Commitment to quality earns Schaff honor
For Tri-State Livestock News
On a ranch tucked into a valley of rolling rangeland near St. Anthony, North Dakota, the Schaff family has built a legacy recognized not only in the Angus industry but in the beef industry worldwide.
Each year, the American Angus Association celebrates innovators and visionaries in the industry by selecting individuals for induction into the Angus Heritage Foundation. On Nov. 6 during the 2017 Angus Convention in Fort Worth, Texas, Kelly Schaff was among four Angus industry leaders who were added to the prestigious group.
Schaff, a fourth-generation rancher from St. Anthony, North Dakota, is a lifelong contributor to the Angus breed and the legacy of the world-renowned Schaff Angus Valley, along with his wife, Martie Jo, and daughters, Kelsie and Kourtney.
Growing up in the Angus business, Schaff’s unbridled passion and enthusiasm for Angus cattle started at a very young age, taking on large responsibilities in the registered breeding program that was started by his grandfather, Paul Schaff, and carried forward by his father, Martin, and uncles, Joe and Paul Jr.
Schaff learned in his youth to visually identify quality cattle. He showed cattle and judged livestock in 4-H and FFA and had the honor of being named the High Individual in the National FFA Livestock Judging Contest. Schaff was also honored to be selected to judge many national livestock shows including the National Western Stock Show, the North American International, the American Royal, and the World Beef Expo, oftentimes being the youngest individual to ever judge these prestigious shows.
That eye for quality and his meticulous drive for phenotype selection led Schaff to realize that what made good quality cattle never really changed. Fertility, fleshing-ease, temperament, capacity, muscle dimension and correct structure were always going to be in demand in the beef industry.
When Schaff took over the reins of the family operation he had a clear goal in mind. “I recognized that there was going to be more demand and profit potential for the elite type of cattle,” said Schaff. “ We really focused on propagating the superior genetics. It was more of a quality focused vision of building a herd. There is no shortage of Angus cattle but a shortage of the really good ones and we wanted to focus on the kind that can move the breed forward.”
Schaff also focused on his customers’ needs, realizing that his own success hinged on the profitability of the cowman who sells pounds for a living with the necessity to do it in an efficient and practical manner.
That focus has not waivered and has been instrumental in making the Schaff Angus Valley brand the world’s leading prefix in Angus genetics.
“Although this is a great honor, there is also a great responsibility to produce genetics that will enhance productivity, profitability and real economic value for the industry we serve,” said Schaff.
Schaff feels honored to have bred, raised and marketed well over 100 sires that are active in the major AI studs. Many of these SAV sires can be recognized by cattle producers worldwide by name including: Traveler 004, Bismarck, Final Answer, Net Worth and Resource just to name a few.
“Our innovative breeding program is constantly progressing, improving and refining, taking advantage of genetic turnover and intense selection pressure to make sure each calf crop is stronger than the last,” said Schaff.
“The bulls we are going to be selling in February average 236 pounds above breed average for 205 day weight. It took over a 900 pound bull calf at 205 days of age to be average in our herd—that’s the level of competition in our herd,” said Schaff.
Schaff credits artificial insemination technology for being able to rapidly improve cattle genetics, but the recent innovation of In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) in cattle has made even bigger and farther reaching changes. “With IVF, we can mass multiply the superior genetic producers. The top 5 percent of our herd can produce over 50 percent of our calves each year.” Schaff also notes that IVF can be done without taking a cow out of production. The top producing cows continue to be pregnant, while also having the potential to produce 100 embryos in one year.
Another innovation that the Schaff family embraced as soon as it was available was the use of live ultrasound to evaluate for carcass data to give their customers more information when selecting for carcass traits.
“To date we have held 114 production sales of Angus cattle for our family operation, really demonstrating our commitment and belief in the Angus breed,” said Schaff. The Schaff family will host their 115th production sale of registered Angus cattle in February 2018, marking the longest running consecutive purebred cattle sale of any in the world. They market approximately 750 registered Angus bulls and females in that event annually, which has been the record-grossing sale in breed history for several years running.
In a day and age where new cattle evaluation tools appear often and many are quick to jump on the band-wagon, Schaff believes that the basics are still vital when selecting cattle. “Although there are a lot of tools for selection available, the bottom line is still pounds on the scale and value in the marketplace,” said Schaff.