Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service personnel are hoping that with recent rains and improved pastures, South Texas cattle ranchers will start rebuilding herds sold off during the drought.
Proof of renewed activity could come when ranchers start submitting their livestock in the annual Bull Gains Test, Heifer Development and Pen of Steers Program later this month.
The program is designed to feed cattle at a feedlot while documenting their weight gain and other important traits, according to Ronnie Zamora, a Prairie View A&M University Cooperative Extension Program agent in Willacy County.
“When we started this program 16 years ago, we had 80 to 90 bulls in the program,” Zamora said. “But lately, we’ve only been getting 40 to 50 bulls. The drought really decreased our numbers. But with good rains and greener pastures, we could see an increase this year.”
The first date to submit bulls and heifers in breeding programs is Oct. 23. The first date to accept “pen of steers,” or livestock destined for the beef market, is Nov. 14.
The AgriLife Extension livestock program, in association with Prairie View A&M and other organizations, is designed to improve livestock for both breeding performance and beef quality, Zamora said.
“Once the livestock enters the Rio Beef Feedyard, located between Lynn/San Manuel and Raymondville, they are put on a 112-day feeding program based on their weight,” Zamora said. “They are evaluated at entry, midway through the program and at the end.”
Measurements of bulls include ribeye size, scrotal circumference, marbling score, pelvic area, frame size and body conditioning, he said. Heifers are evaluated on reproductive tractscores.
“This program is of great advantage to cattle ranchers because they save on feed costs,” Zamora said. “They also get their livestock evaluated which is documented from a respected, unbiased university system.”
Javier Moreno of La Negra Cattle Company in Edinburg and a longtime participant, said the program offers producers many advantages.
“I can develop my bulls and heifers through this program for half the feed cost, plus I get real good use of the performance data,” he said.
Program participation includes evaluations of the cattle, some of which are done by experts using sonogram equipment.
“There aren’t many people in the state qualified to do these sonogram evaluations, and they don’t come cheap,” Zamora said.
Incoming bulls are separated into different pens based on their age and size, he said.
“You don’t want to pen a big older bull with a smaller younger bull,” Zamora said. “What happens is the bigger bull will start knocking the smaller bull around the pen. The smaller bull won’t be relaxed and it won’t eat right. So we separate them into pens where they respect each other.”
The program is open to all cattle producers, according to Brad Cowan, AgriLife Extension agent in Hidalgo County. Awards are presented to owners of bulls with better performance.
“By evaluating bull performance in the feedlot, producers can use important performance traits in selecting sires for their herd or to promote exceptional bulls to potential buyers,” he said.
For more information, contact the AgriLife Extension office in Hidalgo County at 956-383-1026 or go to http://hidalgo.agrilife.org/home/agriculture/beef-development-program/.