Volume 1, Issue 4

Farm Update

The cows are bred, the calves are sexed, and we anxiously wait for the due date of our first cow (January 5, 2017). We are particularly intrigued by the calf possibilities given the wide of range of quality bulls we used this year. Included are: Thunder (a Sparky son), Royal Chief (a Meadowbrook Chieftain the 9th son, Mandalong Super Flag, Saksvalley Pioneer, and Melbros Stronghold. For a complete list of the bulls we used go to our website (whisperinghillsfarm.com).

Iris and her calf Heidi

Iris and her calf Heidi

I would be remiss in not mentioning our planned trip to Australia in December during which we will incorporate visits to several top Australian Shorthorn herds. Watch for a special interview issue of the Shorthorn Bulletin in January.

Quarterly Topic: Cow Size Considerations

Cow size has once again taken the beef industry by storm as the debate ensues. For the purpose of this discussion I will use three different mature cow sizes to illustrate differences. Small (1200# and under), Medium (1500#), and Large (1800# plus). There currently are many ardent supporters of small cows who I call “down sizers”. What has become clear is that many facts are conveniently left out. It is abundantly clear, to use a trite term, “one size does not fit all”.

The most common argument made for small cows is that they are more feed efficient. In actuality recent research shows that often large cows are more feed efficient. One must remember feed efficiency is not a function of size but an individual cow’s genetic traits making selection for feed efficiency a more important trait than cow size. This becomes extremely important when considering maintenance costs. Broad generalizations regarding cow feed efficiency no longer make sense when using cow size as the basis for comparison.

Calving ease is another attribute often mentioned as a reason to have small cows. The reasoning seems to be that small cows have small calves which lessens calving problems. Quite often the opposite is true. Calving ease is more a function of pelvic diameter and structure with some small cows quite capable of delivering large calves. I am not advocating larger calves. Instead I believe in taking pelvic measurements on all potential replacement heifers and using bulls whose mothers have superior pelvic measurements. This does not guarantee success but certainly puts the odds in the cow’s favor. Medium and large size cows can definitely have calving problems too but, if selected properly, they have “more room to play with”. The dystocia issue can not be solved by just using “calving ease bulls” given the inaccuracy of EPDs, especially in Shorthorns. I will save a discussion of the EPD problem for another issue. Besides, using smaller bulls to get small calves, while keeping replacement heifers out of these small bulls, will inevitable result in a downward spiral that will return one to the “belt buckle cattle” of the 1950’s and 60’s.
 

Rose this year at 10 years of age with her 3 month old heifer calf Rosalyn.  She is expecting a bull calf sired by Melbros Stronghold in February, 2017.

Rose this year at 10 years of age with her 3 month old heifer calf Rosalyn.  She is expecting a bull calf sired by Melbros Stronghold in February, 2017.

Management/handling time and costs are almost totally ignored when comparing cow size in almost all cow size debates. For the sake of argument I will use calf weaning weights of 500# for small cows, 625# for medium cows, and 750# for large cows. I am probably being generous allocating a weaning weight of 500# for small cows while many large cows have even higher weaning weights. A large cow example is our cow Rose, who 2 years ago weaned 1322# of calf when she raised her twins, bred back a month early, and had a condition score of 7 at weaning, all on only grass/hay. She personifies feed efficiency. She weighs about 1850# and consistently weans 800# plus calves. Our young herd sire “Thunder” is one of her sons.

For comparing management/handling costs let us start with the objective of attaining 15,000 total pounds of calf at 205 day weaning. Based on earlier weaning weight numbers this would take 20 large cows, 24 medium size cows, and 30 small cows. Simply put it takes 20% more medium cows and 50% more small cows to get the same 15,000#’s of weaned calf. It takes a lot more time/cost to vaccinate, worm, preg check, and calve additional cows, while giving the owner an added 50% chance for dystocia with small cows. Beyond that there are 50% more calves to handle, worm, vaccinate and more importantly to potentially get sick. There is just no way that it does not takes a lot more time and money to take care of 30 cows and their calves compared to 20 cows and their calves. Finally salvage value also must considered. A large cow, on average, will have 50% more salvage value based on her weight at the end of her productive life.

