Rock Lake Angus:Small operator makes big splash
Southwest of Wheatland, Todd Platt of Rock Lake Angus strives to provide high-quality Angus seedstock for commercial producers operating on rangelands. Todd’s family has been in the cow business for many decades, starting with a dairy his grandparents founded in the early 1900s north of Boulder, Colo., where they milked cows for about 80 years.
Later, the family traded in dairy cows for Hereford cattle, and in 1995, Todd’s family moved to Wheatland with about 60 Hereford cows. In the early 2000s, the Platts decided to make the switch from Hereford to Angus with the help of their neighbor Bob Zorko of 7Z Angus.
“Bob and my dad went to Jim McClun’s sale in Veteran,” Todd explains. “For several years in a row they would buy all of Jim’s heifers to build the Angus herd.”
Functional, maternal cows
Nodding to longevity, Todd shares one of the first cows they bought from McClun’s sale is still on the ranch, as well as a Mytty In Focus cow from their first artificial insemination (AI) calf crop. Todd’s dairy background comes in handy especially in terms of increasing diversity within the herd with AI.
Longevity and the ability to produce are two highly sought-after traits in Rock Lake Angus cattle.
“I like to focus more on maternal traits,” he says. “I like to build cow families and back them up with good producing cows.”
Additionally, Todd shares he’s used different bulls on his best cows and hasn’t had a bad calf out of them yet, putting emphasis on high-quality cows to pass on quality genetics through their bulls. While maternal traits are a large focus in the operation, the cows at Rock Lake Angus must prove to be functional.
Todd adds, “We’ve tried to stick to the middle ground, but it goes back to the dairy days where, first and foremost, we are building a cow. I think especially when the cow cycle gets to the rebuilding stage, producers are going to start looking harder at maternal traits in order to retain heifers and build their herds back up.”
“Functional is a key word right now,” Todd says, adding the matings at Rock Lake Angus avoid extremes or focus too much on one trait. “Our whole herd is based on calving ease, but we like to see added growth, good feet and good carcass performance. Most people I sell to range calve, and they want a live calf that will grow.”
Todd notes well-structured hooves and legs are sometimes overlooked but are just as important as any growth or carcass trait.
One of the accomplishments Todd is most proud of is the bull RL Justice, boasting 17 traits in the top 30 percent of the breed.
“I think some bull studs are looking at smaller operations to get different genetics,” Todd notes. “We’re not trying to do anything over the top, but we look for everything we produce to be functional and balanced.”
“Embryo transfer (ET) has helped us get to where we are now,” Todd says. “There is so much production growth we can get with ET that we can’t get with anything else.”
Rock Lake Angus sold a heifer calf, RL 9061 Birdie 3102, in the Casper Angus Sale around 10 years ago who became the mother of Stevenson Declaration and Stevenson Big League.
Todd flushed embryos out of another favorite on the ranch, RL Cash Lady 8988, and has had many impressive bulls and heifers with her genetics, including the bull RL Justice.
In addition, Rock Lake Angus utilizes DNA enhanced genomics, which Todd shares adds another layer to making mating decisions and provides ground-truthing.
“We have seen bulls, which based on expected progeny differences (EPDs), would be calving-ease bulls, but after the DNA came back different from the EPDs, we pulled them from the sale as a calving-ease bull because genetically the numbers weren’t right,” he explains.
Todd is also proud of Rock Lake Angus for surviving the times, especially when it comes to drought, cattle markets, snowstorms and many other hardships producers face.
He says, “Something I’ve seen is retraction in cow herds. Many don’t have the need for bulls anymore because they’ve sold most of their cows.”
Though, Todd adds, things are looking up for ranchers lately. When looking at smaller operations, tenacity is the word.
“In agriculture, its important to recognize hard work because most days, it’s a thankless job. Through snowstorms and drought, ranchers continue to take care of animals and hope we have better things to keep us mentally in a better place,” he notes.
Giving back to the future of agriculture is important to Todd. This last year, Rock Lake Angus donated a heifer to the Wyoming Junior Angus Association raffle for young producers.
“I think this business needs more young people involved,” Todd says. “We need to try to do as much as we can to get kids to stay on the ranch and involved in production agriculture.”
Twenty years into the Angus seedstock business, Todd notes he is proud of what the operation has accomplished and has many thanks to give, including Bob Zorko, his sister Heidi and nephew Dane, his mother Nancy, sale manager Ron Frye, Joe Deeney and the Smialek crew in Glendo – Doug, Dareth, Nolan, Drew and Ben.
Rock Lake Angus hosts a sale each December boasting their best yearling bulls, coming two-year-old bulls and bred heifers. For more information, visit rocklakeangus.com.
Averi Reynolds is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.