 2012, it was a great opportunity for us to reevaluate everything we had been doing,” he says. “We had to ask the question, why were we doing things the way we were?”
Up to that point, the goals of the operation were to grow big calves, keep the biggest replacement heifers, background the calves after weaning and then market them as feeders once a year through the local sale barn.
After a drought in 2012, combined with high corn prices and high land prices, the family started looking at how they could increase profitability without expanding.
“We decided, instead of getting bigger, we wanted to find ways to get better,” he said.
At that point, the Hadrick family changed their management strategy, shortening the calving season, reducing cow size and doing a better job managing their cows and pasture.
They also started to utilize technology by looking into ways to increase the value of their cattle.
“We had already reduced our herd numbers because of the drought, so we decided to do things differently. We started to AI all the cows to make big genetic changes,” Hadrick said.
They also changed the marketing plan.
“Every day the beef market tells us they will pay more money for cattle that grade prime or Certified Angus Beef (CAB),” he said. “So, we tried to make cattle that grade.”
“We focused on improving the cows through AI and raising our own cleanup bulls with the improved genetics we were using,” he continued.
Using genetics data
They also started retaining ownership of the AI-sired calves and collecting carcass data.
“In June 2014, we got our first set of carcass data,” he said. “They graded a little better than the industry average, with 89 percent choice and 30 percent CAB.”
Their goal was for the finished cattle to grade prime or CAB, so they could earn a premium for every single pound they produced.
In 2014 and 2015, they earned a $46 and $49 premium, respectively. By 2016, they were up to $78, and by 2017, they had doubled the premium to more than $100.
“What we look at is the steers cost the same to produce, no matter how they grade. It costs the same to feed their mothers, and vaccination costs are the same,” he said.
The steers were genetically tested using GeneMax Focus.
“We wanted to find out which really were our best calves,” he said of the test. “The results really changed our understanding of what our calves were. We got our first taste of genomic data, and that gave us the confidence to make some marketing and breeding decisions.”
“Our next step was to test our heifers, so we could pinpoint the ones that would do the best job for us,” he explains.
They used the information from that testing to help them determine which bulls to use to improve their cattle.
“We started putting a lot of reproductive pressure on our heifers,” Hadrick explained. “They got one chance at AI and one chance at cleanup.”
“We didn’t want to put any heifers back in the herd that were going to lose money,” he added.
By genetically testing their replacement heifers, they also found a new marketing opportunity.
“We typically AI the heifers in May, put the bulls out for the first cycle, pull the bulls first of July and ultrasound the heifers Aug. 1. We didn’t want to sell the open heifers at our local sale barn because they have value, so we put the open heifers on feed in mid-August,” he said.
Hadrick continued, “By December, they are finished. They graded 57 percent prime, 17 percent CAB and gained five pounds a day. The data we received helped us make good marketing decisions, and that has created a nice profit center for us.”
Hadrick has found he can sample calves as babies by taking tissue samples and sending them in for genetic testing.
“This allows us to adjust our breeding decisions before breeding even starts,” he said.
“Everyone says genetic change is slow, but with good technology and good decisions, I don’t think it is,” he explained.
Hadrick said after having a good ranch management team that answered his questions and served as the key to helping him improve the herd, his goal is to help others.
“We do a lot of genetic consulting with some of our bull customers, who are using genetic data to help them make good decisions,” he explained. “We work with them to figure out ways they can retain ownership of their calves, which is not always easy.”
“I had a lot of people help me, so now I am trying to help others,” he noted. “The key is to use the technology to improve the quality and profitability of the herd.”
Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.