Profitability and sustainability
June 6, 2018
As a fifth-generation rancher from Throckmorton, Texas, Donnell Brown has spent most of his lifetime focused on the wants and needs of the commercial cattleman, striving to produce seedstock that will help his customer be more profitable and sustainable in today's beef industry.
After graduating from Texas Tech in 1993, Donnell and his bride, Kelli, moved home to Throckmorton to help manage the R.A. Brown Ranch seedstock business. Donnell said their goal when getting married in 1991 was to raise cows, kids and Quarter Horses and that they continue to focus on those objectives today.
Breeding and genetics have been a passion of Donnell's since an early age. With this interest, he became involved in the Beef Improvement Federation, attending his first BIF Research Symposium and Convention in 1993.
"Attending that first convention, I was amazed how I could sit down in a small session or visit in the hallways with the gurus of beef cattle genetics. The people who wrote the research I read during my four years of college," he said. "Because of BIF I was able to build relationships with and learn from those movers and shakers, the great thinkers who help us keep our business based on sound science.
"BIF is my favorite convention each year."
Donnell was elected to the BIF Board of Directors in 2012 and is currently serving as BIF president. His term as president will end at the 2018 BIF Research Symposium and Convention from June 20-23 in Loveland, Colo.
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"Donnell brings a practical and forward-thinking approach to BIF," said Jane Parish, BIF executive director. "He understands the importance of genetic improvement at the ranch level and is a tireless advocate for sharing science-based knowledge throughout the entire industry."
For more than a century, west Texas has been home to the R.A. Brown Ranch. Named the 1993 BIF Seedstock Producer of the Year, the Brown family currently supplies Angus, Red Angus and SimAngus genetics to cattlemen across the country.
"Our mission at R.A. Brown Ranch is very clear," Donnell explains. "We are striving to improve the efficiency of converting God's forage into healthy, nutritious, great tasting beef to better feed His people."
Donnell's parents, Rob and Peggy, have been proactive in estate planning for decades and in 2013 they led their family through a generational transfer. The couple successfully passed their ranch on to their four children while enjoying good health. Donnell explains his parents' goal was to, "keep the ranch in the family and the family in the ranch."
At that time, Donnell and Kelli assumed ownership of the R.A. Brown seedstock division which they had managed for 23 years. Today they continue the tradition of raising and merchandising top quality seedstock, along with their two sons, Tucker and Lanham.
Both boys work on the ranch, plus Tucker manages the R.A. Brown wildlife program and his wife, Karley, is a school teacher. Lanham graduated from Texas Tech in May and returned to the ranch where his passion is training and showing horses.
The R.A. Brown Ranch has been recognized for its excellence many times. The ranch received the National Cattlemen's Beef Association Cattle Business of the Century Award and American Quarter Horse Association / Bayer Best Remuda Award, and since 2015 has been as one of the top providers of seedstock genetics in the country by BEEF magazine.
The Browns use the technologies available such as artificial insemination, embryo transfer, ultrasound, DNA and feed efficiency testing to produce superior genetics that fit the needs of the beef industry.
Donnell explains the strategy of their breeding program is to use a high percentage of proven sires in an extensive ET program utilizing young females as donor cows.
They DNA test all bulls and heifers. He says collecting the heifer genomic data is actually more valuable than the bulls. "With a DNA test, I can increase her EPD accuracy by about two lifetimes of production and we get that information before her first breeding," he explains. "When I am armed with that information, I can better produce cattle that fit our customers' needs."
A Grow Safe system was installed on the ranch three years ago. So today their genetic tool box includes three years of feed intake data on all bulls and replacement heifers.
"I am amazed with the genetic progress we can make in feed efficiency," Donnell said. "This information will help us produce more with less. The beef industry has worked for generations to increase performance/output, but with the measurement of expense/input traits like feed efficiency we can more effectively improve profit. Increasing efficiency is a must as we work to feed a growing global population."
