Jonathan Perry is always looking for the next best thing. In cattle circles, that means fresher genetics over tried-and-true dams. And at Tennessee's Deer Valley Farm, it means 5-year-old Angus seedstock are moved out of the herd every year, selling in one of the farm's two annual auctions.
"We sell every solely owned, 5-year-old female on the place each year," explained Perry, livestock manager at Deer Valley. "We have about 150 replacements that take their spots. We use the newest generations. This is how we keep the freshest genetics and grow our herd."
He admits sometimes it seems a little crazy to move out super cows with no guarantees the next females will be as good. But it's part of a program focused on excellence that's working well for this Fayetteville-based operation.
"Every year, I say I don't know if there is a replacement that will be able to replace that cow I just sold," Perry said. "But if you look at our program on the whole, it's been a huge positive for us and for our customer base. We bring on the next generation faster, and we build our herd. Our customers are able to add these females to their herds while they are still highly contributable. They are relevant genetically and can make an impact in that herd, with years of productivity left."
THE SWEET SPOT
Darrh Bullock, University of Kentucky beef cattle specialist in breeding and genetics, said buyers of cows this age are definitely hitting the sweet spot of productivity, which is between 5 and 10 years of age. He said the strategy of buying mature, purebred cows fits especially well for growing seedstock operations. For commercial producers, it can be a way to improve overall genetics, as well.
Bullock stressed that in commercial herds, it's important not to overlook the reproductive value of crossbreeding.
"The single best genetic management tool available for improved reproduction in commercial beef operations is crossbreeding," he said. "By implementing a crossbreeding program combining two or more breeds, commercial producers can take advantage of both heterosis and breed complementarity."
He added that investing in proven dams can help eliminate some of a cattle producer's more challenging management issues.
"You aren't suffering through getting a heifer calved out for the first time and then bred back. You do have a shorter production life with an older female, and that has to be factored in. Individual producers need to look at how the economic values stack up for them based on when they normally cull, salvage values and what type of operation they are running."
Bullock said it's also important to match genetics to the environment for good future reproductive performance.
"There is certainly value in considering acclimation no matter where you are located, but I see more problems with cattle coming from other locations to the Southeast than the other way around. The fescue we have here and the heat can be harsh on cows that aren't accustomed to it."
FEMALE PRICES REMAIN STRONG
Deer Valley's 5-year-olds sell bred or with a calf at their side. Perry said there are two sales each year, one in the spring and one in the fall. These sales are held at Fayetteville.
Females sell in the fall, along with spring-born bulls. This year's fall sale is scheduled for November. A female from the fall-calving herd will sell with a baby calf at her side. A female from the spring-calving herd will sell with a weaning age calf, and she is confirmed pregnant. Bull calves are retained for development.
Every fall sale includes open yearlings, bred replacements, the 5-year-old dams and bulls. Perry said prices for the older females have climbed every year since 2010, when the program started. Average prices for them during the last few years have run between $5,000 and $7,000.
In the spring, fall-born bulls are sold, but no females. The spring sale this year was held in March. Bull prices are significantly higher, with $100,000 marking Deer Valley's peak price to date. Perry said the last three Select bulls brought between $90,000 and $100,000.
If Deer Valley Farm sells its 5-year-old females annually, the process for choosing replacements becomes critical to future success. Perry said they sort potential replacements on three criteria -- genetics, overall quality and due date.
Genetically, the focus is on above-average scores for calving ease, growth, maternal traits and carcass traits.
"In this part of the world, calving ease, yearling growth and weaning weights are important. The more of that you have, the more value you have," Perry said. He bases genetic evaluations on Zoetis High-Density (HD) 50K DNA profiles. These tests provide genetically enhanced expected progeny differences (GE-EPDs), trait indexes and genomic predictions based on a tested population of more than 50,000 Angus. In females, the GE-EPDs are more accurate than the information gained from a lifetime of progeny performance data.
Phenotype, structure and disposition are also high on Perry's list, keeping in mind the needs of most bull customers.
"Disposition is critical because so many of our bulls go to small producers with 40 to 150 head. They are working cattle in the afternoon, maybe it's their second job. They need animals that are easy to handle," he said.
When it comes to conception, Perry quipped the first 150 heifers to get bred stay. But it's more complicated than that. It's really a question of which heifers fit best into the farm's two 45-day calving windows that fall between January and April, or August and October.
All replacement heifers are artificially inseminated (AI). The conception rate for heifers on one AI is 65% using a progestin-based CIDR (controlled internal drug release) protocol to synchronize estrus. Perry said they do not breed on timed synchronization but rather on standing heat. A second AI takes place on a natural heat, where they see a 75% conception rate. The farm has three AI technicians, along with Perry, who breed all replacement heifers.
"We have worked hard to establish a brand our customers can rely on," Perry said. Today, the farm owns several of the Angus breed's most famous and proven donor females, including GAR EXT 614, Rita 1198 of 2536 Rito 616, Roth Primrose 1247, SITZ Henrietta Pride 643T, GAR Progress 830 and GAR Objective 2345.
Perry said the commitment the farm has to excellence goes to owners Fred and Rinda Clark. Fred's straightforward conviction when it comes to raising cattle has always focused on producing the best genetics possible.
"It costs the same to feed a great one as it does to feed an average one," Clark once said of Deer Valley's cow herd. It's a philosophy that continues to shape the future of not only this one Tennessee farm but the Angus breed.
For More Information: Deer Valley Farm and sale dates: www.deervalleyfarm.com
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