I graduated from Kansas State University in 1983 with an animal science degree. I was full of knowledge and brimming with confidence when I came home to change our ranch for the better.
Once home, I made all the mating decisions for our cowherd. We use artificial insemination exclusively and have always had a genetic selection philosophy of breeding for as many pounds as possible. That's provided we can produce those pounds in the correct package.
During my first year back, I found a bull who, at that time, produced the most pounds we'd ever seen. This bull sired calves with an acceptable birth weight and explosive growth in a moderate-framed package.
My father had collected carcass data on all of our steers since 1970, but we had not yet gathered any carcass data on this sire.
Since arriving home from college, I'd repeatedly lobbied my father against gathering carcass data when no one paid for it. My father would only smile and say, “We are producing seedstock, and we need to know what our end product is.”
To bolster my case, I'd occasionally remind Dad about the bull we'd earlier identified who was the best marbling bull of the Angus breed. He had the ability to raise the quality grade of his progeny by a full two-thirds of a quality grade.
That was in the early days of Certified Angus Beef (CAB) when the only “grid” marketing was selling cattle “grade and yield.” At that time, there were no CAB premiums.
I reminded my father that this great CAB sire was a bull we couldn't afford to use because he did not have enough growth, was a negative maternal sire and his daughters had horrible udders.
“Dad, you know it doesn't matter how well a sire does for one category if he fails in several others,” I said. He smiled and reminded me that this was just one sire and that we still needed to know the end-product potential of all of our sires.
My response was, “yeah, whatever.” At the time, I was into pounds, regardless of the composition of the pounds, because that was what we were paid for.
What about the bull who I thought was the best ever for producing pounds in the correct package? Let's call him Super Sire. This sire's calves performed tremendously in the feedyard, attaining our highest average daily gain, lowest conversion rates and the cheapest cost of gain in Gardiner Angus Ranch history.
However, when we obtained the carcass data on Super Sire's progeny, there was a different story.
• The first year, there were 44 steers in this sire's progeny group, and 14 of those steers were yield grade (YG) 4. You might conclude that we fed them too long, but they were only on feed 98 days. Of those 14 YG4 steers, 11 graded Select.
What I, Mr. Mark “stupid” Gardiner, had done was identify the sire that was a trait leader for the Angus breed for negative marbling, negative muscle and positive for fat. There was no correct time to have ever harvested these steers because they did not have the correct genetics to hit the target.
After this episode, my “smarter” father smiled and said “Mark, now do you see why we need to know our end product?”
I ate my humble pie, but my empty feeling quickly became worse when I realized we had 36 more steers by the same sire in the following year's calf crop. Plus, I'd been on such a “roll” in sire selection that I'd used an unproven son of Super Sire, and he'd blessed me with 10 more steers.
This learning experience was painful. But, it helped me understand how important it was to consider the composition of pounds or what we now call “pounds in the right package.” Without end-product information, I'd have continued to select these cattle and probably would have created a herd of the most inferior carcass genetics in beef industry history.
I was allowed to keep my “job” of making all of our ranch's mating decisions. And, I've never forgotten this 15-year-old lesson. It's helped me to focus on all of the traits that beef cattle need to have to be successful.
One other thing I learned from this episode and am reminded of every day: The older I get, the smarter my dad gets.
Mark Gardiner is a partner in Gardiner Angus Ranch Inc., and a founding member of U.S. Premium Beef. A fourth-generation family Angus seedstock operation and commercial Angus cow/calf operation, the Gardiners annually market more than 1,200 Angus bulls. Contact them at: Angus Ranch Inc., RR1 Box 290, Ashland, KS 67831. Headquarters phone is 620/635-2932, or call Mark at 620/635-2760.