Genetics keep the HAT Ranch alliance on the mark.

Coon Rapids, IA, producer Doug Honold didn't set out to build an alliance. But through careful genetic selection, he's developed the kind of cattle producers and packers want.

Nickerson, NE, producer Steave Harmon can attest to that. Coming out of the genetic program developed by the HAT (Honold Angus and Tarentaise) Ranch, Harmon's calves hit the feedlot as a uniform group and went out consistently grading 80% Choice and 69% 1s and 2s. Those are numbers that garnered him a $2/cwt. premium on the 162 finishing steers he sold last year.

"They are numbers that are consistent load after load," says Honold. Carcass data collected on 1,169 head of HAT Ranch cattle by Beef America at Norfolk, NE, showed 77.4% had quality grades of Choice and above with 62.8% yield grading 2 and above.

Carcass Consistency - Much of that carcass consistency can be credited to Honold and his partner Gordon Fordyce, the two individuals who monitor the genetic decisions for nearly 20,000 cows involved in the HAT Ranch alliance across nine states.

"We're not just getting a bunch of black or red heifers together. These cattle were produced within a genetic system that we've targeted and evaluated," says Honold. "You can be using the same breeds, but if you're not using proven bloodlines with carcass traits, you're not going to get the same end product," Honold adds.

A cross of Angus and Tarentaise genetics are the backbone of the HAT Ranch alliance.

The alliance's genetic system generally starts with an Angus cow bred to a Tarentaise bull to get a half-blood heifer. That heifer is bred Tarentaise again, to get a 31/44 Tarentaise. At that point, an Angus sire is brought back in, so no animal is over 31/44 Tarentaise or Angus.

"I don't feel Tarentaise or Angus is a stand alone breed. Through heterosis, I believe this cross creates a stronger, better female," says Honold, who currently serves as president of the American Tarentaise Association. "We put the two together to keep the moderate size and marbling that Angus offer, but we are able to take off the fat."

It's a cross that cattlemen have found produces the heifers and steers they've been looking for.

Harmon, who has 500 cows at Taylor, NE, and another 300 cows near Villisca, IA, started using Tarentaise bulls as an experiment on 100 of his Angus-based cow herd. "Weaning weights improved by about 100 lbs./head. We also moderated our frame size and it took less time to finish animals," says Harmon.

Harmon was also impressed with the heifers he was able to develop along with the steers. "They are females that can go right into your breeding program," Harmon says.

HAT Ranch breeding programs now exist in nine states, including North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, Kansas, Texas, Michigan and Kentucky.

Each producer runs his operation independently, but all follow similar practices for breeding, nutrition and herd health. "It's a complete package from start to finish of genetics, management and nutrition," says Harmon of the guidance he receives from the HAT Ranch alliance.

Checks And Balances - It's a system that's carefully monitored by Honold and Fordyce. "Our producers like the fact they're not out trying to develop a breeding program themselves. Each producer has his own idea of what the perfect cow is and he's trying to breed for that combination. With our breeding system we've already figured that out," says Honold.

"Eighty percent of the time we deliver bulls to our customers sight unseen. We've seen their cattle, we know what they need," says Honold. "And, they know there's a market for these cattle because we've developed that for them."

Most producers retain some ownership and market their cattle to participating feedlots that take primarily HAT Ranch genetics cattle, Honold says.

The uniformity of the calves also makes it possible for small producers to market together. "One of the feedyards had HAT Ranch cattle from 27 different ranches from Kentucky to Montana. But, the calves all looked like they came from one ranch," says Honold.

This year, nearly 700 replacement heifers will move through the HAT Ranch system. "Those genetics will be kept within the system for people who are expanding or as a base for somebody new that's starting in the system," says Honold.

Consistency Is Key - As with any alliance, consistency is the key to the HAT Ranch's success. "We don't have any grand champions. We just have cattle that by volume go down the middle of the road and do the average thing," says Honold. "You can survive onaverage cattle."

Average cattle can also help avoid discounts, which Honold says is more important than finding a premium. "Hopefully, a premium is an addition to a profit, but a discount can be a loss you can't stand. Even in a down market these cattle will do well, and it's more important to have the right kind of cattle in a down market, when you need every dollar," Honold says.

For more information on the HAT Ranch alliance contact Doug Honold at 712/684-5216 or Gordon Fordyce at 712/792-1325.