Ohio Land and Cattle Provides Genetic Benefits to Customers.

Published on Tue, 10/27/2020 - 9:58am

Ohio Land and Cattle Provides Genetic Benefits to Customers.

 By Heather Smith Thomas.

  A breeder’s job is to supply superior genetics to commercial cattlemen, and this is usually facilitated through bull sales, production sales, semen sales, etc.  This seedstock breeder takes this job very seriously.

James Coffelt (seedstock producer near Cadiz, Ohio) says that when talking about genetics, there are breeders, and marketers.  “Breeders visualize the ideal cow, and stack generations of that type of animal,” he explains.

“The marketers often rely on multiple producers who utilize their genetics.  They choose the best-looking bulls, and sell those for the highest possible prices. Twenty percent of their cooperating producers turn over each year. It is impossible, given the producer turnover, to stack a breeding type,” says Coffelt.

“I see the perfect cow as an 1150-pound, wedge-shaped (front to back), beautiful animal.  Our herd is registered Black Angus, but I am not promoting the Angus breed.  It’s just the easiest to sell.  I care about the cattle type, more than the breed,” he says.

“We watch four numbers—calving ease, weaning weight, milk EPD and $EN. We want calving ease, and birth weight EPD around zero. If calves are too big, there are problems. If calves are too small, they are fragile. We want heifers that weigh 60-67 pounds at birth, and bull calves 65 to 72 pounds.  We had nearly 700 calves this year and did not pull any,” says Coffelt.

“A weaning weight EPD of about 20 is fine.  This is moderate growth; slower growth with early maturing produces cattle that flesh easier.  Easy fleshing produces higher fertility, since fat affects hormonal processes.  Easy fleshing also means easier wintering, and produces marbling in the meat, for higher quality.”

He says a milk EPD of 15-20 is ideal. “Calves need milk, but less than you think. Higher-milking cattle have higher maintenance requirements year-round, lactating or not. The first requirement is survival, next is fleshing, next is becoming pregnant, next is raising a calf and wintering sufficiently. The sooner a cow meets her maintenance requirements, the better she can breed back, winter, marble, and raise a calf. Yet this kind of selection goes against everything the Angus Association has promoted,” says Coffelt.  Most Angus breeders select for more growth and milk--which raises maintenance requirements and makes for harder fleshing.

“We have not fed hay to our cows for 10 years; we only provide minerals.  Other than that it’s just grass: live or die.  Death loss in our calves, after 10 years, is lower than when we were doing everything the vet said we should,” Coffelt explains.  He was able to develop a hardier, more natural animal.

“Lastly, we watch the $EN, a measure of efficiency in the Angus breed. Anything above $20 EN is ideal. The average in the Angus breed is at or below zero,” he says.

“Genetics are key, in the grass-finished world. You must have the right genetics.  You couldn’t take a Holstein or even half the Angus cattle in this country and do what we do.”  His calves are raised all-natural, with no antibiotics or deworming.

“Stacking genetics of your chosen type is crucial--at least 3 generation top and bottom.  Two of our genetic influences, Pinebank and Wye, have stacked their genetics for 75 generations.  Our largest outside genetic influences are from Pinebank (New Zealand), Pharo Cattle Company, and Wye—a herd now owned by the University of Maryland.  Everything we do is about bulls with the right numbers and type (short, thick, medium-size, easy fleshing, etc.) which produce our chosen cow type, for our business model..  Nothing we produce here is less than 3 generations--and in many cases 70+ generations--of stacked genetics, so calves are very uniform, just like they came out of a copy machine, and with no problems,” he says.

“Our genetic program is very simple. We buy and develop the best bulls we can, capable of producing daughters that thrive in East Central Ohio, problem free, on ranch resources and year-round grazing.  Our bulls are the very top, selected from large peer groups, 200-500 in a group,” says Coffelt.

The cows are raised on the ranch and must wean a calf, on time, problem free. “Every cow that is late, open, aggressive, or needed assistance for her or her calf, is removed from the herd. The type of cow that does best is moderate in size (1100-1150 pounds), winters well, is easy fleshing, moderate in milk, and moderate in growth.”

The key is an ideal cow because she drives the whole breeding program.  “For two years I looked at the cows in our herd that were above 1150 pounds and the cows that were below 1150 pounds.  Most of our culls were larger-size cows.  They were longer, taller, harder-fleshing.  The smaller cows are always fat and can be harvested year-round because they are easy-fleshing,” says Coffelt.

“The key is not selecting the most beautiful bull or cow; the key is sorting off the bottom 30% to cull, and the top end keeps increasing in the qualities you want,” he says.  A cattleman who is devoted to high performance animals (high growth, high milk, and animals that win at the county fair) will make decisions to produce animals of that type. A cattleman producing beef for the grass-finished industry will develop cattle with lower growth, lower milk, moderate sized, with high efficiency. Cattlemen in the South will breed cattle that are different from cattle in the North, to fit different environments.

A business must be profitable.  “Business choices should drive the breeding.  In our case, we have an annual cow cost of $293 per cow, and sell into a premium market in seed stock, bulls, and all-natural grass-finished beef,” he says.

“Gavin Falloon, a great cattleman in New Zealand--one of the best breeders in the world--has an 800-cow herd, producing 400 bull calves per year.  He has bred the best yearling bulls to those 800 cows each year, for 73 years, and then sold those yearling bulls with an option to buy them back, depending on how the progeny turned out.  There might be one every 10 years that was stunning, and they’d buy it back, that is, one of 4000 bulls.. By the time they could recognize that a bull was that outstanding, he might be almost dead of old age.  So, if someone thinks they can come to my ranch or any ranch and pick out the one in 4000 as a yearling or two-year-old, it’s impossible. My advice is to pick a good bull and keep costs down, and continually cull the bottom 30%.