I am not proposing that one cow size works for everyone. Consideration must be given to the type of cattle operation the farmer/rancher has. For example, cow-calf, seed stock, purebred, market steer, grass fed, or organic may all want a different size of cow. For example if I had a cow-calf operation I would probably elect to have small cows because, more often than not, small weaned calves will sell for a higher price per pound The current cattle market may be an exception to the rule. On the other hand, for a grass fed calf-to-finishing operation like mine, a producer would undoubtedly be ahead with bigger cows. Heavier weight at weaning allows for the finishing of calves at 15-18 months of age at 1200-1500#’s, instead of having smaller calves which need to be fed for a second winter to get them to finished condition. Keeping smaller calves longer while they achieve a finished weight of 1100-1400#s creates extra work and costs more in feed.

Sweeping proclamations regarding cow size (i.e. “small cows are the best”) are not the answer. Are you marketing finished grass fed steers directly, selling weaned calves in the fall, selling show animals, selling terminal sires or any number of other possible options? Principled rational decisions incorporating all facets of beef cattle production will always allow each beef cattle operation to reach an appropriate decision about cow size. Too many times in life, let alone in beef cattle raising, people find it easier to follow the crowd rather than make an educated independent decision.


Joseph Schallberger, DVM PhD
Whispering Hills Farm
Member Academy of Veterinary Consultants

Volume 1, Issue 3

Farm Update

All of the 2016 calves have been born and are “running” the pastures.   We still have limited availability on both heifer and bull calves in addition to a couple of brood cows.  Many of next year’s calf crop are already in development with the sex of some 2017 calves already known.  Please contact us for further information.  Our delivery to the Mid-West will be in late July this year.  (Our delivery to the Mid-West next year will be in October 2017.)

Fortunately weather conditions this year have been much more favorable to pasture growth.  Last year we started to feed some grass hay in late June because of the lack of rain while this year will be more normal with pasture grass through most of August.  Hay prices are down so that is also helpful.


Quarterly Topic:  Native (Heritage) Shorthorns Versus Modern Shorthorns

Choosing the type of Shorthorn to raise is a personal choice depending on interest and goals.  Frequently there is confusion as to what constitutes a true Shorthorn since the use of the term Shorthorn has many adjectives including blue roan Shorthorns which are essentially Angus crosses.  I will not consider Milking Shorthorns in this discussion.  Native (Heritage) Shorthorn (NHS) pedigrees directly trace to the Coates Herd Book of 1822 in England with no introduction of other cattle breeds into the pedigree.  Modern Shorthorns became a reality when appendix registrations (AR) were introduced by the American Shorthorn Association in 1973 to try increase the appeal of the Shorthorn breed to commercial cattle breeders.  AR allowed for other breeds to be incorporated in the makeup of a Shorthorn and still be registered.  The primary breed used was Maine Anjou.  

NHS are often associated with the term dual purpose because originally Shorthorn cattle were developed as both a dairy and beef animal.  Certainly some genetic lines tilted in one direction or the other but overall the Shorthorn breed tried to maintain the dual purpose mandate.  Only in the 20th century did the split occur with the development of the separate beef and milking Shorthorns.  As a result in 1948 the Shorthorn herd book split into the American Milking Shorthorn Society (dairy) and the Amercian Shorthorn Association (beef).  Subsequently true dual purpose (NHS) Shorthorns were left in the lurch.  

Boa Kae "Royal Oak".  B--4/14/1963.  One of bulls used in our AI program.

Boa Kae "Royal Oak".  B--4/14/1963.  One of bulls used in our AI program.

Native (Heritage) Shorthorns are listed by the Livestock Conservancy as critically endangered and fewer than 500 are registered each year.  Globally they are considered an endangered population.  Their appeal continues to be their dual purpose function allowing for the production of both meat and milk—historically the “family cow” model.  The American Milking Shorthorn Society developed the Native designation on Shorthorn pedigrees to indicate their purity and that all the ancestors on the pedigree traced to the Coates Herd Book.  The actual pedigree will have an N on it to indicate this.   

Modern Shorthorns may have varying levels of genetic contributions from other breeds of cattle.  To be called a Shorthorn under current American Shorthorn Association standards they must be 15/16 Shorthorn.  There may be an indication on their pedigrees what breed was added.  As Modern Shorthorns evolved, through the introduction of other breeds into their pedigrees, they split primarily into Show and Commercial Shorthorns.  Many will argue that it’s not true but I believe any objective observer will see the difference between the “pampered” Show cow and the rugged pasture/ranch cow.  Show Ring Judges have definitely augmented the differences through selection.  This is not an indictment of Show Shorthorns but an informational statement pointing out differences.  Astute Shorthorn breeders/buyers can make their own decisions as to the merits of both types.

