Mahers focus on innovation and conservation
for Tri-State Livestock News
Black angus have been the answer for quality beef production for the Maher family at Morristown, SD, for three generations. Dan Maher and his son Casey greatly appreciate the heritage Dan’s father established for them when he began developing the family ranch in 1917.
“Dad started on a different place than where we live now,” Dan said. “I never knew my dad. He passed away shortly before I was born. I am the youngest of his nine sons. I also have two sisters. When my father died, my mother stayed on the ranch and as each of the boys got older, they stepped into the job of managing the ranch activities. Seven of us have gone on to raise Angus cattle over the years. I guess you could say that ranching and managing Angus cattle is in our blood.”
As the youngest member of his family, Dan grew up on his family ranch, returning to establish his own ranching operation in 1969 after he completed a degree in Production Animal Science at North Dakota State University. He married his wife Gloria 44 years ago. They have raised four children together.
Dan ranched in partnership with his brother, Jim, until 1999 when Casey graduated from Bismarck State College in 1997 with an Ag Management degree. Dan and Casey formed the present-day location of Maher Angus Ranch. Now they are enjoying seeing Casey and his family begin taking the reins on the ranch.
“Casey and his wife Gina live at the ranch headquarters,” Dan said. “They’re bringing up their four children – Shayna, Sterling, Sonni and Sidney – in the ranch life.”
The Maher’s registered black angus herd was started with the purchase of 11 registered cows at the 1975 S&W herd dispersion sale in Nebraska. No other registered stock has been purchased since we bought those first cows
“We’ve used an extensive AI program to create a closely bred herd,” Dan says. “Our focus is functional, economical cattle that are sustainable for our ranch.We select animals for fertility, longevity, soundness and performance from the pasture to the plate. Because we’ve maintained a closed herd, we also don’t see major health issues in our cattle.”
“It’s also important to us that we have such a quality lifestyle to raise our families with good values and a wide range of life experiences,”Casey said.
About 5,000 acres of rangeland make up the Maher’s grazing resources.The Mahers have added well-planned shelterbelts across their rangeland. Most of the acres are comprised of rolling prairie, but the overall topography dictates the size of pasture areas. An extensive rotational grazing plan based on a twice-over system allows them to rest pastures and promote regrowth.
“Crested wheat grass, alfalfa and intermediate wheat grass is our hay base,” Casey said. “We have a nice mix of tame and native grass species. We graze as much as we can. We’re not a grain-based ranch and don’t raise much grain. We put up quite a bit of alfalfa and purchase most of our energy feeds.”
In shaping their herd genetics, the Maher’s have aimed toward producing moderate-sized cows that average between 1,200 and 1,400 pounds. They cull very deliberately, removing animals that don’t fit their “trouble free” approach to herd management.
“We ultrasound all our cattle and sell off any females that are open,” Casey said. “Any cow that doesn’t raise a calf goes to town. We also cull our late bred cows. The number one driver of the beef industry is profit, so that focus is at the heart of our production principles.”
Sound feet are a must for the Maher herd. Longevity is also a prominent herd trait.
“We want to see our cows be productive for at least 10 to 12 years,” Casey said. “We see some that produce calves at 12 and 14 [years old]. Calving ease is also an important genetic trait. None of us are getting any younger and it’s not easy to find hired help, so we want cows to produce a healthy calf that jumps up and sucks and remains healthy. We like to see cows wean calves at half their body weight without any creep feed supplement.”
Integrating technology into their management practices has helped the Mahers reach AI fertility rates as high as 82 percent. Ultrasound verifies pregnancy and is used to assess carcass quality.
“We also use DNA genotyping to track parentage and manage genetic defects,” Casey said. “DNA genotyping allows us to identify gene markers associated with specific performance or carcass traits so we can cultivate those traits in our herd. We strive for balanced trait selection that includes low to moderate birth weights and high average weaning weights.”
In developing their ranch, the Mahers have retained the valuable elements of their ranch heritage and are blending them with advantages of modern day facilities and practices. They are in the final stages of completing a waste management facility that will ensure their operation is environmentally sound. The Mahers are also managing this year’s drought situation with pipelines installed over a number of years to bring water to their pastures.
“All our dugouts are dry,” Dan said. “We started installing water pipelines in 1992. We added quite a few more miles of pipeline in 2008, so we have about 12-14 miles of it in all. That has made our drought management much easier than it would have been.”
As they look into the future, the Mahers are confident that the core principles that brought them through nearly 100 years will also serve them well in the years and generations to come.
“An honest and straightforward approach is the Maher way,” Dan added. “We stand behind our animals… as we want to be treated. Dealing with weather and markets are the same challenges my father faced in 1917. Education is important today. Special interest groups and regulators want to dictate how we care for our land and animals. We’ve been doing this for a lot of years. We know what our animals need and how to deliver it to them.
“We’ll keep our children involved in the ranch, helping them show 4-H calves and own some of their own cows in the herd,” Casey added. “Sound environmental and conservation practices are very important to us. We’re also keeping up with technology, so it’s easy to find out more about us and our ranch at http://www.maherangus.com.”