The American Hereford Association’s staff and board members conducted a tour in late April, providing agricultural writers and broadcasters with visits to outstanding cattle operations and updates on the Hereford breed. Our virtual tour takes you to three Kansas operations that hosted the group – Ford County Feedyard, Sandhill Farms and CK Ranch – with written summaries and a photo album. We also provide an update on the Certified Hereford Beef brand, and trial data demonstrating the benefits of Hereford genetics in a crossbreeding program.

(Stop 1)

Ford County Feed Yard Inc.

Our first stop on the tour is Ford County Feed Yard, outside Dodge City, Kan. Our host, Danny Herrmann, owns and manages the feedyard, which is part of a large, family operation that includes farming and ranching.

Established in 1973, FordCounty has capacity for about 50,000 head, but Hermann says current occupancy is about 38,000, the lowest for this time of year in 15 years. The operation also includes extensive farm land, with 50 center pivots and about 10,000 acres of dryland farming. The feedyard puts up about three million bushels of high-moisture corn and 15,000 to 20,000 tons of haylage each year. Ford County Feed Yard provides about 50 full-time jobs to the community.

FordCounty annually feeds 20,000-25,000 Hereford and Hereford-influenced cattle. While Ford County Feed Yard buys some of the Herefords to feed, many of the cattle are from producers who want to retain ownership. Hermann says 80 percent of the cattle in the feedyard typically are company owned. Many of the remaining 20 percent are retained-ownership cattle or cattle fed for the Certified Hereford Beef and Hereford Verified programs.

Hermann says he likes the performance of Herford and Hereford-influenced cattle in the feedyard, and says the Certified Hereford Beef program helps him get performance and carcass information back to the original owner, whether the rancher sells them to the feedyard or retains ownership. He says he often works with ranchers who supply cattle to the feedyard. If, for example, a rancher sells him a load of calves with good genetics, but they have health or performance problems in the feedyard, he, and the feedyard’s consultants, will help the rancher identify health and nutrition programs that make the calves more predictable and thus more valuable in future years.

Citing the efficient performance and carcass value of Herefords in the feedyard, Hermann told the group that a set of steers CK Ranch placed at FordCounty last fall closed out at 75 percent Choice, gained 3.5 pounds per day and converted feed at a five-to-one ratio.

Asked about premiums for age and source verification on feeder cattle, Hermann says verifications are built into the price, and do not necessarily bring premiums. He will, he says, “push harder to get” cattle with age and source verification, and pays premiums for calves from some sources based on reputation. Some sellers, he says, have offered calves as age and source verified, but later could not provide documentation. Producers with a history of providing documents to back up their claims, and cattle that perform and stay healthy in the feedyard, he says, receive top bids.

Most of the cattle in the Hereford programs go to National Beef on a special formula, Hermann says those with documentation to meet under-20-month requirements earn about a $35 per head premium.

Read "Marketing success stories" on Drovers.com for successful marketing strategies at Ford County.

(Stop 2)

Sandhill Farms

From FordCounty, the tour travelled east to Sandhill Farms, near Haviland, Kan. Our hosts, Kevin and Vera Schultz, enthusiastically showed the group their Hereford cattle and outlined their breeding program.

Kevin Schultz represents the fifth generation of his family on the farm, which raises irrigated corn, soybeans and hay in addition to registered and commercial herds of Hereford cattle.

Schultz says his grandfather began raising Hereford cattle in the 1940s. Kevin got his start with registered Herefords as a 4-H student, and has since built the registered herd to over 300 cows. He collects embryos for embryo transfer from about 90 cows, and has used artificial insemination, ultrasound and embryo transfer in the registered herd since 1994. The Schultz’s have had most of their sires tested in the American Hereford Associaiton’s National Reference Sire Program.

The family sells about 60 Hereford bulls in their annual sale, with about 70 percent going into commercial herds where they are bred to Angus-based cows.

Schultz says he selects for moderate size and thick bodies in Hereford bulls, with a balance of maternal and carcass EPDs. He believes most buyers still rely largely on appearance in their bull purchases. “EPDs bring buyers through the farm gate,” he says, but they buy bulls that look right to them. Shultz says he culls aggressively to maintain the genetic traits that work best for his customers. “Two things I enjoy most,” he says, “are selling bulls and culling cows.”

Schultz exhibits cattle at the National Western Stock Show in Denver, and has had

the champion or reserve pen the last four years. Exhibiting in Denver, he says, helps generate business with other seedstock producers who purchase registered cattle.

Schultz believes DNA testing and marker-based selection will develop into a valuable tool as accuracy improves. He envisions using the tests to identify embryo donors early, and flushing heifers rather than two-year or older cows.

The family feeds pens of steers at FordCounty, and last year’s steers were some of the most efficient pens in the feedyard. They gained an average of 3.93 pounds per day, converted feed at a 5.4-to-one ratio and graded 60 percent Choice.

