In the heart of the Kansas Flint Hills, where the last of this country’s tall grass prairie grows, Mushrush Red Angus spreads over some 8,000 acres. This year, the ranch won both the Beef Improvement Federation’s Seedstock Producer of the Year and the Kansas Stockman of the Year award from Kansas State University’s Livestock and Meat Industry Council.

I'm a Drover: Flint Hills award winners

Joe Mushrush’s parents started the ranch; back then, they were not using Red Angus genetics in everything they did. “My folks started from scratch, with a base headquarters here in the 1950s,” he says. “They had nothing. They ran it as a commercial cow herd, not unlike everyone else at that time.”

When Joe and his wife, Connie, returned to the ranch in 1980, they started a stocker operation on some rented grass. The Flint Hills are the perfect place for that, with excellent grass for high gains. “In May and June, it’s the best grazing in the world,” Joe says. Soon they started adding Red Angus genetics. “Red Angus bulls were hard to find then,” he says. “Then we had an opportunity to buy some Red Angus cows. Our idea was to raise our own bulls.”

Their interest in Red Angus was, in part, a response to some calving troubles. As the exotic breeds were starting to come on the scene, they’d brought some exotic bulls into the herd. “There were no EPDs then; you just picked the biggest, stoutest-looking ones,” Joe says. “We proceeded to have a calving wreck. It was a disaster. To alleviate that, we started looking at Red Angus.” He finds the breed very progressive, and the breeders the same. “They’re people like us; they worked up into selling seedstock. They look at the commercial cowman as their No. 1 customer, so it’s very commercial oriented.” And Red Angus has had mandatory Total Herd Reporting for 15 years, which gives it one of the most complete data sets available.

Today, Mushrush Red Angus has diversified its operation across all segments of the cattle industry, and every segment uses Red Angus genetics. The main enterprise is 500 registered Red Angus cows, split evenly between spring and fall calving herds. Mushrush sells about 150 bulls in an annual spring sale and also by private treaty throughout the year. They have built a bred-heifer program for some 400 to 500 bred heifers, which are sourced from commercial customers using Mushrush genetics, developed, bred and sold.

For the heifers that don’t meet the quality demands of the breeding program, the bulls that don’t make the Premium Beef; carcass data is collected on all.

Every step of the way, recordkeeping is critical. The Mushrushes keep calves in large contemporary groups until after the yearling weights and ultrasound measures have been taken. All culls are fed to finish so actual carcass data can be collected. At weaning time, every cow is weighed and assigned a body-condition score. “This extra effort to maximize the integrity of the data collected is what enables us to reach our goal of the industry’s most accurate EPDs,” Joe says.

Service to their customers doesn’t end after a sale is made. Customers can choose from options including free care until May 1 for bulls purchased at the annual spring sale, customer consultations on management or animal health and nutrition, and a comprehensive guarantee for fertility, structure and disposition.

Every bit of the work at the ranch is done by Mushrushes; this is an entirely family-run operation. Joe and Connie have six children, and “everyone says their goal is to come back someday,” Joe says. “It’s one of the most flattering things, but it’s also kind of scary.” They have a rule that the children all have to go to work off the ranch first, in part “so they realize we’re not the world’s worst bosses,” and also so they know they can bring something meaningful to the table when they return, Joe says. Son Daniel and his wife, Christine, have already returned to work full time on the ranch.

With that future in mind, the Mushrushes plan to keep the enterprise growing. “We are not set on cruise control; we’re still expanding,” he says. “We’ve got to keep the pedal down and keep this thing going. We want to be a major seedstock supplier for the commercial cowman.” seedstock cut and Mushrush Red Angus-sired steers purchased from customers, there’s an onsite feedlot where they can be fed to finish (after being run through the stocker phase on grass pasture, if necessary). Fed cattle are sold on a value-based grid to U.S.