When you have the right genetic package, you want to get as much value and profit potential out of your calves as possible by owning them through to slaughter. For Steve Irsik, CEO and president of Irsik Ranch, that philosophy has pushed an aggressive genetic program allowing greater profit potential at all segments of production and slaughter. Last year, the ranch saw a grid premium of $100 per head above other profits on the cattle sold.
“What really improves the profitability of a cattle operation, we think, is retaining ownership and grouping all these things together: the ranch, the cow-herd phase, yearling phase, pasture phase, feeding phase and finally marketing the cattle on U.S. Premium Beef’s grid.” says Mr. Irsik.
The Irsik Ranch currently runs 900 head of commercial cows, down from 1,800 head due to drought. When the ranch started 25 years ago, there were no cows, just yearlings running on grass and wheat pasture. Over time, however, Mr. Irsik says they got tired of fighting sickness and procurement problems on those yearlings. So they kept some heifers and moved into the cow-calf business.
They floundered for a few years but were introduced to Gardiner Angus and started using nothing but their genetics. Now, the Angus-based cow herd undergoes a strict selection and culling regimen to keep genetic improvement moving. When the cows are 6 years old, they go into a special production sale.
“Though we sometimes still struggle with it, we think the genetic package in that 6-year-old cow is not as good as our bred heifers,” Mr. Irsik points out. “We’re continually rotating our herd for genetic improvement.”
All heifers are artificially inseminated in a narrow breeding window, which keeps the calving season tight and promotes uniformity. Heifers that fall outside this calving window and may be naturally bred are sold as replacement bred heifers. Everything is preg checked and anything that falls outside that calving date window is sold. “We sell some really nice females, but we really just want to keep the AI-sired calves and we want them grouped close and tight for the purpose of calving.”
Any female that comes in open, is bred outside the window, doesn’t raise a good calf, doesn’t have a gentle temperament or doesn’t consistently produce a calf that meets carcass criteria is culled. That strict culling strategy pays off when the calves — steers and heifers — move into the backgrounding and finishing phase. That uniformity also makes marketing the cattle easier at slaughter.
The cattle remain under the ranch ownership through the entire production cycle. The cattle are carefully sorted into groups at the feeding stage and marketed at the optimal endpoint. Mr. Irsik says they try to have those calves going to slaughter in the spring, April or May, when the Choice/Select spread is typically wide. That’s important since more than 90 percent of the cattle at slaughter are Choice and 5 to 6 percent are Prime. Over 30 percent qualify for Certified Angus Beef. All of that means bigger premiums based on the grid that they market under with U.S. Premium Beef.
“That $100-per-head premium was exceptional last year because of the Choice/Select spread,” Mr. Irsik says. “But if producers study the historical trends of that spread, they can improve their profitability and get a nice premium by marketing in the right time window.”