Begger’s Diamond V: The Rancher Comes First
Cold, crisp winds blow across the badlands of southeastern Montana, over the rolling hills, low gumbo saturated terrain, and rugged buttes. Ranching in Wibaux doesn’t come without its challenges. For Begger’s Diamond V Ranch, their cattle are expected to be sound, dependable, and perform in a tough, unforgiving environment.
“Where the ranch headquarters are located, we don’t have a lot of wind protection or cover,” says Bill Begger, owner and manager of Begger Diamond V Ranch, “When the wind blows, and it’s 40 below, our cattle take the brunt of it. They’re adapted to very, very cold weather and at times the scorching hot weather in the summer.”
Bill and his wife Darlene work alongside their son John, who came back to the operation after working in Alaska. Bill and Darlene are the parents to six adult children and grandparents to 11 kids – the fourth generation on the ranch. While the day-to-day operations are managed between John and Bill, the rest of the family help as much as they can especially during the busier times like sale and calving season.
The operation runs over 600 head of registered Simmental, SimAngus, and Angus cow-calf pairs and hosts an annual bull sale the first week in February. Through strategic selection decisions, dedication to improvement, and hands-on management, the Begger family develop balanced, well-structured bulls for their commercial buyers.
No Exceptions, No Excuses
Dating back to 1950, Begger’s Diamond V Ranch has been committed to developing cattle that will be profitable from ranch to rail. Starting as a commercial cattle ranch, the family understands the needs of their bull buyers and their buyer’s customers.
“The customer comes first,” says Begger, “We design our cattle to adapt and withstand the extremes. Each cow is registered, but we run our cows in a commercial environment to ensure they excel for the commercial rancher. No exceptions.”
The Beggers experimented with a range of continental breeds but settled on Simmental genetics in the early 1970s when the breed was first introduced to the US. Bill says, “Simmental improved our cattle’s performance and fertility. They gave our cattle more fleshing ability, udder quality, and adaptability to the climate.”
Listening to their customer’s needs, the Begger family and a few other progressive seedstock producers pioneered the development of solid-black Simmental cattle in the mid-1970s. The operation uses only tested homozygous black and polled AI bulls and herd sires ensuring black, polled cattle for their customers.
It was around this time that SimAngus cattle became popular. SimAngus bulls offered customers a nice blend of genetics with heterosis. He says, “When you use a Simmental and an Angus cross, you capture the hybrid vigor that a lot of people may be missing out on. It’s free growth and pounds while still producing a high-qualify animal that can be marketed through programs like CAB and other high-end branded beef programs.”
Splitting into two calving seasons has allowed the ranch to offer 18-month old bulls and yearlings. Cows are kept on a tight, two-cycle breeding and 45-day calving window. If a cow fails to breed back or calve on time, they are sent down the road – no excuses. Heifers produce moderate 65 to 80-pound calves and cows produce 80 to 95 pounds calves at birth. Cows are expected to be easy fleshing, moderate framed, with volume and wide tops.
Begger says, “We stay away from extremes and expect our cattle to be fertile, breed back on time, and calve with no assistance. When selecting genetics, we demand excellent dispositions, top-of-the-line fleshing ability, very correct feet and legs, and females with excellent udders. No exceptions.”
“We want to develop problem-free cattle that look and do well when times are tough. This year was a real test on fertility. I’ve heard some horror stories about conception rates. This is where management and genetics come into play, and it is where genetic value is a major factor.”
Cattle that Last
Alongside rigorous cowherd selection, Begger bull calves must carry the same weight to make the annual production sale. Fall-born calves are weaned in early March and put through a 90-day gain test. Between the end of May and mid-June, the top-end calves are turned out on grass and expected to gain with no extra supplements. All spring-born bulls are weaned in October and developed on a high-roughage diet until the sale on the first Wednesday in February.
Begger says, “We want our bulls to show genetic potential but not be over fat and melt during the breeding season. For us, it’s detrimental to our buyer’s success and the longevity of the bulls. For that reason, our conditioning process is geared toward the commercial environment and guarantees that our bulls stay together really well.”
Each year, the bottom 40 percent of the calf crop are sent to the feedlot. “We’re very, very hard on our registered cattle. We figured if we wouldn’t use them in our herd, why would anyone else need them in theirs?”
Before the American Simmental Association created the Total Herd Enrollment program, Begger’s Diamond V Ranch was collecting whole herd data from birth, weaning, to yearling. Tracking data has allowed the operation to stay away from the extremes of the breed. “We always had really good luck with calving ease. Even in the early ’70s, our Simmental cattle seemed to calve well. We understood that oversized, big-calves at birth would never be in demand, so we always kept calving ease in check.”
Reporting data over the last 45 years has improved the accuracy of the numbers that they get back from the Association. When making selection decisions, blending phenotypes like feet and leg structure, disposition and EPDs helps them create a balanced animal to retain in their herd and sell to their buyers. “EPDs are a very important tool in our program, but they must be used properly. A nice blend of common sense goes a long way to developing profitable cattle We understand that the highest EPD numbers are not always the best when it comes to profitability.”
With the onset of genomics, the operation started DNA testing the cow-herd and calves. “DNA testing and data collection help us make better choices on our cow herd. With our bulls, DNA and data help us guarantee with more accuracy what we sell.”
“The kind of cattle the industry is demanding must have the genetics that will keep the cowmen, the feeder, and the packer profitable,” Begger says. The end goal is to produce uniform bulls in type and kind that perform in the commercial environment. “The majority of our bulls are peas in a pod from one end to the other. We’re not trying to see how fast we can make the bulls gain. So many times we see seedstock producers over-feed their cattle — and feed for outrageous gains. These cattle look good on sale day, but you may have a hard time keeping them sound or recognizing them after breeding season.”
“Many commercial cattlemen sell their calves at weaning or background them for 45 to 70 days. Either way, weaning performance is a must. We know that with proper management, nutrition, and good weather, 600 pounds or better can be achieved with the right genetics.”
Beggers Diamond V Ranch Sale guarantee echoes the family’s expectations on their cow herd and bull selection. Their customer comes first, and if any problems arise, Beggars take care of them. Begger concludes, “At the end of the day, our goal is to develop genetics that keeps everyone profitable while providing the consumer with a consistent, delightful eating experience, time after time.”
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