Living in the southern part of the United States, Bill Travis (far right) wanted to raise heat-tolerant genetics that also produced quality, tender beef. He believed that it could be done and that there would be a market for those genetics, especially considering that the majority of beef-producing regions in the world are in warmer climates.

In 1981, he, along with his wife Jane, developed a set of criteria to achieve such an animal at Pine Ridge Ranch near Athens, Texas. The criteria weren’t just a list of vague ambitions but, rather, specific goals that they wanted to achieve within 40 years. Meeting those goals did not take the Travis’ as long as they expected, and today, many of the goals have been attained. Using carefully selected pairings of breeding stock in the Brahman and Simmental breeds, they developed a Simbrah cross. “The animal we have now didn’t exist in 1981,” Bill
Travis says.

One of the goals is to produce predictably tender beef. “We want our cattle to produce tender, juicy beef. The tenderness has to be tested and bred for,” he says. “It takes generations to do that.” They use DNA testing to identify genes for tenderness within their bloodlines. Specifically, they are testing and looking for a homozygous tenderness gene to make sure it carries on in subsequent generations.

Along with testing and measuring for tenderness, their goal is to have most of their cattle grade low-Choice to mid-Choice efficiently. Last year, 76 percent graded Choice and 90 percent were Yield Grade 2. Those results are nearly ideal for Travis. “We don’t want Prime beef, but rather low- to mid-Choice beef that is tender.”

They collect carcass information and utilize ultrasound and other technologies to speed the process of achieving their goals. They’ve even created their own innovations to help measure for genetic improvements.

For example, they are striving to improve feed efficiency 15 percent. To measure that they’ve developed a feed intake system that accurately measures feed intake for individual animals. Travis says that they needed a way to measure and analyze individual feed intake on animals at their ranch. So Travis, along with his son, built a special feed bunk on top of a scale. As the animal steps on a mat in front of the bunk, it activates the scale to measure the weight. When the animal moves away from the bunk, the bucket is again weighed to determine the amount of feed consumed. The information is captured electronically and tracked using a radio frequency electronic ID on the animal.

That feed efficiency data helps determine if they’re on track, since continued improved feed efficiency also moves them closer to the goal of cattle that reach 1,200 pounds at 12 months of age with those tender carcass traits.

Currently, the cattle they produce reach 1,200 pounds at 14 months of age, but they see a cost benefit to producing cattle that reach that ideal carcass weight earlier. “When you consider that it costs $25 to $30 per month to maintain a steer, the cost savings achieved by harvesting a 12-month calf versus a 19-month calf is tremendous.”

Those potential cost savings continue to drive the Travises to keep pushing the envelope to improve efficiency and ultimately produce the genetics that do that.