Spann Ranches currently operates two separate cowherds: a Hereford herd that we breed to select Angus bulls for our own black-white face (BWF) replacement heifers, and a much larger BWF cowherd that we breed in a textbook terminal cross fashion to Limousin bulls and whose replacements come strictly from our Hereford herd.

While we could purchase replacement heifers that on paper might look cheaper and more profitable, the reality is that finding a source that can consistently deliver top-quality bred heifers to our specifications in volume is a very tall order.

Our replacement heifers are required to breed natural service in a 40-day breeding season. They're individually pelvic measured and must meet a minimum pelvic area to be retained.

Our purchased bulls must have birth weight, weaning weight and yearling weight Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs) in the top 10% of their breed. We use the bulls as yearlings and expect the heifers to bear those bulls' calves their first year.

We cull year-round for disposition, structural soundness and frame. Additionally, once a replacement heifer is selected as a replacement, she has to continue to earn the right to stay in the herd.Our philosophy is that she has one beside her or in her, or she doesn't belong to us.

With the advent of better feedback from the feedlot and packing sectors, we've begun supplementing, but not replacing, our own demanding reproductive performance standards with meaningful criteria reflecting feedlot performance and carcass values.

Our herd production goals are all Yield Grade 1 and 2, 70% Choice, slaughtered at 14 months of age, feed efficiency of at least 5.5:1 on a dry matter basis, and 4.0 average daily gain or better. The real bottom line, however, is maximum herd profit obtained on an individual basis with high repeatability. That means no "out" cattle of any kind.

Our system of developing our own replacement heifers and maintaining our cowherd in a commercial setting is expensive and labor intensive. It demands a commitment to quality and management at a very high level and is not for everyone.

The payoff has come in a number of areas: much lower calving difficulties with relatively large birth weights, higher overall herd health and lower annual death loss. In addition, we have consistency in both the cowherd and resulting calf crops, heifers that will rebreed while raising a 500-lb. first calf, and feedlot performance and carcass values that enhance retained ownership profits, thereby lowering the risk. Ultimately, it enhances our long-term profitability.