Cattle Journal 2023: Hebbert Charolais, Nebraska
If you want a female out of the Hebbert Charolais program, you have two opportunities each year. They sell two lots at the National Western Stock Show Charolais Sale in Denver—a pick of their cows, and a pick of their bred heifers.
Beyond that, if you want Hebbert Charolais genetics, they recommend you pick a bull you like at their sale the second Saturday in April.
Matt and Lacy Hebbert are the sixth generation of the Hebbert family to ranch near Hyannis, Nebraska. They operate there with Matt’s mom, Mickie, and Matt and Lacy’s two boys, Dillon (12) and Waylon (10).
Matt’s family has been in Nebraska since 1872. His great-great-great grandfather bought land in Grant County, Nebraska in 1887, and the family raised Hereford cows. In 1982, Matt’s parents, Dave and Mickie, and grandparents, Mose and Merla, switched from the classic Herefords to Charolais, recognizing that the increasingly-popular Angus cattle could benefit from some hybrid vigor, and that the Charolais breed offered a lot of complementary traits to both Black and Red Angus cattle.
With a focus on producing bulls that add overall performance, Hebberts know that starts with the female. That’s why they cull hard on their cowherd, and keep only the top end of their heifers–about 150 head a year, Matt Hebbert said. Those 150 heifers replace anything that had a problem calving, weaned a calf that wasn’t outstanding, had any foot or udder problems, offered any disposition issues or is over 10 years old. In an operation that makes the cows earn their keep by weaning March and April-born calves between 650-700 pounds in September, there’s no room for problems.
The cows run on Nebraska Sandhills range year-round, getting fed a little extra only when they come in for calving.
“As long as there’s not snow on the ground they’ve got to graze,” Lacy Hebbert says. “We try to manage our grass so we can do that. We’ve been fortunate enough to send part of the cows to cornstalks the last few years and that’s really helped our feed costs. We don’t really pamper our cows.”
Those are the kind of cattle their customers are looking for, when they take Hebbert Charolais bulls to surrounding states and beyond, or just down the road in Nebraska.
“We really try to raise functional bulls that will fit any operation, that are going to last,” Lacy said.
“We work for something that’s got a lot of growth and performance,” Matt said. “We try to keep a decent birthweight on them, and produce something with really good structure and good feet. They’ve got to be able to stay sound.”
“Calving ease is important to us and we don’t want our customers to have any issues with it either,” Matt said.
A lot of their herd goes back to a Bluegrass son that was added to the pedigree in 2011. “He was a bull we could use on heifers and mature cows and get along just fine,” Lacy said. They also have numerous other trait-leading sires that are used throughout their program.
“We are always looking for an outcross–something that will improve our herd and bring in new genetics while staying true to those genetics that the Hebberts have been producing for years. ” Matt said.
Hebberts AI their heifers and mature cows, but use natural service on their 2- and 3-year-old cows. “It’s what Dad did,” Matt said. “It seems like it’s easier to get them bred up. We have really good luck getting them bred that way.”
While they do AI, they don’t sync their cows, riding natural heat for a full cycle.
They use horses a lot, and their two boys are involved in everything they do, which is part of the reason they focus so much on maintaining good dispositions in all their cattle–mama cows and bulls.
“Dillon really enjoys night checking,” Lacy said. “And Waylon strives to make as many pets as he can. They all get names from Waylon. The boys help us weigh, tag and give shots. Every little aspect, they’re helping us.”
Other than the four of them, Matt’s mom, Mickie, helps Lacy with the bookwork and the advertising. Lacy and Matt work together on all the ranch work. They have a hired man who has been with them for a few years and his family helps out too.
Everybody has their strengths and interests, and they focus on those.
“I’m the cow lady,” Lacy says. “When we’re looking for herd sires, Matt’s looking at numbers and I’m diving into what they’re out of. We look for something that’s going to produce good bulls, but also good cows. Numbers are good. A lot of people look at numbers, but numbers aren’t everything.”
They feed out the bulls themselves, and the heifers are developed just down the road. “I can sit at my kitchen table and see our bulls,” Lacy says.
That continual, close contact helps them find any issues and address them quickly. The weaned bulls are put out on a meadow and started on a self-feed program that incorporates distillers’ dried, cracked corn and a limiter, which they stay on until sale day, with a target gain of three pounds per day.
Their goal is to produce bulls that hold up, that are still contributing for years after they leave the place. They want customers that come back, but don’t mind if it takes them a few years, if it means their bulls are doing their jobs.
Matt and Lacy are grateful for those customers who come back, and the ones who are in the seats for the first time, knowing it’s that trust from those people who allow them to live the life they do. “We appreciate our customers more than they’ll ever know,” Lacy said. “We’re blessed to live where we do and do what we do.”