Top Programs Elevate Colorado Calf Crop Worth
When Joe and Kay Lindsay of Deer Trail, Colorado, market their Red Angus calves, their catalog listing for the video auction promotes their calves as having met the criteria for as many as seven different value-added programs. This year’s calves qualified for VAC 34+, Red Angus Feeder Calf Certification Program, Non-Hormone Treated Cattle, Certified Natural Plus, Verified Natural Beef, Superior Progressive Genetics and Top Dollar Angus.
“When we entered ranching and the commercial cow-calf business 12 years ago, cattlemen whom we viewed as mentors suggested that we make our calves as marketable as possible, and we took their advice to heart,” Joe stated. “And we’ve done it one step at a time. This advice was definitely worth following, as we are extremely happy with how our calves are being received by buyers.”
The first programs the Lindsays jumped into were VAC 34+ and Red Angus Feeder Calf Certification Program. Kay credits her uncle, a retired veterinarian, for getting their herd on a solid health track from the very beginning.
“He taught us a lot about the value of implementing and maintaining a stringent vaccination program,” Kay said. “It was easy to qualify for VAC 34+ because many of those things we were already doing.”
Top Return on Investment
When the couple learned about the Red Angus Association of America’s Feeder Calf Certification Program, Joe said it appealed to them straight off. They were impressed that a simple, inexpensive FCCP yellow ear tag would tell potential buyers that the calves were guaranteed as Red Angus genetics.
“They are a great return on investment,” said Joe. “We believe Red Angus has a lot to offer the beef industry, and the way calves with FCCP ear tags sell, tells us that feeders agree. We spend less than $1 per calf for the tag, and I can tell you that we get that dollar back many times over when our calves sell.”
Wanting even more marketing avenues available for their calves, Joe and Kay expanded their program to qualify for NHTC, Certified Natural Plus and Verified Natural Beef.
Kay said qualifying for these three programs wasn’t difficult. After all, the couple knows the age and source of their calves and they practice natural procedures. They never give their calves ionophores, hormones or steroids, beta adrenoceptors or any type of animal by-product.
As a general rule, Lindsay calves typically are not given any type of antibiotic. But that rule is broken every now and then.
“When a calf is sick, we believe in giving it an antibiotic,” said Kay. “If an occasional sick animal requires treatment, we simply remove that animal from the program. To make sure it doesn’t slip through the cracks and gets sold as ‘natural,’ we keep a record that an antibiotic was administered to it and we notch its ear tag. That notch is easy to see so that calf doesn’t go into the group marketed as NHTC, Certified Natural Plus and Verified Natural Beef.”
Top Genetics, Top Dollar
Two years ago, the Lindsays began participating in the Top Dollar Angus program. This program, Joe said, helps buyers know that their calves come from a program that has invested in top-end Red Angus genetics, particularly in the area of growth and carcass traits.
“The bulls we’ve been purchasing have been in the top 25% of the breed for growth and carcass traits, so why not participate in the program?”
When Joe and Kay started as commercial cow-calf producers, they adopted two neighbors as their mentors: John Price and John Hanks. Both men not only raise Red Angus but are “on the driving edge of the cattle industry.” They also have what Joe and Kay call “top-notch operations.”
It was during an in-depth conversation with Hanks that Joe said he learned about the importance of buying not just any bull. “John Hanks told me to never skimp on a bull. He said bulls would be our best money spent.”
Today, Joe and Kay have 12 purebred Red Angus bulls that service the 140 commercial Red Angus cows that they own and the 100 Red Angus-cross cows that the couple manage for Kay’s parents.
The couple zeroes in on reputation and referral when deciding where to purchase their bulls. Again, they talk to their mentors, listen to what other influencers say and look over the offspring of bloodlines that they hear good things about.
“But both of us like to go to a bull sale,” Kay said. “We typically have several bulls selected from a sale catalog based on their EPDs, but we like to visually inspect each of our choices for conformation, feet and legs. We also like to see if the bull fits the phenotype we want. With individual pastures being a section and needing 30 to 36 acres per animal unit, a bull has to have good feet and legs and move out.”
