Beggers Diamond V Ranch Simmental seedstock on the border
Bill Begger, his brother and parents have been ranching in eastern Montana for many years. The ranch consists of about 20 sections of land, located south of Wibaux, Mont., near Interstate 94, within 6 miles of the North Dakota border.
“When I was in high school my dad bought a couple half-blood Simmental bulls and a 4-H steer for me that was a half blood Simmental. I had the Grand Champion steer with that one. We bred those half-blood bulls to our commercial cows (which were predominantly Angus, black-baldy and a little Shorthorn) and that first year we noticed a big difference in the calves,” says Bill.
“We started AI-ing our cows to Simmental bulls and had those first calves in 1975. This made a great cross. In 1976 we had a small bull sale. Most of those bull calves were red and red white-face. In that first sale we just had one black one and he topped the sale. So from then on we started focusing on black Simmentals,” he says.
“We still raised a few red ones, but we were some of the pioneers of the black Simmentals. There were probably 10 other ranchers breeding black Simmentals at that time, but we were raising the black ones when they were still unheard of,” he explains.
“We kept focusing on that trait, and keeping the black heifer calves. We sold a black baldy heifer calf in the Montana state sale and she was one of only two in that sale that were black. She ended up being the mother of Leachman’s Circle S 600 U bull, which was one of the popular bulls in the black side. We don’t take any credit for that bull, but his dam was raised at our ranch,” says Bill.
“That was one of the cows that put us on the map. Today we’ve expanded our cow herd to 600 and they are black Simmental or SimAngus, with a few straight Angus. We’ll sell 150 bulls in our sale this spring. Of those, there will be 100 SimAngus bulls and about 35 purebred black Simmental bulls and 15 Angus bulls,” he says.
“We AI about 400 head of cows each year. Our big focus now in the black Simmentals is to have them solid black. We don’t breed very many that have any white. We try to keep them solid black, with everything homozygous black and polled. Not every cow on the place is that way yet, but this is our focus. We don’t breed to any bulls that are not homozygous black and polled,” he says.
“We made a decision a year ago to get out of the red ones, and we don’t have any red Simmental anymore; everything is black. We are going solid black for the commercial producer to complement the Angus and we don’t like any white on the underside; we don’t want any sunburned and snowburned udders,” he explains.
They breed for moderate framed cows with deep, thick bodies and have stayed away from the big-framed tall Simmental cattle of 30 years ago. “Our cows are not the biggest, but they are very efficient. Calving ease is very important. We feel that these cows have got to have a calf by themselves without any assistance. We’ve based our program for the commercial cowman who probably calves a lot of calves by himself without a lot of extra help, and doesn’t have time for problems,” he says.
“We want efficient cows that will wean 50 percent or more of their own body weight. We have a spring and fall calving program. In the fall, everything calves out in the pasture–even the two-year-old heifers. Our fall calving starts the middle of August and runs until about the end of October. Our weather is nice that time of year and I’d like to do more fall calving. This year we bred about 250 females for next fall. The spring calvers start about the first of February and calve through April. We don’t expect to assist very many of those cows either.”
Their breeding program is known for cows with really tight, nice udders. “We get quite a few compliments on that. If we have to help a calf nurse because the cow’s udder is bad, she doesn’t stay around,” he says. The seedstock producer must have the same rigid standards as the commercial producer – who doesn’t have time to fuss with nursing a calf.
“We cull hard on udder structure and don’t tolerate a cow that you have to get in the chute to nurse. We don’t tolerate helping them calve, either. If a cow doesn’t calve on her own and have a calf that gets right up and nurses, and wean at least 50 percent of her body weight, she doesn’t stick around here,” says Bill.
“We weaned our heifer calves in late November and those cows are back out in the pasture grazing, with no supplement, no extra feed. Those heifer calves averaged a little over 700 pounds. The weights on them went from about 625 all the way to 900, with several of them 800 pounds. Most of them are born in February and March. The cows are still in really good shape even with the calves on them that long, and the calves are fat and look good,” he says.
“We don’t creep any of the spring calves; those cows raise them without creep. We do put creep feeders out during winter for the fall calves when all the green grass is gone. We keep them out grazing as long as we can. The fall-born calves are weaned in March and those cows are then kicked out in the pasture.”
Those fall calves are put on a short gain test after weaning and then turned out on grass. “They are developed on grass without any extra feed until October. Then we bring them in to develop them for the sale. This year we will offer more than 60 big stout 18 month old bulls along with about 90 spring-born bulls,” he says.
The ranch puts up a lot of hay, but sells a lot as well. “We put up enough hay to winter the cows for six months or whatever, depending on the year. We farm about 1,500 acres and make silage to feed the bull calves and weaned heifers. We also feed the cows; whenever the snow hits us hard, we bring them home. Then the spring-calving cows don’t go back out on grass until the middle of May after the grass has a good start. For the fall calving cows we always keep a stockpiled pasture or two to put them out on in the spring but they don’t need much extra help after we take the calves off them,” he says.
Through their breeding program the family has tried to create cattle that fit their environment and produce what the commercial breeder needs. “We are conscious of carcass quality and pay attention to it, but first you must have cattle that are profitable for a ranch.” They have to make it on the ranch first, before they become a carcass. The cows have to be able to breed on time every year, calve without assistance and raise a good calf and do it efficiently.
“This year we’re into December and not feeding any hay yet–not even the fall-calving cows. We don’t bring the spring-calving cows in until January if the weather stays good. We don’t pamper them; we make these cows work for a living,” says Bill.
Disposition is another important trait to breed for. “We cull a cow if she doesn’t behave. We don’t tolerate a cow that’s wild or waspy. I used to be able to run pretty fast, but not anymore. We feel that most people want them easy to manage. The age of the average rancher is getting older and we definitely don’t want anyone getting hurt with any cattle we’ve raised. There’s always a calf or two every year that we cull on disposition because we are really strict on this trait. If they are not to our liking they don’t get a chance to stay here or go through our bull sale,” he explains.
“The bulls are developed in big lots – probably as big as you’ll find anywhere. They get plenty of exercise. We feed a high-fiber ration and have the bulls gaining about 3 to 3.5 pounds per day. We don’t believe in pushing them to 4 or 5 pounds,” he says.
Their bull sale is held at the ranch, always on the first Wednesday of February. In 2014 it will be on February 5. “Our customer base runs through Montana, North and South Dakota, Wyoming and Nebraska. We’ve sold them from coast to coast and into Canada, and the South,” he says.
He and his wife Darlene run the ranch, along with his brother Bob and his wife Virginia. “Darlene and I raised six kids and they are all grown and gone, except our son John and his wife Alicia who came back to the ranch this fall and plan on staying here. So now we have a third generation started. Bob and Virginia have four grown children and they all work off the ranch. My dad and mother – Harry and Elaine – have slowed down some but still pay attention to what goes on at the ranch. My dad is 84 and still comes out to the ranch everyday,” he says. It’s nice to have a family operation that hopes to continue on for several generations.
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A pasture or lot with plenty of grass or bedding and windbreak is important when calving in the cold.