Winter Cattle Journal 2020: Maternal mountain mamas of Coleman Angus
Nestled in the mountain valley near Charlo in western Montana lies Coleman Angus, a family operation owned by Larry and Dee Coleman and their 16-year-old twins, Dawson and Erica. Larry and Dee both grew up working cattle – each are third-generation ranchers. Larry grew up on a Limousin operation; Dee’s family raised Hereford and Gelbvieh.
The foresight and commitment that has shaped the success of Coleman Angus was evident in Larry Coleman from early on. As a kid Coleman was involved in 4-H and quickly recognized the value in having a grand or reserve market animal at his local fair – so he worked hard to win. When his family started competing at the bigger tri-county fair in Missoula, “I got pretty aggressive, picked out a good one, fed it right, walked it every day,” says Coleman. “McDonald’s was always the buyer of the grand or reserve steer, and that year I had a really good calf so I named it Big Mac. We won, McDonald’s bought him, and that was the down payment on my ranch.” Coleman was just a sophomore in high school.
After Larry married Dee they worked for a registered Angus operation in Eastern Montana for a time. “When those Angus started calving I really appreciated their mothering ability,” says Coleman. As soon as they started their own operation, the Colemans went back to black with a focus on the maternal aspect of the breed.
“Today we’re still extremely maternal,” says Coleman. “A lot of breeders have chased fads or terminal traits but we have stayed focused solely on maternal and the commercial cowman.” They select for good udders, dispositions, feet and short calving intervals.
“When we got started I knew there were lots of extremely good Angus cattle in the business and many well-established operations,” says Larry. “I knew it was going to be tough to break into.”
The Colemans decided to identify a handful of the best cows they could find, and built their herd through embryos.
“We are still extremely aggressive, we want to be at the front end of this deal,” says Larry. “Those extremely good cows make a big difference in the quality of the cattle we offer.” Through embryos they are able to offer their customers full and half-brothers. “It really helps with consistency in a calf crop,” says Coleman.
The Colemans are somewhat unique in their seasonal operations – they calve mostly in July and August.
Coleman says there are several reasons. “One is labor – it’s a lot easier. We don’t get up at night and check anything.” Everything calves out in the pasture, even the heifers. “We feel this is a lot better place for them to learn to be mothers. You throw them in a barn and it just creates confusion.”
Plus they are normally tied up on a swather or baler that time of year. The Colemans raise all their own feed for their bulls and replacement heifers, but try and put the cattle to work as the harvesters as much as they can.
On their summer calves, weaning takes place in December or January, depending on snow cover and weather. “We leave the calves on as long as we can and try not to feed unless we have to. It just makes more sense and teaches them how to be a cow.” As soon as the grass greens up in the spring, the calves take those lessons and get back to work grazing.
“I’m kind of a guy who likes to think outside the box,” says Coleman. “In the cattle business there are things we can’t control, but we can control our inputs – that’s critical to surviving and making this work. The less days we have to feed, the less tractors we have to start, the better off we are.”
They also have a smaller group of cows that calve the end of January for customers looking for traditional season bulls and bred heifers. The Colemans also work with cooperator commercial outfits to transfer embryos, then buy the weaned calves around September.
Coleman says they sort strictly on phenotype. “I honestly never use an EPD when I’m sorting replacements,” says Coleman. “I look at cattle for what they are, not what they should be. If the cattle are right, the EPDs will follow them.”
He is also extremely focused on fertility and calving intervals. Cows that calve early get his attention, along with those that make Pathfinder status – a program of the American Angus Association that identifies superior cows based on early puberty, breeding and early calving, followed by regularity of calving and above-average performance of the offspring.
“A cow that breeds AI and has a calf 20 days earlier than the rest every year – there’s a lot more value to her,” says Coleman.
When talking about herd sires, Coleman says one bull stands out as a real game changer for them – Coleman Charlo 0256. “He’s a bull that changed our herd drastically in a good way,” he says. Charlo’s progeny have sold well everywhere they have been. “Every year his sons have topped our sale; our commercial guys really appreciate him – he’s true-blue calving ease with a tremendous amount of muscle, very easy fleshing.” At nine years old, Charlo is still being used naturally, besides collecting semen at the AI stud. The Colemans currently have a son of Charlo, “Bravo 6313,” that Coleman feels is the next step. His first sons will be offered for sale in 2020 at the annual bull sale. “Bravo calves definitely are standing out,” says Coleman.
Coleman Angus holds their annual bull sale the third Tuesday in February at Five Valleys Livestock Auction in Missoula, Mont., and their annual female sale the second Tuesday in October at the ranch. They sell about 175 bulls, with 110 being 18-month bulls and about 65-70 yearlings.
Coleman says their customer base consists of operators who, like them, appreciate the value of maternal genetics. “We focus on having an extremely good set of mother cows that can go out in these harsh environments and make a living in what I call the ‘real world,’” he says.
Marcus Mays is a commercial cow-calf producer in Ellensburg, Wash., and met the Colemans about 10 years ago on the recommendation of his previous bull breeder, who retired. At the first Coleman bull sale he bought one bull. Today he is uses 100 percent Coleman sires, and says the Colemans have become good friends over the years.
The Mays Ranch retains ownership on all their calves, raising replacement heifers and putting steer calves into a grassfed branded beef program. “It’s a lot harder to get a calf to finish on grass, but typically our Coleman calves grade anywhere from 50 to 70 percent Choice. The sector we do put in the feedlot run 95 to 100 percent Choice,” he says.
Mays says Coleman keeps in touch throughout the year, checking to see if there are any issues with the bulls. “His customer service is second to none.”
Mays adds he appreciates the philosophies Coleman puts into his operation. “Larry has really strived to make the perfect cow, and they run them like a commercial producer rather than a purebred breeder,” says Mays. “A lot of Larry’s goals have lined up with our goals; it’s a natural fit for us to ‘ride his shirttails,’” says May.