The 1990s were a time of drastic makeover for the L.U. Ranch Co., a 1,500-cow, high-desert operation in Worland, WY. But, the retooling of the ‘90s, which included overhauling cattle genetics and calf, heifer and cull cow management, as well as improving efficiency in range management and labor, put the family operation in a better position to weather the decades after 2000.
What made it possible, says owner Mike Healy, is implementing processes to track performance and progress.
“We were a high-cost, low-output operation. These new processes made it possible to focus on not only our cattle but how we run the ranch,” Healy says. He points to the data-driven, carcass quality-based progress his herd has made as an example.
Healey has retained ownership on the calves from his family's closed, straight Angus herd since 1989. He knew his steers were finishing light (1,050 lbs.), but he was making reasonable returns. It was the results of two studies in the mid '90s — the checkoff-funded Strategic Alliances study and another from the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center, NE — that convinced him he needed to crossbreed to improve carcass yield grade.
He phased in his crossbreeding program over three years beginning in 1995. He used composite bulls of Angus, Salers, Braunvieh and Gelbvieh. He retained ownership on his calves, through Decatur County Feed Yard in Oberlin, KS.
Owned by Warren and Carol Weibert, the feedyard uses ultrasound video imaging, multiple weigh-ups and computer analysis to predict optimum finish dates for each animal. When finished, animals are marketed through a negotiated grid with Excel. Weibert provides his clients with a feedlot, carcass and net return analysis for each steer.
Healy uses the data to vigorously cull the dams of the poorest performing calves. “We cull according to profitability,” Healy explains.
“Our animals are now finishing closer to 1,250 lbs., and our average carcass weight is now over 750 lbs.,” says Healy. “What we'll try to do now is keep a percentage of Angus in the breeding and a percentage of Continental. With that compromise, we get the cutability as well as the marbling. And, our average profits are looking at $50-$120/head. Hopefully, we'll keep improving that.”