Cattle Journal 2023: Frank Cattle & Genetics, Angus/Red Angus, Nebraska
Dustin Frank may raise cattle, but he says he’s in the people business.
He knows his customers, and he knows cattle, and he lets the demand guide what he supplies.
“We don’t really put any constraints on ourselves as far as what kind of cattle we breed,” Dustin says. At Frank Cattle and Genetics near Chappell, Nebraska, they raise mostly Angus and Red Angus, with a few Maine-Anjou and Charolais for producing show heifers.
“We cater to our local customers as far as their needs go from a performance and longevity standpoint,” Dustin says.
Their primary focus is raising bulls for commercial customers. That gives them a grounded perspective for their seedstock operation.
“Our commercial customers are concerned with raising a calf that’s going to wean off heavy. In order to do that, they’ve got to have a pretty good cowherd. I think everyone sells the cowherd a little short, especially with these high profile and big EPD bulls that get promoted. It’s easy to forget that our customers who make the most money at the end of the year have the best cows and take the best care of their cows. They treat their cows like they want to make money with them, and they do.”
That approach to management is difficult in a drought, when input costs keep rising, but Frank sees it as vital to success. “Without proper management you’ll never know the full genetic ability of an animal,” he says.
A drought year also serves to separate the animals that will thrive in a difficult environment from the animals whose requirements outweigh their benefits.
That’s why Frank focuses on perpetuating strong maternal traits. “I want my guys to know if they buy a bull from me they need to keep the daughters out of him.”
Building a good cowherd starts with the mama cows, and it starts with good feet. “Feet are something I’m unwilling to budge on,” Dustin says. “If we can’t make them good-footed and functional in terms of their skeleton, we’re doing a disservice to our customers. That affects everything from longevity in females to performance in weaned calves, and ultimately their efficiency at the feed bunk.”
On the maternal side, Dustin says, “The longer a cow lasts the more money she makes you. Udders have to be good for us. Fertility is a big one, and it’s really prevalent in a year like this when it’s really dry. Fleshing ability is also big in a year like this. Cows that can maintain flesh and breed back with limited feed sources are very valuable.”
While Frank gives management its due, he knows all those traits start at a genomic level. “I’m a believer in science. I 100 percent believe we need to be paying attention to the heritability of these traits. As we improve accuracy, I believe in our ability to project how an animal is going to phenotypically express its genetic potential on the hoof. The issue I see on the business side is we’re taking these genomic scores and predictions and treating those themselves as some sort of currency. We’re putting a lot of value on the GE EPDs of non-parent animals that still have a long ways to go in proving themselves.”
That’s a connection Frank always makes, though. “Productivity is our number one standard, regardless of the genetic line we’re using. The cattle have to be able to thrive in western Nebraska. Period.”
That’s an approach they take to the heifers bound for the show ring, and the bulls bound for the neighbor’s commercial herd. “Our goal is to make a show heifer that still has the ability to be a productive cow. If we can’t do that first we don’t have a whole lot of use for her. Maybe we take a very productive cow and make one of those matings that caters to the show heifer side. But the majority of our business is bull sales and we’ll never get away from that.”
But Frank’s goal isn’t to sell bulls. “When our commercial customers buy a bull from us I’m determined to make sure it’s a successful genetic addition to his herd. I’m really hard on our own herd, and I take it personally if it’s not a successful addition. I also have a lot of pride when those cattle can go out and have a positive impact in the neighboring herds in our part of the world.”
Modern technology has helped them to focus their genetics on the goals of each part of their program. Frank operates a Vytelle IVF satellite on the ranch, so they use it extensively and are pretty comfortable with it. In-vitro fertilization allows them to choose the sex of the offspring, so they can select specifically for the traits they want in a mating, particularly for their show cattle.
“IVF has opened up doors a lot of us never thought would be available,” Dustin said. “The convenience of IVF has changed the game.” Being able to IVF a cow that’s already bred, or 45 days after calving, allows that cow to stay in production, but to produce more offspring. They conventionally flush donors every spring for fresh transfers, but they keep the donor cows in production and on schedule with their calving intervals for the health and longevity of the donor cows. “It allows us to get more out of the donors without sacrificing our demand of keeping those cows in production,” Dustin says. “It definitely expedites our genetic progression because we get to make multiple matings out of that cow in one season.”
Through trial and error Frank discovered that using IVF on virgin heifers isn’t as successful, and can limit the productivity of the heifers because they seem to not breed back as successfully. “My recommendation is to wait until they’re bred and you have a confirmed pregnancy before you stat IVFing those younger cattle,” he says. “But I understand the business side, where we think we’ve created a masterpiece and want to capitalize on that as quickly as possible. I’ve been willing to try it, and maybe we’ve sacrificed some longevity in a female in order to expedite genetic progression. I guess it’s a case-by-case, but I have a better understanding of the risks.”
For all the progressive technology Frank employs, his reason for doing it is as traditional as it gets, “I don’t know that I was cut out to do anything else,” he says. “I didn’t grow up around many cattle. I didn’t grow up in the seedstock business. But from a young age I knew this was my calling in life. It’s been rewarding, and I’ve had the support to fulfill that dream and the backing to get to this point. The thankfulness I have is unbelievable. That’s what motivates me every day. The rewarding part is I get to do this with my wife, Kendra, and now my newborn son, Jesse. I get to hopefully someday pass it on to him, that’s part of my motivation and my drive every day, to be able to give him this life that I’ve longed for for so long and worked so hard to build.”
Starting from scratch, without the guidance–or limitations–of previous generations’ experience, Franks rely on their customers to tell them what they’re doing right or wrong. “I don’t know what the future holds. We sure enjoy what we do and we’re hungry to continue to grow our business. Whatever our customers demand of us, that’s what we try to stay focused on. Whether that’s more carcass or more calving ease or more maternal or just more in general. People want to do business with people they trust and people that stick to their word and do what they say they’re going to do.”