Hebbert Charolais producing genetics while preserving land
Ryan Summerlin December 19, 2011
At Hebbert Charolais, the family works together to not only produce top-quality genetics for the registered and commercial producer, but to preserve the land that has been in their family for over 125 years.
Mose and Merla Hebbert, along with their son, Dave and his wife Mickie, are partners in the operation. Dave and Mickie’s three sons, Matt, Jake and Josh, are the sixth generation to live on the ranch that has been in the family since 1886. Their oldest son, Matt, is married and actively involved in the ranching operation. His wife, Lacy, is an ag teacher in Hyannis, NE, and they have a one-year-old child, Dillon.
Hebbert Charolais is located in the heart of the Sandhills in Grant County near Hyannis, NE. What started out as a commercial cow-calf operation transitioned into a purebred Charolais operation beginning in 1978. The last of the commercial cows were sold in 1982, and since that time, the family has focused on improving and increasing their registered herd.
“Years of experience in the commercial cow business played a key role in the decision to raise Charolais cattle,” Dave explains. “The breed is noted for adding growth and performance to their progeny. For the commercial cattlemen, using Charolais as a terminal cross allows them to benefit from hybrid vigor and having more pounds of beef to market.”
Since then the family has selected only the best sires and dams to produce the most functional offspring they can offer. “Every cow in the herd has been born on the ranch, and only the best mamas are kept,” Mickie explains. “We want cows that are problem-free. They have to be consistent, and high in maternal traits – particularly udder structure, fertility, and calving ease.”
Sires are also carefully selected. “The list of criteria we use to select herd sires is long, and there are a number of criteria we are not willing to compromise on,” Dave says. “Calving ease is critical, along with structural soundness and disposition. Pedigrees are also very important. We want to know about the fertility, longevity, udder structure and phenotype of the mother and grandmother of each sire. Performance information is also considered,” he continues. “When using expected progeny differences (EPDs) as a selection tool, we look for a balance of traits.”
The cattle on the operation are expected to utilize the resources they have available to them. “Functional cows are the foundation of the Hebbert Charolais operation,” Dave explains. They synchronize and artificially inseminate (AI) their heifers the first of June. At the same time, they AI the older cows in the pasture. First- and second-calf heifers are sorted into groups to be pasture-bred to specific herd sires.
“Our feeding program is constantly being evaluated,” Dave says. “The cows are not pampered, but expected to utilize the grass native to the area. We have found it is critical to know your cows. They are fed hay beginning in the middle to late January, depending on the weather, and are provided with a protein supplement during winter months. We are always looking for the most cost-efficient protein and mineral supplements.”
The bull calves are weaned in early fall and turned out to graze on meadows. “They are later trailed 25 miles by horseback to the Storer’s Ranch east of Arthur,” Dave explains. “There they are developed on a high-roughage growing ration with a target gain of about three pounds per day.”
The Hebberts also performance test all the bulls as one group in identical environmental conditions. “Within the herd, we use ultrasound to measure carcass traits of the bulls on test,” Dave says. “Ultrasound data that is submitted to the American International Charolais Association is used to determine carcass EPDs. As the carcass information database continues to grow, the carcass EPDs become a more reliable tool that can be used in the selection process. It is important to be aware of the fact that the environment will always have a significant impact on carcass quality.”
None of the bulls are sold prior to their annual spring bull sale in April to allow their customers to select from the top of the crop. “Bulls are selected for the sale using performance data, a breeding soundness exam and critical evaluation for soundness, structure and disposition,” Mickie says.
In 2012, the family will host its 30th annual sale, featuring some of the best bulls they have produced yet.
“As the size and depth of our cowherd has increased, we are able to offer more bulls for sale each year,” she explains. “This allows us to respond to the strong market demand for more quality Charolais bulls. We depend on repeat buyers for our customer base. New buyers come primarily through word of mouth references from our customers, or from order buyers familiar with our cattle. We are thankful for that support.”
“We appreciate the diversity of our customer’s cattle operations, and recognize that what works for one, may not be the best method for another,” Dave continues. “Many good cattlemen don’t rely on a computer, but they know a good bull, the condition and needs of their cattle. Sometimes, it is easy to get caught up in mounds of information, and overlook the basics of what cattle are really supposed to do – calve easy, breed back and sell pounds.”
Since every cow has one brand – and has been bred, born and raised on the ranch – the family has been able to stack generations of pedigrees with genetics selected for calving ease, disposition, total performance and structural soundness.
The Hebberts enjoy horses, and use them in all phases of cattle work. “In feedback from our customers, many comment that our bulls are easier to handle because they have been handled horseback,” Mickie explains. “Each year, we host cuttings for the Western Nebraska Cutters. Weaned bulls are used for the cutting held in October, and replacement bred heifers are used for the Labor Day cutting.”
The Hebbert family hopes to continue to preserve and adapt their operation so future generations can continue to live the ranching lifestyle previous generations have enjoyed. “Our goal is to continue to expand our cowherd in response to the increased demand for Charolais cattle,” Dave explains. “Our mission is to produce top-quality genetics while preserving and enhancing the land and natural resources intrusted to our care.”
Editor’s note: Hebbert Charolais will host their 30th annual bull sale on April 14 at the Hebbert Sale Facility in Hyannis, NE. To learn more about Hebbert Charolais, visit hebbertcharolais.com. Dave and Mickie can be reached at 308-458-2540.