Rafter T Angus: Moving forward
By Kaycee Monnens
Kale and Kim Kretschman of Rafter T Angus, near Gillette, Wyoming, turned their pairs out on summer grass in May. A week later, six inches of hail ruined the pasture. “They just had to tough it out. It was a rough summer. We didn’t creep feed. We didn’t do anything different,” Kim says.
Despite drought and nutrition challenges, the cattle thrived: weaning weights were within 25 pounds of 2019 (an exceptional year), and pregnancy checks yielded between just 2 and 3 percent open. The numbers prove once again to the owners why they are loyal to the breed, believing in passing on traits of longevity, fertility, calving ease, and rapid gain.
“They’re tough to beat for the birthweight versus weaning weight. There’s not really anything out there, in my opinion, that will compete with that,” Kale says. His family has always been in the cattle business, most recently Black Angus. His grandfather raised Herefords, but his father made the switch to black cattle.
For a short time, Kale’s father used Gelbvieh bulls on Black Angus cows. “I just got tired of too much birth weight and we didn’t gain much weaning weight. We switched to Angus bulls and our weaning weights went up, and all our calving difficulties went away,” he says.
Over time, Kretschman was able to refine the vision he had for his own herd, through experience and opportunity. In 2008, Kale and Kim purchased a dispersal herd from Big Timber, Montana and fully committed to raising registered Black Angus. “It was too good of an opportunity not to try it,” Kim says.
They were strictly a commercial producer until that purchase, over a decade ago, but it was an easy transition. Kretschmans kept precise records of their commercial cattle, used artificial insemination, used registered Angus bulls, and occasionally sold bulls private treaty. Switching to a registered herd was a natural next step.
Now, Kretschmans are focused on building a herd with the traits they value. Sons Galen (21) and Zane (7) are heavily involved in the family business. “We’ll probably do this our lifetime, and our kids should reap the benefits of it. That’s how long it takes. It’s a slow process,” says Kim. Using embryo transfer has helped them achieve their vision more quickly. “We’re trying to select those older cows that have been here 10 years and know their jobs. Those are the ones we are starting to flush. You can see it improving faster,” she says.
Kale puts high value on cattle that last. “The cows that we are flushing – it’s for longevity. In our industry, that’s what is lacking: having a cow that doesn’t disappear by the time she’s four or five. You should be getting that if you have proven bulls and cows that stay here and do it in our environment.” All but one of Galen’s bulls featured in this year’s sale are embryo calves, with proven genetics from their top-producing, long-time females, Kim says.
“We run our cows like we have always run our commercial cows. They don’t get any special treatment because they’re registered,” Kim says.
Galen hopes to maintain this value as he makes production decisions. “The purebred guy is going to show up and buy one bull maybe every five years. But the commercial guy is going to show up every year and buy five. If you run them like a commercial cow and treat them like a commercial cow, their offspring and their genetics should always benefit the commercial guy. If we’re trying to make ours stronger in that aspect, it does nothing but make theirs stronger, too,” he says.
Fertility is a main emphasis for Rafter T Angus, as well. Kim says, “Doctors Jay and Brandi Hudson out of Gillette are tough. Their bar is high for fertility. If the bulls aren’t right, they will not pass a fertility test. Sometimes, it’s painful. They’re so hard on them, but the end result is always worth it,” she says.
They hold the same standard for the cows. “We breed them for 45 days, and that’s counting A.I. they get one shot at the A.I. and one cycle to the bull. And if they don’t make it, they’re gone. I can tell in the last year, that’s coming around. The fertility is coming back into the cows. It used to be that we had 10 percent open every year, and now we’re down to that 2-3 percent,” says Kale.
Though many believe cows are either bull-producers or female-producers, Kretschmans believe a good cow should be both. “She ought to raise a good bull and you ought to be able to retain heifers out of her. That’s our goal – to raise cows that can do both,” says Kale.
With strategic culling, careful breeding decisions, and lots of patience, Kreschmans continue to see the fruits of their labor. After selling with Powder River Angus for two years, they were able to host their own bull sale starting in 2017. January 9, 2021 will be the fourth annual Rafter T Angus Bull Sale at Buffalo Livestock Auction in Buffalo, Wyoming. A potential goal is to also sell females, but for now the focus lies in marketing bulls that pass on proven genetics, “Good-footed, low-input cows that produce a lot,” according to Kale.
With Galen already raising his own cattle and home-schooled Zane partaking in the day-to-day operations, Kretschmans strive to set their sons up for the future. Kim says, “I hope we’re able to pass on a successful business to [our children], someday. The industry advances every single day. I hope they have the ability to keep moving forward.”
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