In the southeastern United States you will find fall calving herds, spring calving herds, or herds with both calving seasons. Some producers wean off the cow and sell at market; other producers will private treaty sell weaned calves. Regardless of the management system, Gelbvieh sired calves are working for the bottom line of these three producers in western South Carolina and northeastern Georgia.
Cows Follow the Chickens
Tim Donald will be the first to tell you that raising broiler chickens is his primary farming enterprise and his cowherd is a by-product of the poultry business. Donald bought his first 42 acres in 1986 and added chickens to the farm in 1991. “I wanted to be able to farm full-time and the poultry business makes it possible,” he admits. “But if you have chicken houses, then you have to have land to spread the litter (poultry manure) and that means cows to eat the grass.”
Donald says the two enterprises fit together really well. “The poultry litter provides an inexpensive fertilizer and works well with the rotational grazing system I use on the farm,” explains Donald.
The pastures are set up in 10-acre grazing paddocks. The additional fertilizer keeps the grass growing through the summer. Donald’s 52-head cowherd runs in three different locations. Donald also planted some of his acreage to Matua grass about six years ago for added tons of forage and better fertilizer utilization. “Matua uses the extra phosphorus from the poultry litter, so you don’t run the risk of the phosphorus causing problems in runoff,” explains Donald.
Donald has an entirely spring calving cowherd. “I tried the fall calving but the extra feed I needed during the winter didn’t make it work when you put a pencil to it,” says Donald. His cowherd begins calving in early February and is done by late April.
He began using Simmental bulls on crossbred cows when he first started his cow-calf operation. He used Simmental for three to four years but continued to have high birth weights and calving ease problems. Donald switched to Hereford bulls and reduced his calving problems, but also lost some pounds.
Looking for another option, Donald began looking into Gelbvieh bulls. Ed Randall of Randall Farms is nearby and Donald asked Ed the hard questions about Gelbvieh cattle. He made the switch and now eight years later, Donald is still a fan of Gelbvieh bulls.
“The calving problems went away with the Gelbvieh bulls and I’ve got the extra pounds I need at weaning time,” says Donald. “Our local market demands a calf that weighs between 480 pounds and 525 pounds. We can get to that weight in six months with our Gelbvieh calves—no problem.”
With the drought-shortened 2006 grazing season, the Gelbvieh-sired calves still weighed up well when weaned earlier. The 2007 season is testing everything with short grass and dry weather.
The housing developments continue to go up around Donald’s farm. With his close proximity to a lake front, the land prices have gone from $1,000 per acre in the early 1980s to well over $6,000 per acre these days.
“Our neighbors are not farmers and are not from a rural background,” admits Donald. “You have to have good people skills and a willingness to understand the changing government regulations to be a farmer these days. We have to be more proactive and participate in the community to keep our farms.”
Next page: Keeping the Farm in the Family: Frank Ables
Keeping the Farm in the Family
Frank Ables is the fourth generation to work this family farm near Seneca, S.C. The Ables farm has been designated a Century Farm in South Carolina.
Originally, the Ables farm was a dairy farm. When Frank’s father moved back to the farm, he sold the dairy and got the family into the layer chicken business. Frank’s father started Sunny Bright Eggs.
Frank Ables has been on the farm since 1965. He moved the poultry business into broiler chicken production, instead of layer hens. Poultry and beef cattle share the same farm. Ables has 10 chicken houses and runs about 130 mother cows. “In our area, it is rare to find poultry houses without a beef cattle operation as well,” says Ables. “The two enterprises work hand-in-hand.”
Frank purchased about 60 head of purebred Angus females from North Dakota that came through a Georgia producer. Those Angus females, combined with some crossbred females he had retained over time, make up the cowherd.
Ables tried Charolais and Limousin bulls to add more muscle and pounds, but wasn’t satisfied with the fertility of those retained females. When looking for a different option, all he had to do is look over the neighbor’s fence.
“I run in an adjoining pasture to Randall Farms and always liked the look of the Gelbvieh bulls in their pasture,” shares Frank. “I visited with Ed Randall and bought a couple of Gelbvieh bulls to get started.”
With a split calving season, Ables’ bulls are used on both the spring and fall calving herds. The fall calving cows begin calving in late September through early December. The spring calving cows are concentrated in March and April. Ables’ ideal cow is 1,000 to 1,100 pounds and weans a 550-pound calf.
“We haven’t pulled a calf in two years since we started using the Gelbvieh bulls,” says Ables. “Gelbvieh brings to the table a reduced frame size and improved milking ability so we can get that smaller cow weaning off a big calf.”
Ables markets his calves to a local order buyer after the calves are weaned. The Ables’ bull battery includes two black Gelbvieh bulls, one Angus bull and a Hereford bull. Any black baldy females that are retained are put with the Gelbvieh bull. “The market demands black hides, so I’ve incorporated more black-hided bulls into the mix,” shares Ables.
The other thing Ables likes about the Gelbvieh-sired females is their fertility. “We don’t have to worry about the Gelbvieh-sired female breeding back after her first calf, like we have with other breeds we’ve tried,” says Ables. “The Gelbvieh females’ great disposition is just a bonus for ease of handling them around the farm.”
Ables is working hard to preserve the farm for the next generation. His son will make it five generations on the farm. With rising land prices, Ables has used a conservation easement to protect this Century Farm from development. He is also active in county government and works to protect agriculture interests. “The world is changing and more people are moving to the country, so we need to be active in protecting our way of life,” concludes Ables.
Next Page: Finding Purpose in Retirement: Gene Swancey
Finding Purpose in RetirementFor Gene Swancey, retirement has been busy. He retired from a government job after nearly 30 years of service to care for his daughter, Jean Raquel, and also expanded the family’s commercial cowherd to nearly 50 head.
Gene’s wife, Paula, works off the farm and when Jean Raquel arrived, the couple decided Gene would retire to be an at-home dad. “Jean Raquel just loves the farm and she knows a lot of the cows already even though she isn’t quite four years old,” says a smiling Gene.
This Carnesville, Ga., cattle producer expanded his cow-calf operation once the couple bought the current farm in 1998. The cows calve in December and January and the calves are weaned and ready to sell in late June. “We hit a stronger feeder calf market in June and it lets the cows coast through the summer to get in condition for winter,” explains Gene.
Swancey bought his first Gelbvieh bull from Arlin Buyert at Broad River Gelbvieh near Lavonia, Ga. “That first calf crop was enough to convince me that Gelbvieh has a place in our operation,” says Gene. “I buy most of my cows as small groups through the sale barn. Most of these cows are average at best, but breed them to a Gelbvieh bull and you get a heavy calf every time. The calves have more length and muscle.”
Swancey liked Gelbvieh so much that he added a small group of 14 registered Gelbvieh cows to the mix. Swancey is moving his commercial herd to a black white face or red white face base. “The move to a white-face cowherd is a gradual one,” says Swancey. “I’ll keep the white-faced heifers, but I haven’t decided to use a Hereford bull to get there in one generation. I like the pounds from my Gelbvieh bull.”
To get the most out of his 104-acre farm, of which 80 acres is grazing land, Swancey drills rye or wheat for winter grazing. He also planted millet and soybean in one field for dove hunting habitat and later grazed it after hunting season.“I like the fact that the Gelbvieh-sired calves have such a great disposition,” says Gene. “When Jean Raquel is out in the field with me, disposition becomes the most important trait.”