Linking cattle genetics to environment and management skills – AgriNews

CHAMPAGNE, Ill. — Ranchers should select genetics for grazing operations that suit their environment and management.

“You need to look at the cattle and also focus on the environment, so management is a big part of that,” said Travis Meteer, University of Illinois Extension meat educator.

“You also have to know your market,” Meteer said during a webinar hosted by the Embarras Grazing Partnership. “There are so many different markets that you need to know what your customers want and how to produce that product.”

Smaller-framed, more moderate milking cows that maintain a good body condition score will be more successful in a grazing environment, Meteer said.

“We need to take the time to let the cows teach us,” he said. “If you look at a cow that has a calf every year, she weans it at an acceptable weight and ends up adequately on the rations you have on your farm, that’s the genetics you want to propagate.”

Most cattle breeds can work in a grazing operation, Meter said.

“There is more variation within a breed than from one breed to another,” he said.

“Bulls should be wedge-shaped with a wider front that tapers towards the rear and females should be the opposite – wedged into a deeper flank and very feminine,” the beef educator explained.

“If you go near a herd of cattle, you should know right away if the cattle are thriving or not,” he said.

Meter advises ranchers to take a holistic approach to selecting genetics for a grazing operation.

“You can have the best genetics in the world, but if you don’t take care of them, you will have problems with the production, performance and profitability of the herd,” he said. “Consider health, management, and selection for functional traits.”

When buying genetics from another rancher, Meterer said, it’s important to evaluate the environment and how the cattle are managed.

“I think that’s where the most mistakes are made in genetics,” he said. “We don’t do the due diligence to look at the environment and the genetics we select for.”

At par

Evan Schuette manages a 260 cow grazing herd that is half Red Angus cows and half Black Angus/Simmental cross cows.

“The bulk of the herd is 3 to 6 head of cattle that weigh between 900 and 1,200 pounds,” Schuette said during the webinar. “I don’t want a cow with high milk production because that will cost me a lot of extra grass.”

Schuette started his beef operation in 2018 when he purchased his first farm.

“The farm has been abused over the years, so I am in the process of getting the land back,” he said. “PH levels are between 4.8 and 5.2, so I have been working with chicken litter.”

So far, Schuette hasn’t harvested hay from his grazing paddocks while he concentrates on building up the soils.

“Now I am buying some hay to keep the cattle on pasture longer,” he said. “I feed them a strip of grass and unroll some hay and that way our fall calves should be in by the first part of April.”

The rancher built two winter feeding stations on his original farm.

“I used them to the max for the first two years because I had no reserves,” he said. “Last year, I bought another farm, so I was able to add enough stock to get me through the winter.”

Schuette begins its collection process in August.

“We tried to cross the grass two or three times,” he said. “The stock is now 2 to 2.5 feet tall and was fertilized in the fall after the last grazing.”

In selecting cattle for his operation, Schuette’s most important criteria is conception.

“That is the single most important factor in improving my herd that will suit my operation,” Schuette said.

“Readiness is my second most important thing. I have a zero tolerance policy on it,” she said. “I also focus on calving ease because I can’t get out into the pasture every day to care for the cows and I can’t remember the last time I put out a calf.”

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