EPDs that get their first attention include birth weight, rib eye area, yield grade, carcass weight, fat and stayability. They also closely check out a bull’s GridMaster Index and his temperament.
The Lindsays pointed out that they are totally amazed at how targeting EPDs has changed their herd. One key advantage, Kay said, is the ability to sell their calves 30 days sooner. That’s 30 days less that the calves are on the cows and using the pastures.
“We used to sell our calves the end of October,” she said. “Now we sell for delivery the end of September and our weights are similar. Our steer calves typically average 650 pounds, with heifers averaging 575 pounds. We’re happy with that.”
Top Practices Increase Value
Bulls go out with the heifers and cows the end of April and are pulled early to mid-August. Heifers and cows start calving as one group the first of February.
They like to calve in winter rather than spring. In their environment, spring can have temperature swings and more rainy days which can be hard on calves. Winter, on the other hand, typically means more consistent temperatures.
Earlier born calves also mean the Lindsay calves are nice and big when it’s time to sell them.
Calving in winter, the Lindsays move heifers and cows indoors one at a time as their calving time approaches. Every now and then a calf might be born outside, but that isn’t the norm. To ensure animals are brought in before they calve, Joe checks the pregnant group every two to three hours.
A day or two after being born, male calves are banded. “My uncle urged us to band so the castration process is less stressful for the calves,” Kay said. “We’re all about less stress for our animals.”
To that end, the Lindsays use a chute for branding, administration of vaccinations and other health practices.
“A chute allows us to be more hands-on,” Joe said. “I think we do a more thorough job with each animal rather than roping and dragging. Sure, running each animal through a chute takes more time but I believe it’s worth the effort.”
Top Genetics Create Top Cows
Joe added that he and Kay do almost all of the ranch work themselves. They do, however, have additional help with branding, shipping and pregnancy checking.
“And we rely on professionals when we AI,” he said. Two years ago, the Lindsays AIed their 50 replacement heifers. They liked the offspring of those heifers and plan to AI the entire herd in 2020.
“We want to take our herd to the next level, and AI will help us achieve that goal,” Kay said. “AI allows us to use high-powered bulls that we couldn’t afford to buy.”
Last year they started pregnancy checking via ultrasound technology and found it faster, more accurate and easier on the cows. “We’ll keep that practice in place,” said Kay.
When a female turns up open, she’s culled. Other reasons they might put a female on the truck include a broken mouth, bad udder or producing a calf that doesn’t meet their expectations.
“It comes down to the little things,” Joe said. “Plus, we have quite a number of nice heifer calves that can take the place of cows that don’t meet our requirements.”
The number of replacement heifers kept each year depends on the number of cows culled, pasture conditions due to Mother Nature being in control, and available land to lease. In the past, they’ve kept 30 to 50 head replacement heifers and insist that every heifer they retain is worthy of her place in the herd.
“Our first criterion is based on the heifer’s mother,” said Kay. “We also like thick, broad heifers that have a feminine head and a docile temperament. And we want an even group of replacement heifers – no extremes on either end.”
Joe and Kay keep a constant eye on potential replacement heifers every time they make a pasture tour. Come fall when it’s time to gather the herd, they both pretty well know which heifers are keepers.
Joe defers to Kay on heifer selection. “She has a good eye and I trust her judgement.”
With a delivery deadline to meet due to marketing their calves via an online auction, the Lindsays gather their cows and calves the end of September. Cows and calves are separated, replacement heifers are pulled, and the steers and remaining heifers are loaded directly on the truck.
“Then the yearly cycle begins again,” Joe said. “I spent a lot of my life working as an electrician, and we were blessed when we could take up ranching full time 12 years ago near where Kay’s granddad ranched. Raising cattle and ranching has always been my passion, and now we’re doing what we both love. I think we have our herd to the point that we are delivering good, growthy, efficient cattle that will grade well – and Red Angus is the breed that is giving us that confidence.”
Joe concluded, “I am so thankful that I listened to Kay when she told me that Red Angus was the way to go.”
– American Red Angus Magazine
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