Winter Cattle Journal 2019: Largent & Sons
January 4, 2019
To the Largents, their Kaycee, Wyoming ranch is part of a long family tradition of breeding and raising Hereford cattle that has been carried on for over 100 years. While the cattle that they stand behind mean a lot, so much so that they offer a two-year guarantee on their seedstock bulls, the fact that they are able to use the ranch to impact lives is also important to the family.
The first Largent bought his first Herefords in 1902 when Mark Largent's great-grandfather, C.M. Largent, began to add registered Herefords to his commercial ranching operation in Texas. His son, Roy Largent, grew up with Herefords and eventually his two sons helped the family business climb in the industry under a new name, Largent and Sons. In 1970, David Largent and his sons, Steve and Mark, along with Mark's wife, Cathy, bought a ranch near Wilsall, Montana, where they moved with both commercial and registered cattle. Twenty years later, the family relocated to Kaycee where they remain today with the seedstock herd. Steve developed health issues and moved back south, and in the 1990s, Mark began to take over more management of the ranch.
Early on, the family was very involved in showing and proved to be very successful, becoming known across the country for their Hereford cattle as David set the pace by showing at 32 major cattle shows in one year. In 1953, the family sold a bull for $25,000 and a heifer for $8,500 in Denver. After moving to Kaycee, the show ring became less of a priority and David and Mark began to focus on carcass merits, traits of reproduction, performance and efficiency in the feedlot. The program began to move in a new direction.
"It seemed some of our competition for the Hereford bull market share was from predominately Angus cattle, which are better known for more marbling than Hereford cattle in general terms," Mark says. "We wanted them to have multiple trait superiority so we showed cattle and started carcass testing them back in the '70s, before it kind of became a major industry focus."
When a report came out in the late 1980s saying that one in four beef eating experiences were sub-par, the Largents doubled their carcass focus, gearing their Hereford bulls to be even better. Every year their offering improves, and in November, Mark and Cathy, along with their son David Largent and his wife Heather Largent, held their 37th annual bull sale.
"We have customers that finish their own cattle and like to retain interest, so we really focus on the marbling and ribeye area of the cattle," Mark says. "We've tested our own cattle in feedlots and we do ultrasounding. We're one of the few herds that focuses on carcass traits."
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While EPDs are not a primary driver of their selection process when choosing which bulls will make the cut for the sale, Mark says they are still an integral part of the decision making process.
"We don't want any outliers, especially really large birth weights, and in our part of the country excessive milk can cause maintenance issues so we try to avoid outliers with our EPDs," Mark says.
The family is unique in that they are the only Hereford bull producer they know of to offer a two-year guarantee on all bulls sold, something Mark credits to the bulls growing up in a somewhat harsher environment than most and because they simply believe in their product.
"The Hereford cattle were trending a little less popular in the late '80s and '90s with the infusion of all the exotic cattle and so, to help our customers feel better about continuing to purchase Hereford bulls versus the exotics, we decided to go with the two-year guarantee," Mark says.
The Largents don't pamper or baby the cattle but instead make them work hard so that when they get to their new owners, they know how to work no matter what their new environment is and, besides that, Mark and David are both bivocational pastors and must be in town Sundays and Wednesdays, during youth group, church camps and vacation bible school, so it's important that all the cattle be able to "work on their own" in a sense.
"The bulls have to have good bone and good thickness and be able to maintain condition even while they are working," Mark says. "Our particular country here, we don't hay the cows in the winter time, they're pretty much on their own. Occasionally we'll have some protein supplement that we put out for them but our operation is primarily geared so the cattle don't have to have a lot of maintenance.
In a sense, the Largents have production goals for their ranch and family goals, both of which tie together.
"Going forward, our goal is to continue a family tradition," Heather says. Her oldest son is planning on returning to the ranch as soon as he saves up enough money to buy into it. "There aren't many family ranches left and we want to impact as many lives as we can through what we do."
Through breeding better bulls and focusing on carcass merit, and through learning what customers want and what works for them, Mark says they tweak the program accordingly to keep doing their part to move the Hereford breed forward.
"Our primary customer base is people with black hided cattle, and the Hereford Angus cross, the black baldy, has proven to be the most profitable cross in the industry," Mark says.
While it can feel like an uphill battle sometimes because the cattle industry is given to fads and swings, just like any other industry, Mark says that the best they can do is continue to stay the course as breeders and continue to raise a product that customers want and raise Herefords that not only will improve the breed, but mix and match well with other breeds.
"We talk about how we can help the Hereford breed, but actually the Hereford breed has also helped us through the years," Heather says. "Really the breed exactly, but the people who have come along side us in times of need as well."