As South Texas ranchers rebuild their herds after years of devastating drought, it’s the perfect time to improve the genetics of their livestock, according to experts with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

“At this point, ranchers are still rebuilding after selling off parts of their herds to survive the lean times of a prolonged drought,” said Ronnie Zamora, an AgriLife Extension agent in Willacy County.

By entering cattle in AgriLife Extension’s 18th annual “Bull Gain Test, Heifer Development and Pen of Steers Program,” Zamora said, ranchers can get crucial data to help them improve their breeding program and livestock genetics, and sell bulls to interested buyers.

“Despite a recent drop, cattle prices are high right now,” said Zamora. “But because herds had shrunk, we had been seeing relatively low numbers of cattle up for sale at the auction barn. And now we’re seeing ranchers selling off their calves to take advantage of the high prices. This is also adding to the need to rebuild.”

Thanks to drenching rains recently in South Texas, pastures are on the mend and will help ranchers in their rebuilding efforts this fall.

“As they do so, the more information they have about their cattle, the better herd they’ll be able to produce for future profits,” he said. “That’s why the timing is perfect for producers to submit their cattle to AgriLife Extension’s program this year.”

The program is designed to evaluate the performance of bulls in the feedlot while documenting their weight gain and other important traits, Zamora said.

Brad Cowan, an AgriLife Extension agent in Hidalgo County who has worked closely with this project since its inception, said over 2,000 animals have gone through the program.

“In the 17-year history of this program, 1170 bulls and 974 heifers have been entered,” he said. “The Simbrah and Santa Gertrudis breeds have been represented in the largest numbers. We’ve also had Simmental, Beefmaster, Braunvieh, Red Brangus, Charolais, Limousin, Hereford and others.”

The RSVP for cattle numbers this year is due Oct. 16. Bulls and heifers go in the feedlot Oct. 22 at the Rio Beef Feedyard, located between Lynn/San Manuel and Raymondville, where participants are invited to a barbeque lunch. The date to accept “pen of steers,” or livestock destined for the beef market, is Nov. 6.  

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 bulls enter the Rio Beef Feedyard they are put on a 112-day official gain test,”  Zamora said.

Measurements of bulls include ribeye size, scrotal circumference, marbling score, pelvic area, frame size and body conditioning, he said. Heifers are evaluated on reproductive tract scores.

Cowan said a unique index was developed by the leadership of the Rio Grande Valley Beef Improvement Association to rank bull performance.

“The proper weight is given to the various traits so that cattle performance and market acceptance are kept in proper balance,” he said. “Within each age group, and only within each breed, bulls are ranked using the ratio of the index that was developed according to the following percentages: 35 percent ratio of average daily gain, 20 percent ratio of rib eye area/cwt, 20 percent ratio of weight per day of age, 15 percent ratio of marbling and 10 percent ratio of scrotal circumference.”

Zamora said participating ranchers save on feed costs.

“They also get their livestock evaluated and documented using a respected, unbiased system,” he said.

Program participation includes evaluations of the cattle, some of which are done by experts using sonography equipment.

The program is open to all cattle producers. Awards are presented based on highest indexing scores for each breed.

“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,” Zamora said.

For more information, go online to http://hidalgo.agrilife.orgor contact your AgriLife Extension county agent.