WY operation shifts focus
When a practice has been in the family for generations, change can be hard. However, being willing to find new ways to raise cattle to improve the herd can prove to be successful.
The Sims family has gone from decades of artificially inseminating (AI) cattle to raising their own herd bulls. Shanon Sims of McFadden joined the Working Cows podcast to share how his family operation made the change.
The family started to AI cows in 1985. At the time, this technology was new and rare, so the family built a legacy on the unique new practice.
Sims shares, “Even our neighbors started to identify us as the people who utilized AI in the cowherd when nobody else was.”
At the time, this breeding method brought many benefits to the operation. Specifically, the family noticed AI offspring’s 205-day weight increased almost 60 pounds in the first year.
The Sims family continued their AI protocol on the cows every year. Then, in 2014, the family wanted to transition to a more holistic operation. In 2016, the family artificially bred their last group of heifers and in 2020, the family moved completely away from AI within their herd.
“It took a while for us to go ahead and make this move,” Sims shares. “We talked about it every year, and there was always a reason to go ahead with AI, but finally we pulled the plug.”
Changing the narrative
Without intensive AI protocols taking place on the operation, the family turned to raising their own herd bulls. However, this choice did not come easy. Ultimately, they chose raising high-quality cattle over AI.
Confirming his decision, Sims shares, “Utilizing outside genetics built for growth and milking was taking us backwards.”
The Sims family wanted to raise higher quality livestock and did not feel the AI bull studs were fulfilling this role.
“Utilizing genetics coming from a farm in North Dakota or a ranch in north Texas wasn’t really moving us towards quality livestock adapted to our environment,” explains Sims. Placing a definition on quality, he says they needed to raise “livestock that can survive in our area and on our resources.”
The southeast Wyoming ranch faces 90 miles per hour wind speeds and nearly 12 months of snow cover. No ordinary cow could thrive in these conditions.
To add more confidence to their decision, the Sims family considered the strain decades of AI placed on their herd.
“We couldn’t afford to spend 21 days to AI cows with heat detecting and all-natural cycle, so synchronizing was the option,” continues Sims. “We started wondering if those cows were building a reliance on the drugs causing them to cycle.”
When placing an emphasis on making a profit, the family ranch could not afford cow infertility. Sorting through the reformations of AI and natural breeding, the family opted to change their breeding protocol to improve their herd.
Two years of results
After two years of their new bull breeding program, the Sims family has seen improvement within their herd. However, none of the growth would have been possible without a rigorous selection process and it all starts with the cow.
Sims explains the expectations of the bull’s dam, sharing, “In order for a bull to stay in our program, he has to be born to a cow that was bred in the first 21 days of the calving period.”
The first three years of a cow’s life are the most productive. If the cow is bred every year and has no birthing difficulties, any of their bull calves can be brought in as herd bulls. When it is time to become a bull, the Sims family has a very special technique for maintaining their bulls.
“We will wean at the end of February, and bulls will go right on to a hay ration,” Sims explains. “We are not trying to grow them out very big, but we want to know which can survive in our climate.”
“Once they’ve made it thorough the loop, everything is PAP tested and fertility tested,” says Sims, less concerned about the bull’s phenotype.
But, with every new advancement comes a challenge. For Sims, one of the most challenging parts of raising herd bulls is the lack of control.
He shares, “Producers give up a lot of control over their genetics. We are used to having a lot of control on what we manage.”
Although the family ranch only has a few years of practice on this new breeding management technique, they are optimistic for its future.
Focusing in the marketing benefits of the practices, Sims explains, “When we have a fertile cowherd, we have a lot of flexibility. If I can sell lots of pregnant cows because I have lots of pregnant heifers, my playbook is wide open.”
Have the flexibility to sell four-year-old cows that have peaked in their appreciation opens them to a pool of newer, younger heifers with the genetics the operation is after.
Savannah Peterson is an intern for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.