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Well-rounded feedstock: Nelson Angus Ranch bulls excel in important EPD data and physical traits

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Nelson Angus Ranch, near Salmon, Idaho, has been supplying good bulls to commercial ranchers and purebred programs for six decades. Clyde Nelson began raising cattle as a young man when his family moved to Salmon in 1944. 

His parents had Herefords but Clyde wanted to try Angus. In 1948, he purchased 90 Angus calves from a local rancher, fed out the steers and kept the heifers as the start of his herd. 

 In 1952, Clyde bought some registered females so he could raise his own bulls.  At the time, the Angus breed was going through the compact fad. Clyde was unable to find the size of bulls he wanted, so he raised his own bulls from bigger cows.

By 1963, Clyde decided to go into the purebred business and bought a herd from Charles Johnson in Montana, who had been breeding Angus for 20 years. Clyde began carcass testing in 1971 and kept up with all the new technology in breeding better cattle with balanced traits, including feed efficiency and growth performance.

Early on, Nelson Angus Ranch utilized freeze branding for in-herd identification (ID), and still uses this method of individual ID. Artificial insemination (AI) breeding was utilized from the beginning, and embryo transfer has been a major part of the breeding program for many years.

The ranch is now run by Clyde’s son-in-law Steve Herbst, who is married to Clyde and Ruby’s daughter Janna. Steve and Janna started leasing from Clyde and Ruby in 1999 and then started buying the ranch.  

AAA advantages

Steve has carried on the same goals for balanced traits and utilizes a lot of genetic testing.  All bulls offered for sale have been DNA tested, utilizing all available tests from the American Angus Association (AAA). There is a lot of useful technology today available to breeders for making genetic selections.

Steve feels the AAA has done a great job of researching and making the various genetic tests and expected progeny differences (EPDs) available, including tests for several genetic defects and coming up with newer EPDs like the pulmonary arterial pressure (PAP) EPD for assessing an animal’s ability to stay healthy at high altitudes and to avoid brisket disease and heart failure.

One advantage the Angus breed has in developing genetic tests or trait EPDs is they have enough numbers to make the data dependable. With data from hundreds of thousands of animals, it is more credible than data from just 1,000 animals.

“The association has done a fantastic job to assist breeders with data collection and identifying traits, to create tools that will improve the industry in all facets, not just production but also performance and carcass. Collaborative efforts by conscientious breeders has helped the Angus breed lead the way and improve the industry,” Steve says.

When the first test for one of the lethal genetic defects became available, Nelson Angus Ranch used it and discovered some of the bloodlines in their herd were carriers.  They already printed their sale catalog for the year, but they withdrew all the bull prospects that might be carriers so they wouldn’t pass any problems along to their buyers. 

Those bulls were castrated and fed for beef.  It cost them a lot to eliminate those bloodlines, but they felt a moral obligation to their customers to only sell bulls free of any possible genetic defects that might be passed on to offspring.

“Integrity and standing behind our product is more important than money in the bank. Many people just look after the mighty dollar today rather than looking to the future. Integrity and trust is earned over time,” Steve says.

Phenotype is critical

Steve stresses the importance of performance and balanced traits, but notes phenotype is also important. He never selects a bull on records and data alone, but always wants to see the animal. Some things cannot be measured with tests and EPDs.  

“Seeing the animal is a high priority for me. One of the things I do now is have the mothers of my top bulls on display on sale day. A potential buyer can look at a bull’s mother and see what kind of structure, udder and disposition she has,” he explains. “There are many things that are only detectable with the eye. Even though the association has done a fantastic job, there are still a lot of important things that only the eye can measure.” 

It is always good to see the mother of the bull in consideration. 

“Sometimes it can save a producer about 10 years worth of breeding,” says Steve.  “By the time they get his daughters in the herd, not knowing what his dam was like and those daughters have their grandmother’s faults, they’ll realize this isn’t what they wanted, and they’ve lost a lot of time.”

“I have been down this road and found there’s no substitute for looking with my own eyes, and trusting my own judgment, rather than the judgment of some salesman. I have learned many salesmen only say what sounds good,” he says.

Nelson Angus Ranch doesn’t do as much embryo transfer as they have in the past, but occasionally the operation collects embryos from some of their best cows. Currently, they’ve been flushing two of their Pathfinder cows. These cows have excellent structure, balanced traits and longevity. 

“One of them is 17 years old and the other is 11. They are proven, fault-free cows, with ideal dispositions, udders, feet, leg structure, conformation and performance. They embody the whole package. They might not have extreme EPDs but they are good in any trait I want. This type of cow will keep anybody in business,” Steve says.  

A cow that consistently raises a good calf and stays in the herd for 15 or 16 years is worth a lot more than a cow that only raises a few calves and comes up open.  

Expanding operation

Under Steve’s management, the ranch has expanded, with more land, more irrigated fields and pastures and a larger herd of cattle. Today, the ranch runs about 350 registered Angus cows and farms about 1,800 acres. 

 “We grow our own feed – hay and grain. It doesn’t matter whether a person grows it or buys it from someone else, it still costs quite a bit. However, by growing it we know what we are getting. It’s a reliable source, which provides some peace of mind when we have to feed cows all winter,” Steve says. “It has its own stresses – dealing with weather, irrigation water, planting, manpower, the mechanical side of harvesting, the power bill, etc. – but it’s good to have our own feed.”

The ranch also has its own feedlot. All bulls are performance tested onsite and are available to view and inspect anytime. Visitors are always welcome and can come look at any of the cattle.

Bulls from Nelson Angus Ranch have sold across the country but many also go to local ranchers. One of those local producers – Beyeler Ranches in Leadore, Idaho – exhibited all of the division champions at the Lemhi County Fair in 2019. All of these animals were sired by Nelson Massive or Nelson Night Cap 5518.

Nelson Angus Ranch has been supplying bulls to customers for 60 years. The annual bull sale at the ranch is held every third Saturday in March. Some fancy heifers are offered at the sale, and the ranch also sells quality bred females in the fall at private treaty. Sale bulls are delivered free to purchasers in Idaho and adjoining states.

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Heather Smith Thomas is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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