Because of the limited genetic pool of NHS it is important to be very knowledgeable in pedigrees to avoid inbreeding/line breeding complications.  I believe there are a significant number of great NHS bulls still available (through artificial insemination) that can help broaden the NHS genetic pool.  Through proper selection, true dual-purpose quality Shorthorns can fill the niche that has emerged in the grass fed and family cow markets.  The reality is that some of the same old bulls (1950’s, 60’s and early 70’s models) can also contribute to the commercial Shorthorn bull market because of the qualities that they add such as: muscling, hardiness, feed efficiency, easy calving, longevity and a myriad of other positive qualities.  The easy fleshing and calving ease of many of these same bulls is well known.  The difficulty is finding available semen and discerning how to use it to produce the best Native (Heritage) Shorthorns.

Our Native (Heritage) Cow "Maizie" in 2016 with calves.          She is bred back to Mandalong Super Flag, due to calve in Feb. 2017.

Our Native (Heritage) Cow "Maizie" in 2016 with calves.          She is bred back to Mandalong Super Flag, due to calve in Feb. 2017.

These are exciting times in the Shorthorn breed with many options from Native to Show to Commercial Shorthorns.  All types have their pros and cons.  Prospective Shorthorn breeders must weigh all facets of Shorthorn production, from breeding to marketing, before selecting a Shorthorn type. Having a breeding plan and then pursuing it in a thoughtful manner has the greatest chance of success. The “beauty” of the Shorthorn breed has always been its versatility.  One could even say it is the “buffet” of cattle breeds because it can fill so many niches—commercial, dairy, show, family cow, grass fed beef, oxen, and utilization in many composite breeds to name some possibilities.  I have both NHS and Modern Shorthorns, although long term I will eventually only have NHS because I believe the ones I am breeding will work in any environment.  I have been fortunate to secure semen from many tremendous old bulls, which through proper genetic management, will once again produce great dual purpose Shorthorns that buyers can employ in any cattle raising endeavor.  This is the reason the Shorthorn breed was the most popular cattle breed in the world for over a hundred years.


Joseph A. Schallberger, DVM, PhD
Whispering Hills Farm
Member Academy of Veterinary Consultants

 

Volume 1, Issue 2

Farm Update

 "Flour"  2016 Heifer sired by "Flashback 704"

 "Flour"  2016 Heifer sired by "Flashback 704"

The rain has continued to fall with the total now reaching 50” for the last 4 months. That far exceeds the rainfall total for an entire normal year here. Needless to say mud has been a big problem: the cows and calves are anxious to move to the grass fields. Hopefully that will occur before this issue is published.

We have several excellent homozygous polled heifer calves for sale sired by several different bulls. Look to our website for information on these calves. Delivery of any purchases can usually be worked out for a nominal fee. We are already scheduled to make a trip as far East as Southern Wisconsin this summer.

Quarterly Topic: Should you buy an Embryo, Embryo Transfer Calf or Neither?

Recently there has been an increasing trend by many (promoters) breeders of Shorthorns to sell packages of similarly pedigreed embryos. Production of these embryos, whether by classic methods or the newer in vitro fertilization process, has become an integral part of both their marketing and sale strategy. Comparison of both the potential benefits and disadvantages of purchasing embryos or embryo transfer offspring is extremely important. This is paramount whether trying to build a Shorthorn herd or engaged in showing Shorthorns.

