Cattle Journal 2023: Flying H Genetics–Angus, Gelbvieh, Simmental Composite, Nebraska/Missouri  |

Cattle Journal 2023: Flying H Genetics–Angus, Gelbvieh, Simmental Composite, Nebraska/Missouri 

The Helms use a cross called Fusion, a three-breed composite of Simmental, Angus, and Gelbvieh. They have more than 200 bulls on their sales each year. | Photo courtesy of the Helms family.

Dick and Bonnie Helms’ registered seedstock operation has evolved in many ways since Dick’s father, Clarence Helms, sold his first bull in 1949. Dick has incorporated strategies such as ROUGHAGE N’ READY raised cattle, FUSION and Balancer composites, and heavy selection pressure using their 17 quality standards to increase longevity and quality in both their herd and the bulls they sell. The Helms sell roughly 200 bulls a year off their ranches in Arapahoe, Nebraska and Butler, Missouri.  

By 1968 the Helms family incorporated production testing and weighing and in 1971 they added artificial insemination and embryo transfer to improve their genetics faster. Dick and Bonnie returned to the family operation after Dick graduated from the University of Nebraska, College of Agriculture with a dual major in Animal Science and Ag Business in 1975.   

In 1983, after researching information from the USDA Meat Animal Research Center at Clay Center, Nebraska. Dick decided to blend the Angus and Gelbvieh breeds to produce a superior beef animal that benefited from breed complementarity and hybrid vigor. The Gelbvieh/Angus cross proved themselves and the cattle performed very well with the benefit of heterosis. “Heterosis is a proven tool for the beef industry with tremendous benefits,” said Dick Helms. According to Helms this naturally improves maternal traits: fertility, longevity, milk production plus increased weaning weights and carcass quality. Crossing breeds has produced better cows, replacement heifers, bulls and is more profitable when he market steers and heifers. 

While serving on the National Gelbvieh Board, Helms persuaded the association to approve a hybrid registry for the Gelbvieh/Angus cross hybrids and registering Balancers as a breed with the USDA. In the 1990s Helms incorporated the Fusion composite by adding Simmental genetics to his herd. Fusion is the result of a three-breed composite consisting of Angus, Gelbvieh and Simmental genetics basically as 50 percent Angus and/or Red Angus; percent Gelbvieh; 25 percent Simmental. “This three-breed composite utilizes the strengths of each breed and increases the amount of retained heterosis to the equivalent of F1 crossbreds,” said Helms. These calves are recognized by both the Gelbvieh and Simmental associations. Both associations utilize similar EPDs and indexes comparable to Balancers and SimAngus just with an extra shot of heterosis as a result of the Fusion cross. “All it takes is one calf crop to see the difference, calves show more thickness, retain calving ease and they fill out their frame,” said Helms.  

Over the years the beef industry has ranged everywhere from dwarfism problems with extremely small 3 and 4 framed cattle in the 1940s and 1950s, to giant frame 8 and 9 cattle with extreme weight and height and poor fertility in the 1980s and 1990s. Extremes have their issues, so knowing the history, Helms takes a balanced approach to genetic selection. “Good cattle are not extreme,” said Helms, “Balance plus heterosis is really where this industry thrives.” 

When it comes to nutrition, Helms puts an emphasis on forages and roughages and has trademarked the phrase “ROUGHAGE N’ READY.” Their high roughage diets allow them to identify and produce cattle that can make a living and produce efficiently on roughage, which is a real advantage to their farm/ranch customers. “In Nebraska we use grass, straw, corn stalks, cane hay, and silage as roughages for our rations. In Missouri, the bulls are grown on fescue grass with dried distiller’s grains and byproducts like soy hulls to supplement the protein and energy the grass lacks during certain parts of the year,” said Helms. Developing cattle in this way sets them up to be able to work for a living since they know how to forage rather than count on a feed bucket. 

The rations are computer balanced for moderate gain with a goal of 1/4-inch of of back fat on the bulls. “Worst thing you can do is fatten a bull; it can ruin their feet and makes them lazy,” said Helms. “It’s false advertising when you fatten a bull because it makes them look better than they really are, as it doesn’t change the genetics underneath.”   

With fires and drought in 2022 creating strain on pastureland and hay, Helms weaned calves two months early to reduce the nutritional requirements of the cow from lactation and the calf, saving approximately 30 percent of the daily grazing needs.  

Foraging ability influences culling decisions Helms makes in his herd. Every year they sort out which cows are maintaining well to keep and cull cows that need extra supplementation to perform optimally. “Since we raise so many good replacement heifers each year, we can be stricter in our selection,” said Helms. His standards are higher than the average commercial rancher since they raise registered seedstock bulls.  

“Selecting the right heifer calves for replacement is critical. Some of our best bulls every year have come from first-calf heifers.” said Helms. Because of this Helms started what he calls his “Heifer Challenge” to continually upgrade the quality and productivity throughout their herd. This challenge allows him to identify which heifer calves grow and maintain good condition with minimal feed as it forces them to go out and forage for most of their food rather than just eating out of a feed bunk or bale feeder in a pen.  The heifers are supplemented enough to gain 1.25 -1.5 pound gain/day which is enough to help them determine if they can thrive on forages. At weaning time, they make their initial cull based on lack of performance, disposition or structure, then they turn them out on corn stalks for a 60-90 day Heifer Challenge. The heifer calves are then reweighed and are sorted off  and culled for weight, shallow gutted, or rough haired meaning they struggled to “make it” without extra grain. “We’re trying to develop a herd that can make a living on its own and pass those genetics on,” said Helms, “We have seen higher retention and conception rates and increased performance on our heifers since starting this challenge.” They never creep feed, as Helms claims it only hides the poor producing cows.  

Helms is continuing the operation with the help of his sons Bryan and Kyle, their wives and four grandchildren, who are the fifth generation in the registered beef seedstock business.  

All of the Helms had a similar start in the business through 4-H and FFA. “My dad got us started in the cattle business when we were old enough to show in 4-H,” said Helms, “He gave us our first calf to show and after that we’d sell the calves and use that money to pay him back for feed with enough left over to buy our calf for next year.” Dick and Bonnie brought their sons up through the same process and they have now passed it onto their grandchildren. Helms says creating opportunity for the next generation in agriculture is hard work, but the cattle, family, friends and way of life make it all worthwhile.