The Brown family has been marketing seedstock bulls since 1895. Currently with the help of strong cooperating herds, they sell 850 bulls each year with their sales hosted at the ranch on the second Wednesday of October and second Wednesday of March. They also sell 150 registered females each year, including every 4-year-old female.
"Our goal is rapid genetic progress," Donnell said. "By selling every 4-year-old female we speed up the generation interval of our females.
"The benefits of this strategy (implemented in 2001) are threefold: 1) rapid genetic progress; 2) gives customer the opportunity to purchase females when they are entering the prime of their life; and 3) gives the Browns cash flow to sustain their extensive ET program."
The strength of their program is shown by the high percentage of repeat customers, as well as by having 25 bulls in major AI studs.
An influential and effective leader since high school, Donnell served as president of both the Texas FFA and National FFA. He has assisted with strategic planning for four different breed associations as well as the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.
"Even before Donnell became president of BIF, he showed leadership in the organization in many ways," Jane said. "He energetically focused board discussions on strategies for the future and offered up new ideas that helped BIF continue its legacy of leading the industry in collaborative genetic improvement efforts. He led program development efforts for the annual convention that resulted in cutting-edge presentations to stimulate producers, beef industry stakeholders, researchers, and Extension. Donnell is a strong supporter of the Young Producers' Symposium added to BIF programming in recent years."
"As seedstock producers our job is to make progress through selection," Donnell said. "EPDs can help us, but we need to make sure the tools we use to describe our cattle, specifically EPDs, continue to be based on the most advanced sound science —that is a must."
In 1968, BIF was formed as a means to standardize programs and methodologies, and to create greater awareness, acceptance and usage of performance concepts in beef production. The organization's three-leaf clover logo would come to represent industry, extension and research, just as the organization's annual symposium would become the premier forum bringing industry segments together to discuss and evaluate performance topics.
"BIF is focused on the application of sound science to make a lasting impact on the beef business," Donnell said. "The BIF convention is the crossroads where academia, breed associations and cattle producers all come together.
"BIF brings people interested in genetic selection together to apply science to the beef community. We help scientists get on track with what the producer needs, we help the producer get on track with what scientists have developed and we help keep breed associations relevant."
"Today's beef producer has a wide spectrum of challenges to face," Donnell said. "As BIF leaders, we need to go back to the basics and discuss accurate measurement and proper contemporary grouping. We need to address multi-trait selection indices. The application of all-purpose indices focused on long-term profitability in the beef business needs to be our focus."
Donnell has been researching and using selection indexes for more than 27 years.
"My college advisor and dear friend, Dr. Ronnie Green, taught me how to build and use selection indices when I was in college," Donnell said. "I believe multi-trait selection index is the right tool to help us select for long-term profitability and sustainability in the beef industry.
"In the future, I am confident there will be breeders with sound genetic evaluations who will breed, market and influence the majority of the seedstock in the beef business. And their association will be with the organization that stays grounded in sound science and focused on profitability and sustainability of commercial cattlemen."
Dr. Green, now University of Nebraska-Lincoln chancellor, said, "What has always impressed me about Donnell is that he is a holistic thinker about his mission. While an undergraduate at Texas Tech, he was focused on learning everything he could about genetics with the goal of using that information to build better cattle. He is authentic in his approach and every decision he makes he does so with his customers in mind.
"There are few people in the world like Donnell Brown, the cattle industry is very fortunate to call him one of its own."
Join us in Loveland
Donnell will pass the BIF reigns to the next president on Friday, June 22, but there's no doubt his passion and commitment to BIF's principles and goals will continue for years to come.
"BIF is a beef organization without politics," Donnell said. "BIF meetings are about finding the best way to produce the best cattle at the least cost using sound science.
"Two things you won't find at a BIF meeting is propaganda or politics. If this is appealing to you, I encourage you to attend the 50th BIF Convention." F
–Beef Improvement Federation