The Beef Improvement Federation (BIF) named the JHL Ranch, Ashby, Neb., as its 2009 Commercial Producer of the Year. The family has run cattle in the southwest corner in the Nebraska Sandhills since 1885. The JHL brand is reputed to be one of the oldest used in Nebraska having been legally registered in the state in 1920.

Ranch owners Art and Merry Brownlee, along with their son Ethan, accepted the award from BEEF magazine Senior Editor Burt Rutherford during the 41st BIF Research Symposium and Annual Meeting, April 30 – May 3, 2009, in Sacramento, Calif. The ranch was nominated by the Nebraska Cattlemen and the Braunvieh Association of America, both based in Lincoln, Neb.

Harlan Doeschot of Golden Link Braunvieh, Firth, Neb., said, "There is not a more deserving recipient of the commercial producer of the year award than the JHL Ranch. Art and Merry have tested their cattle and built a tremendous herd based on the data they have gathered."

The Brownlees took the reins of the operation in 1995 and spent the past 14 years working toward their goal to apply research and analysis principles to ranching. The ranch runs between 1,300 and 1,400 Angus- and Braunvieh-cross cows, utilizing 80 paddocks in an intensive, managed rotational grazing system on approximately 30,000 acres.

The complete tracking and analysis of two end products – replacement females and carcass merit, have driven the spring-calving operation. These actions have been made possible by the computer-based use of Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), ultrasound and linear measurements, as well as Expected Progeny Difference (EPD) technology.

The majority of the cows are bred through artificial insemination (AI) and calves are weaned at 150 days of age. The calves are backgrounded and supplemented on grass at the ranch and then custom fed with ownership retained to the rail. The ranch has marketed a USDA Source and Age Verified product since 1995.

After years of tracking, verifying and incorporating the progeny in the commercial herd, the JHL Ranch purchased an existing Braunvieh herd in 2009, launching its seedstock division.

"We are honored and blessed to be named as this year's commercial producer of the year," said Art. For the past decade, we have had the guidance and counsel of past recipients and individuals here today, as well as the Beef Improvement Federation guidelines to develop our program and take it to the next level. We are a testament that change is possible and change can be profitable," he added.

The 41stBIF Research Symposium and Annual Meeting is hosted by the California Beef Cattle Improvement Association (CBCIA) and the California Cattlemen's Association (CCA).

The award was sponsored by BEEF Magazine.