The pervasive marketing of “embryo packages” in Shorthorn sales should be met with a healthy dose of skepticism. Most “embryo packages”consist of 3-5 embryos that may or may not be sexed but are full brother/sister. The marketing implication is they will be “winners” simply based on pedigree and parental show success. The reality is quite different. I like to pose the question “How many 7’ basketball players have 7’ sons let alone that are also successful basketball players?”. Mother nature has a way of throwing a wrinkle into the mix because of random genetic mix. Even more important is the selection process that is utilized to select the the cows that are used to to produce these embryos. Mostly they are selected on show records, pedigree, Estimated Progeny Differences (EPD’s), and the latest genomic profile. Often they are simply declared great cows by their owners and promoted as such. Many are pampered “hot house” cows with no real life experience or track record of living in pastures or producing offspring. Buyers must be willing to put a lot of faith in the selection process and “gamble” that they will get a quality bull or heifer. Beyond the embryo purchase price, one must pay for placement of the embryo in a recipient cow and hope implantation is successful. Implantation success rates are extremely variable with most being below 50 %. Utilization of quality recipient cows is extremely important to avoid passing on communicable disease problems, such as Johne’s Disease or Bovine Leukemia Virus. The recipient cow has to have good maternal instincts with adequate milk production. Needless to say there is a lot of expense and risk in simply buying embryos. Cost of embryos, receipts, implantation, drugs, and Veterinary care with low success rates should make a potential embryo buyer pause before embarking on the “embryo to live calf” journey.

A Mother's Love

A Mother's Love

Purchasing an embryo transfer (ET) calf carries its own set of drawbacks. The aforementioned potential disease risks from the calf’s recipient dam is the first potential problem. Birthweight of the calf will be affected by the strength of placental attachment in the recipient dam versus its real dam. Growth rate of the calf can be distorted either positively or negatively by the milk production of its recipient dam. Obviously there will be no direct correlation with regard to any of these factors because the actual dam is not a part of the growth process. Furthermore multiple replicas of the same parental mating can result in narrowing genetic bases and direct show ring competition between a plethora of siblings. Not a good situation if one’s goal is be successful in the show ring environment or sell offspring from the purchased ET calf. Uniqueness of pedigree is totally lost along with valid data on all the growth parameters typically measured in calves.

Given the above shortcomings why does anyone buy embryos or ET calves? Most people believe it will hasten the development of their herd, make them competitive in the show ring, or give them the opportunity to sell high dollar Shorthorns. Personally I see this as simply hoping that everything “clicks” without necessarily totally understanding the limitations.

With a naturally produced calf “fudging of the calf’s data” can still take place but it will be because of the lack of integrity on the seller’s part rather than the “altered biological circumstances” it grew up in. The list of advantages that are inherent in the purchase of a naturally produced calf is long but the most salient ones include the following: 1) birth and growth data that is derived from growing and developing through the input of its own dam 2) more chance of a unique pedigree 3) wider genetic base for all Shorthorns 4) less disease risk from outside sources and 5) marketing opportunities because the calf is not the Nth copy of the same parental mating.

Undoubtedly the production of ET/IVF calves will continue to be big business. Each individual Shorthorn breeder must evaluate all the pros and cons before choosing to purchase embryos or ET/IVF calves. I have tried to shine a little light on some of the controversies of this whole process. Personally I have elected to abstain from either the purchase or production of ET/IVF embryos or calves. Long term I believe my herd selection process will be more accurate and personally rewarding without ET/IVF calves.

Joseph Schallberger, DVM PhD
Whispering Hills Farm
Member Academy of Veterinary Consultants

Volume 1, Issue 1

After many requests I have decided to embark on a new venture with this quarterly report. My objective is to provide updated information on farm activities along with current news and analysis about Shorthorn management, nutrition, health, genetics, and reproduction. The Shorthorn Bulletin will be issued on a quarterly basis at shorthornbulletin.com, via email on request or can be viewed on our website whisperinghillsfarm.com through a link. 

Farm Update

"Waiting for Spring"

"Waiting for Spring"

The first calves have been born and will be listed on our website. Additional calves will be posted as they are born. December was extremely wet with record rainfall creating mud issues but fortunately our drainage system for the cows has worked reasonable well. I think the cows are in countdown mode till turnout on green pastures in late March. Grass and alfalfa hay will never substitute for green grass as far as they are concerned.

We will have several bred brood cows for sale in the fall. Contact us regarding availability and pedigree information. We continue to add to our selection of old classic Shorthorn bulls from the 50’s,60’s and 70’s that will be utilized both in our Modern and Heritage Shorthorn breeding programs.

Quarterly Topic:  Show Ring vs. Commercial vs. Traditional Shorthorns

Much has been made of the recent December Impact 2015 Shorthorn Breeders Conference in Kansas City to define the future direction of the Shorthorn breed. There is no question a dichotomy exists within our breed-show versus commercial Shorthorn type. The separation between breeder’s interests continues to grow because of economics, show judging and the changing cattle industry. In fact all of these factors have played a role in the rise of “Shorthorn Plus” or as I think they should be called-“Shorthorn Crossbreeds”.

