Historically, Ty and Samann looked at maternal trait EPDs when buying bulls, putting less emphasis on growth and milk production in an effort to keep cow size within the guardrails of a dry and sometimes unforgiving environment. “We wanted to find those solid, mid-range bulls that we could get good replacement heifers out of,” Ty says.

But while growth and carcass traits often can be a given with Angus bulls, the Watkins really didn’t know whether their steers and cull heifers performed well in the feedyard and on the rail.

“It’s not that we weren’t efficient, it’s not that we didn’t have really good-looking cows and calves,” Ty says. “But ultimately, what’s that calf going to do when it leaves? As a commercial producer, you don’t really have the understanding of the leverage that you may or may not have in the marketability of that calf.”

A Closer Look: Is DNA Testing Hitting Its Stride?

Using the DNA marker data, however, Ty and Samann plan to reorganize their management to produce calves for targeted markets.

“We can take some cattle that really aren’t good females for getting replacement heifers, and identify and focus on bulls that are high in growth, that are going to produce calves that will go into a feedyard and feed exceptionally well,” Ty explains.

Then the cows that didn’t rate as high on growth and marbling, but still meet the ranch’s strict culling criteria for reproductive performance, will become the maternal herd with an emphasis on producing replacement females to restock the ranch as it comes out of drought.

Connecting The Dots: Seedstock Sector Represents Both Beginning & End Of Beef Production

In addition, Ty and Samann plan to sell replacement heifers, adding another profit center to the ranch by taking advantage of the marketing leverage that DNA marker data provides.

The effort to manage each cow on the ranch to her genetic potential will be enhanced because they’ll be better able to select bulls for a specific set of cows. The Bradley Ranch provides HD 50k DNA data on all the bulls it sells. With the low-density DNA test data on all their cows and replacement heifers, Ty and Samann can sit down with James and Mary Lou, compare the data and accurately match bull power with each group of cows.

“They’ve got information exponentially greater than we have that they’re able to share with us,” Ty says. “I’m able to go to them with greater detail on our cows and really, really be specific on the bulls we’re buying instead of using approximations.”

As they restock, Ty says that approach allows them to select heifers that will move them forward. “With restocking in mind, I’m confident it’s going to help eliminate any pitfalls we might have by keeping cattle in the herd that are going to cost us money,” he says.

However, it’s on the terminal side where pounds make a payday, where the ranch could well see its most significant change in management. Traditionally, like many commercial operations, the Vest Ranch sold calves at weaning. They got on a truck, went to someone else’s operation, and became their problem. That approach and philosophy has taken a broad turn.

“We didn’t know what the cattle did once they left the ranch,” Ty says. So they’re working toward a goal of becoming more aware of the needs of feedyards, packers and, most importantly, consumers.

“When those cattle leave this ranch, whether we partner on the cattle, whether it’s retained ownership, or whether we outright sell the calves to someone else, we realize the importance of where that product is going, how that product is going to feed and, ultimately, when it gets to the consumer, how the eating experience is going to be for them.”

Knowledge is dangerous

Ty says there is a downside to learning more about your cattle – you risk learning that your cows aren’t as good as you think they are. Beyond that, however, he sees nothing but upside to incorporating DNA data into the ranch.

“We’re not going to improve our herd overnight, by any means,” Ty says. “But with DNA testing, you get there quicker. It’s one more tool in your toolbox.”

And making the ranch better is important to them. “With Samann being a fourth-generation rancher working to ensure this ranch gets to a fifth generation, we have to be sure that not only what we’re doing on a daily basis, but what we’re building long term, helps that generation get to where it wants to go,” Ty says.

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s being a good steward of your land as far as your grass, your wildlife, your water or your cowherd. It’s the same thing. That’s been our approach and it’s vitally important to what we do.” 


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