Silver Bit Angus Ranch: Producing hardy Angus for rugged country
Scott Whitworth raises Angus cattle in the Pahsimeroi Valley near May, Idaho, in some of the most rugged ranch country in the state. He has been ranching there his whole life and grew up working on his family’s ranch.
Scott started out with a few cows his father had given him, and then purchased some cows of his own in 1973, at age 19, with a loan from the Federal Housing Authority (FHA). He bought his first purebred Angus in 1980, then bought his first ranch in 1982 from his family.
Scott has since added more ranches and runs nearly 1,400 cows.
Scott started keeping the top 20 percent of his bull calves as breeding animals, and selling bulls to family and neighbors. The first purebred Angus cows he bought were a disappointment, however, as most of them were unable to handle the harsh conditions of the environment.
It took a lot of culling and breeding to good artificial insemination (AI) sires to move the herd in the direction Scott wanted, but it paid off. In fact, he developed a herd of good purebred and commercial cattle that could do the job.
Sound bulls, good daughters
Fertility is one of the most important traits in any species of livestock, and it’s important to raise the kind of bulls that sire daughters that will do well in rough country.
Many of the cows at Silver Bit Ranch are bred AI. The cowherd calves in February and March so they can be bred before going to summer range. The cows calve on their own, and very few of the heifers need help calving.
With good teats and sound udders, there’s also less work at calving time because the cows can take care of their calves and get them up and going without any assistance.
People who look at the Silver Bit Ranch’s cowherd are usually interested in buying bulls because they know they will sire good daughters, and most of the bulls can be used on heifers.
“We’ve sold bulls now for about 40 years, first by private treaty, and then here at the ranch in an annual sale. Our 30th auction sale will take place on March 31, 2021,” Scott says.
“We’ve always aimed for the same goal – to produce the all-around kind of cattle that will work in our harsh country. They hold their flesh and have good udders, teats, feet, legs and good disposition,” he says.
Scott notes he doesn’t want cattle that might cause any problems for the commercial rancher.
Many of the cattle on the Silver Bit Ranch are kept in large groups in big pastures, and they know how to travel. Therefore, good feet and legs are very important.
“In general, Angus cattle have a problem with their feet, even though a lot of breeders don’t want to admit it. We know the bloodlines causing this problem. Sometimes the bulls we think about using may have good feet at a young age, but if they have those genetics several times in the pedigree, they usually throw calves with problems,” Scott says.
Disposition is also important.
“We always pay attention to disposition on the bulls. The last thing we’d want is for someone to get hurt by one of our bulls. We want these bulls to be able to be by themselves and not get on the fight. We cull and cut some bulls every year before they are sold if they have a disposition problem,” he explains.
Silver Bit Ranch bull buyers are loyal customers.
“We have many customers that have bought bulls from us for 40-plus years. After our sale, I deliver all the bulls within about a week, and most of them go to ranchers in Custer and Lemhi counties,” Scott says.
Ranchers in the area know these bulls will work well in this part of the country because cattle from the Silver Bit breeding program are hardy, efficient and do well in any environment.
Expanding the herd
“We expanded our purebred operation by using embryos from our best cows. We identified the truly outstanding cows in our herd to flush and purchased two cows from Schaff’s Angus Valley,” says Scott.
“The first one we purchased, SAV Blackcap May 5833, is a direct daughter of the great SAV Blackcap May 4136,” he continues. “The second one is SAV Madame Pride 0075, the mother of the world-record selling bull SAV America 8018, who sold for $1.5 million at Schaff’s 2019 sale. In the past five years we have implanted almost 1,000 embryos into our commercial cows.”
“We’ve been very satisfied with the cattle we’ve gotten from Kelly Schaff. We use a lot of his program, which concentrates on balanced traits. We like the fact that he didn’t switch to raising strictly high-marbling cattle with narrow bodies and bad feet,” Scott explains.
DNA and PAP testing
All the registered bulls Scott sells are DNA tested, using the Angus GS test, which verifies parentage, checks for all potential genetic diseases, and tests for 22,000 single nucleotide poplymorphisms (SNP) markers.
“We have found the Angus expected progeny differences (EPDs) to be very reliable,” Scott notes.
The bulls offered by Silver Bit Ranch are also pulmonary arterial pressure (PAP) tested.
“We are excited about the American Angus Association’s new EPD for PAP, and we are finding them very reliable. This trait is very heritable. Cattle that have higher PAP EPDs won’t work for our customers who run cattle at high elevations,” Scott says.
“The elevation of our lower ranch is 5,200 feet, but some of the bull pasture is over 6,000 feet. Many times, if a bull has a PAP problem, it will show up here,” he says.
Superior Livestock Video Auction
Scott started representing cattle on Superior Livestock Video Auctions in 2004, and this part of the business has grown a lot over the years. He now represents around 13,000 head of calves every year.
“A lot of the cattle we sell on the video are from ranches that use Silver Bit Ranch bulls,” he says.
Over the years, calves sired by Silver Bit Ranch bulls have become very popular with many feedlots, large and small, all over the country. Many of them call Scott before the big summer sales, and ask him to send them a list of ranches selling calves sired by his bulls.
“We always love to show people our cattle. If anyone wants to take the time to look, they are welcome to come,” Scott says.
For more information, visit silverbitranch.net.
Heather Smith Thomas is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.