For more information on Sandhill Farms and their cattle, visit its Web site .

(Stop 3)

CK Ranch

To finish the day, the tour turned north into the Smoky Hills region of Saline and Ellsworth counties where we visited the CK Ranch, owned by Jack and Donna Vanier and their son, John. Ray and Mary Negus manage the ranch, and Ray showed our group around and described the operation.

Negus noted that the area is known as one of the best cow-calf grazing areas in the country. Located in a transition zone between tall-grass and short-grass prairies, most native pastures feature a mix of short and tall and warm- and cool-season grasses, making for excellent forage production.

The ranch includes approximately 15,000 acres of native pastures and 1,000 acres of tillable crop ground, which, Negus, a true cattleman at heart says,   “is about 1,000 acres too many.”

The ranch maintains a commercial herd of between 400 and 600 Red Angus and Hereford cows, and about 250 registered Herefords. They sell 60 to 80 bulls each year through private treaties.

The primary purpose of the commercial cows is to serve as a testing herd to prove the operation’s registered genetics. The ranch actively participates in the AHA National Reference Sire Evaluation Program.  Negus says they sell calves through the Hereford Verified Program, allowing them to collect carcass data to apply back to the breeding herd. Negus says he maintains the registered herd in real-world range conditions, and sells bulls primarily to commercial producers.

In the commercial herd, Negus uses artificial insemination on crossbred heifers, with a system designed to build heterosis. Heifers with half or more Hereford genetics are bred to Angus bulls. Heifers with half or more Angus genetics are bred to Hereford bulls. For cleanup bulls, he uses Hereford on Hereford heifers and Angus on Angus heifers, allowing later identification of which calves came from AI or natural service.

Using a fairly simple synchronization program, the ranch achieves a 70 percent first-service conception rate with Herefords and slightly less for Red Angus.

(Stop 4)

Hereford and heterosis update

Between tour stops, Jack Ward, AHA’s chief operating officer and director of breed improvement, outlined the association’s continuing efforts toward genetic improvement, and the value of using Hereford bulls for heterosis in a crossbreeding program.

 Ward says the association’s Whole Herd Total Performance Records continues to strengthen the Hereford database, with 110,000 cows on inventory and more than 20 million animal records in the genetic analysis. The breed’s National Reference Sire Program tested 2,000 cows and 35 sires in 2008 and the association offers a suite of 11 expected progeny differences and 4 Profit $ Indexes

Hereford Verified, AHA’s traceable program that provides bonuses and data on cattle that meet Certified Hereford Beef requirement, was initiated August 2005. During fiscal year 2008 a total of 12,260 head were harvested through the program with 15,056 enrolled during the fiscal year.

Next, Ward described a series of projects the AHA has conducted to evaluate crossbreeding programs using Hereford bulls in crossbreeding programs. In 2007 Circle A Ranch, Iberia, Mo., agreed to participate in a research project with the AHA to determine and measure the effects of using Hereford genetics on commercial Angus cows. Circle A used 10 Hereford bulls with the goal of comparing the best of its Angus herd to the best of the Hereford-Angus cross.

Throughout the project, researchers measured weaning weight and economically relevant traits such as feedlot gain, feed efficiency and fertility of the black baldy females compared to straight commercial Angus cattle.

Dan Moser, associate professor of genetics at KansasStateUniversity, analyzed and interpreted the collected data. Results from the project indicate that heterosis in the crossbred females provided a 7 percent increase in conception rate, along with improved feed efficiency and average daily gain.

University of Missouri Economist Vern Pierce evaluated the performance differences between the Hereford and Angus groups including birth, weaning and feedlot growth and carcass data on the steer calves, and pregnancy rates from the female progeny of the sire groups. He developed an economic model projecting the added value of Hereford heterosis over a 10-year period and found that using Hereford bulls on Angus-based females would add $514 net over the life of a cow or approximately $51 per cow per year to a rancher’s bottom line.

Economic models also predicted that after 10 years, due to increased fertility and longevity Hereford-sired females would generate a 20 percent advantage in herd size versus the straight Angus commercial cows due to increased calving and replacement options

Results of the study with Circle A mirrored those of another study with Harris Ranch in California. The study is being conducted by CaliforniaStateUniversity, Chico, in cooperation with the AHA.

The objective is to compare Hereford and Angus bulls under real-world commercial conditions by evaluating the progeny of the Hereford bulls and Angus bulls when crossed on Angus-based cows. For the steers, differences in weaning performance, feedlot performance, carcass value and overall profitability are being measured.

Phase I results showed a $78 advantage in profitability to the Hereford-sired steers over their Angus counterparts. The heifer mates to these steers calved in 2008 and showed a 7 percent advantage in conception rates over the straight Angus heifers.

After the second calf crop was harvested and evaluated, the Hereford-influenced steers boasted a $45 advantage compared to the Angus steers.

The third set of steers will be harvested soon with a final report expected to be released this fall.