Illinois had never claimed a top producer prize in the previous 38 annual meetings of the Beef Improvement Federation (BIF). But the 39th changed all that when two Illinois operations were tapped as the top purebred and commercial operations.

Announced at the 2006 BIF Research Symposium and Annual Meeting, held this week at the Pearl River Resort in Choctaw, MS, Sauk Valley Angus of Rock Rapids was selected as the 2006 Purebred Producer of the Year. Meanwhile, the Pitchfork Farm in Stronghurst was named the top commercial operation.

Sauk Valley Angus is owned by Gary and Kathy Sandrock and managed by Jay King. The operation consists of 480 registered Angus cattle and 190 commercial females used in the recipient program. The family has been involved in raising cattle and breeding Angus seedstock for seven generations.

One of the key elements in the Sauk Valley Angus operation is a performance recordkeeping system comprising of the Sesame Data base program customized by Sauk Valley Angus to utilize herd info in a more efficient manner. This system is supplemented by the Angus Information Management program developed by the American Angus Association.

Meanwhile, Ken and Sara Nimrick are owners of the Pitchfork Farm, a grain and commercial beef operation consisting of 220 cow-calf pairs and 35 replacement heifers on 340 acres of permanent and rotational pasture. The couple operates on land that's been in Sara's family since the mid 1800s.

The Pitchfork genetic program centers around the use of composite bulls consisting of 50-75% Angus or Red Angus, and 25-50% Simmental or Gelbvieh. The herd excels in reproduction management through the use of estrus synchronization, artificial insemination of their replacement heifers, and limiting the length of the breeding season for the mature cow herd.

For more info on these operations and other 2006 BIF honorees, visit: www.bifconference.com. -- Joe Roybal