The “Shorthorn Show Industry” has no real practical application for the commercial cattlemen. To believe otherwise is to buy into the hype and the promotion. Show Shorthorn buyers often do not think of or ask about the maternal qualities that a cow needs to lead a long productive and trouble free life. Initial interest is simply in how well she might do in the show ring. There is nothing wrong with that but understand the limitations and that Show ring genetics are not practical commercial genetics. The average Show Shorthorn will never work in a commercial herd because the selection process is completely different. Your average pampered show cow does not know how to “forage” for herself and never would thrive under the range conditions most commercial cattle must endure.

The whole idea of Shorthorn “Plus” Crossbreed has been to bridge this gap but also to appeal to the show steer market. Thus we now see black Shorthorn “Plus” Crossbreeds being promoted at sales and in the Shorthorn Country magazine. I would have no problem with this if the term Shorthorn Plus was replaced by the correct term Shorthorn Crossbreed. Apparently a lot of Shorthorn breeders have not learned the lessons of several other breeds of cattle that are now all black and have lost all semblance to the color and genetics that made them a distinctive breed. Crosses between Shorthorns and other breeds may have a place in the show ring or commercial market but they should be called Shorthorn Crosses or Composites so there is no confusion as to what constitutes a true Shorthorn.

Many of Shorthorn breeders focusing on the commercial bull market have embraced what I call the “Red Angus Syndrome”. Their websites, their ads, and their sales have nothing but solid red Shorthorns. The purpose of this, of course, is to appeal to the whole “Angus Certified Beef” market where anything that does not have the right color is presumed inferior. What a joke although I totally understand the economics of it. Unfortunately this approach can permanently change the genetics, color patterns, and characteristics of what made Shorthorns Shorthorns.

In one sense the commercial Shorthorn bull breeder is as guilty as the Show breeder in moving the breed away from its distinctive features. The result potentially being that Shorthorns are no longer Shorthorns. Some will say this is progress. I say it is dilution and adulteration.

The Shorthorn Breeders Conference was supposed to merge the interests of Show and Commercial breeders and the ploy appears to be to emphasize EPDs (Expected Progeny Differences) allowing Shorthorns to be placed on the same EPD pedestal as many other beef breeds. This creates a whole other set of problems due to how EPDs are developed and utilized. EPD’s are primarily based on pedigree and production information provided by Shorthorn breeders with no real oversight.

Inherently EPD’s can be inaccurate especially when differing management systems are not taken into account. For instance calf birthweight can be 10-15# higher or lower depending on the diet of the dam. That is a 20-30# swing. A range cow in Wyoming versus a “Show” cow in Iowa are likely to have radically different diets. Yet the there is no asterisk on the EPD data. I could go through a litany of problems with the different EPDs but I will discuss individual EPDs in depth, including the whole birth weight issue with its permutation, in a future Shorthorn Bulletin. Suffice it to say that EPDs can be helpful when they are developed within similar management systems but can be counterproductive when used in a cavalier fashion or used for single trait selection i.e. birthweight. Just look at the plight the Holstein dairy breed is in because of the emphasis on just milk production. Given all of the above is there any hope for Shorthorns or Shorthorn buyers. Yes! Breeders and judges should go back to fundamentals and look at what made Shorthorns the most popular breed in the world for over 100 years-their adaptability and genetic diversity. Characteristics such as docility, maternal instinct, grazing ability, milk production, marbling efficiency, and their innate beauty/color patterns (red,white, and roan). There is no doubt with proper selection, both genotypical and phenotypically, Shorthorns can have a profitable niche in the cattle industry. If they become only “Red or Black Angus” all of what makes them so special will be lost.

Buyers should be looking for Shorthorns that match their management systems. If they want to just show cattle then look at “Show Shorthorns” but realize the limitations. Buying an ET show heifer raised on a recipient cow has no relationship to the ability of that heifer to have a long productive life. Buyers that want to raise grass fed beef need to buy from grass fed Shorthorn operations because the selection process has undoubtably produced heifers that will work in that environment. In summation don’t get hung up on EPD’s. Realize their limitations.

Joseph Schallberger, DVM PhD
Whispering Hills Farm
Member Academy of Veterinary Consultants