Flying H Genetics
Three generations of knowledge and experience are behind Flying H Genetics at Arapahoe, NE, where Dick Helms and his son Kyle have expanded on the seed stock business Dick’s father established in the 1940s. Helms says the longevity of their business has given them a deep understanding of the genetic traits that result in profits for customers.
“We’ve taken feedback from our customers all of those years and developed our standards and seed stock philosophy from what we’ve observed and learned from those who purchase our genetics,” Helms says. “We offer more than one genetic package so customers can utilize the traits most suited to their production operation.”
Since his father Clarence began a seed stock business with Herefords nearly 70 years ago, Helms and his son have developed an offering of Balancers, SimAngus, Simmental, Gelbvieh and black and Red Angus to meet customer needs. Regardless of the breed, all Flying H Genetics bulls are developed on a unique protocol the Helms’ have developed that they call “Roughage-N-Ready” and “Grown on Grass.”
In all, the Helms family utilizes 17 quality standards to gauge the value of their animals, and their genetic philosophy requires that the bulls they sell are raised in a manner that promotes muscle growth and athleticism. The feed ration they receive is 99 percent roughage. The high roughage, low starch diet is mainly made up of WDG, straw or corn stalks and hay with a little silage for moisture.
“We firmly believe the only reason to fatten a bull is to get them ready for slaughter,” Helms says. “A lot of bulls sold in today’s industry have as much fat on them as market steers. Bulls need energy in order to do the work they’re designed to do, but it seems to us that many of them are much fatter than they need to be.”
Helms says putting fat on a bull can be compared to painting over rust on a pickup.
“Fat can hide flaws,” he says. “It can be hard to see what’s really underneath, and that’s how we want to do business.”
The Helms’ ration plan puts an average 2.5 to three pounds of gain per day on their bulls from weanling to yearling. In addition to the specific feed ration, the bulls are given opportunity for plenty of exercise throughout their development.
“The process mimics a grass-based diet,” Helms says. “By using this method we identify the bulls that effectively convert roughage to gain and eliminate the animals that don’t fit that kind of production operation.”
After successfully raising bulls with the Roughage-N-Ready process for a number of years, Helms found a ready market in Missouri where grass is abundant year round. Working with customers there, he developed a second development program designed to produce bulls that are acclimated to the weather conditions and unique characteristics of the fescue that is so prominent in Missouri grasslands.
“As seed stock growers, we tend to think that bulls raised in Nebraska, the Dakotas and Wyoming and Montana are pretty hardy,” Helms says. “They survive harsh winters and hot summers. But we’ve found that the Missouri climate offers unique challenges to bulls that aren’t raise there.”
A combination of high humidity, high temperatures and the cumulative poisonous effects of fescue can lead to the death of a young bull that carries excess weight and is developed on a grain fed diet.
“I’ve known of several instances where bulls like this didn’t survive in Missouri,” Helms says. “A fat bull in Nebraska might look pretty tough by fall when they’ve lost several hundred pounds, but they rarely die. We thought it was so important to provide our Missouri customers with the best possible quality bull that we established a second headquarters there.”
Jared Wareham manages Flying H Genetics farm at Lowry City, MO. There bulls are developed on mixed grass fescue pastures and supplemented with a ration designed to limit use of corn. Bi-product roughage feeds such as distiller’s grains and soybean-hull pellets are added to the feed ration.
“By forcing the bulls to develop and perform in pasture conditions with a grass intake that makes up over 60 percent of their diet, they can’t be pampered or sheltered from the environmental challenges they will face everyday on the farm,” Helms says. “Whether it’s fescue, pinkeye, or constant physical exertion, the bulls have to handle it or be washed out. That way, we and our customers can feel confident these bulls will work for buyers, not the other way around.”
The other standards cultivated in Flying H Genetics are calving ease, birth and weaning weight, weaning/yearling frame score or hip heights, weight per day of age, yearling scrotal, yearling pelvic, breeding soundness, disposition, conformation and soundness, teat and udder quality, milk production, fertility, efficiency, carcass quality and disease prevention.
“We don’t just aim to produce a 1,400 pound yearling because 200 extra pounds of fat doesn’t mean that animal has the best genetics,” Helms says. “Fat isn’t a heritable trait. It has to be fed on. We want to see muscular qualities in our bulls that translates to weaning weight. Cattle that quickly convert forage to gain have the kind of genetics our customers want.”
Helms has seen increasing demand for the type of genetics he and his family have developed over the years as producers scrutinize input costs more closely than ever.
“Bulls and cows spend almost 100 percent of their life having to survive on roughage,” Helms says. “Why would we take and put them in a feedlot and use corn to determine which animals have the best genetics? We can identify our best quality animals with the use of the roughage-based diet and give customers a longer lasting product with the genetics they need for their program.”
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the Oct. 23, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News