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A full-circle approach

Kim Holt Published on 24 July 2012
Terry Beller, David Dal Porto, David Medeiros and Jimmy Thomas

Great cattle and friendships come full circle in this supply network committed to producing high-quality beef.

That was some 12 years ago and, since then, he’s proven time and again those first indications were right on course.

Not a commodity producer by any stretch of the imagination, Thomas, of Homedale, Idaho, strives to breed high-quality cattle that consistently meet the 10 specifications of the Certified Angus Beef brand (CAB) program.

Thomas raised cattle in high school and was always partial to Black Angus. Some 30 years ago, he started building his herd from a few cows that included 30 purebreds from a retiring area breeder.

His marketing goal, then, was the CAB program. Why? “We had Angus cattle and that’s the premium thing in that breed. So that’s what we were shooting for and we’ve had pretty good luck doing it.”

To see just how good they were, Jimmy started feeding his own cattle in 2000, when a neighboring feedyard became a licensed CAB feeder.

He initially retained full ownership in 50 of his best steers and they didn’t disappoint: Nearly 9 percent graded Prime, 87 percent Choice and 65 percent qualified for CAB; 39 percent were Yield Grade (YG) 1s and 2s, with no YG 4s.

Since then, Jimmy and his son, Kenny, have continued to feed cattle in the Midwest with results even better than these.

Thomas-bred calf

Their cattle consistently perform far ahead of national averages for CAB acceptance and have a high percentage of Choice or better with rarely any YG 4s.

The Thomas family farms on the Idaho-Oregon border, where they raise corn as a majority crop.

Their commercial purebred Angus herd runs from late spring to Thanksgiving on a grazing cooperative near Burns, Oregon, and on crop residues and hay in winter.

They background their calves to eight-weights and, in late February, ship all but replacement heifers to Lindsay, Nebraska, for finishing at Beller Feedlot, specialists in the feeding of high-quality Angus cattle.

In their quest to raise the best, Jimmy and Kenny have focused on balanced trait selection and herd uniformity, but also paid attention to carcass traits.

“Marbling and rib-eye area are the two main things, carcass-wise, that we look at,” Jimmy explains. “For the last 12 years, that’s been an important part of our decision too, along with other factors.”

These other factors include a high on-test average daily gain from weaning to yearling, birth weight, yearling weight, milk and docility, too. “Calmer, gentle cattle are just better. They’re easier to handle and they feed better,” he points out.

Thoughtful research and comparisons such as this, along with selection, good health and management and a dozen years of experience of breeding and feeding for the CAB target have all helped this father-son team succeed in the branded beef business.

A key motivator has been seeing yearly improvement in cattle, Jimmy shares. “We’re trying to breed premium cattle that are in the higher end for genetics and carcass, and we have data to back that up.”

Pride in feeding

In 2003, Jimmy’s progressive efforts in targeting the CAB brand were recognized by CAB LLC with its CAB Commercial Commitment to Excellence Award.

Jimmy and his wife, Sarah, accepted the award at the annual CAB conference in Cleveland, Ohio, where Jimmy met his future cattle feeder, partner and close friend, Terry Beller of Lindsay, Nebraska.

Beller was at the conference to accept his award from CAB as the brand’s Small Feedlot Partner of the Year.

The two met and “hit it off” and, a year later, Jimmy sent his first load of cattle to Nebraska to feed in this family-operated feedlot.

In business since 1958, Terry Beller says they began focusing in the late 1990s on feeding high-quality Angus cattle that fit premium-based grids.

They became a CAB-licensed feedlot in 2002 and, today, their goal is to feed genetically superior cattle like those raised by the Thomases.

“The way we feed, sort and handle cattle drew Jimmy here even though we’re 1,350 miles apart,” Beller says. “We have the same logic and feeding practices.

Our No. 1 thing is to take care of the cattle first.” The Bellers provide quality feed, timely sorting, continual yard maintenance and top-notch daily care for the cattle at their 5,000-head feedyard, which has nearly a 90 percent repeat customer base.

Beller comments that Jimmy’s cattle are “outstanding,” adding, “he really studies the numbers hard and it shows with nearly 100 percent of carcasses grading and a high percentage of CAB.

That’s the kind of market we’re in for because that’s how we get paid on a grid market. The better they grade, with no discounts, is money in my pocket and sometimes in a real tight market that’s the difference between a profit and a loss.”

Cattle raised by Jimmy have often placed near or at the top of Angus carcass contests. In 2005, a pen of 40 steers Jimmy and Kenny fed with Beller earned the champion National Angus Carcass Challenge steer pen placing, just narrowly missing the overall grand champion award.

“We always prided ourselves in trying to get top-notch results,” Beller remarks of these breed carcass contests, which drew out the competitive side in both he and Jimmy, but ended in 2011.

No matter, they keep turning out cattle with impressive results. A set of 78 heifers bred by Jimmy and fed at Beller Feedlot in 2011 were 99 percent Choice or better, 29 percent Prime, 84 percent CAB; 59 of 78 head yielded graded 1s and 2s.

Beller comments, “I have a passion for feeding the very best Black Angus cattle and Jimmy has the passion for raising them.

Hand in hand, we take it full circle.” But he also notes that Jimmy’s bull suppliers – David Medeiros and David Dal Porto – are part of that circle, too.

In fact, they were nominated by Beller Feedlot and the pair shared CAB’s 2011 Seedstock Commitment to Excellence Award at the brand’s annual conference in Sunriver, Oregon, last fall.

Pride in production

The Thomases have selected herd sires exclusively from the Rancho Casino-Dal Porto Livestock production sale held in Denair, California, each fall for the past 18 years. This sale is an event that Jimmy and his wife, Sarah, never miss.

In addition to being good friends, Jimmy says this pair of Davids thinks the same way in the cattle business as he does.

Rancho Casino and Dal Porto focuses its talents on seedstock genetics and bull production for the commercial cattle industry.

They shoot for practical, production traits first – and fertility is their No. 1 culling consideration. “As we got more information, we paid more attention to the carcass traits,” Rancho Casino’s Medeiros explains. “We do select for that but it’s not a priority over our normal production traits.

Medeiros relays that Jimmy is probably one of their first customers who stepped out and had the confidence to feed his own cattle.

“He’s really been good for us, as far as getting that off the ground and providing data to really go on with, and that’s encouraged some of the others to do the same thing. He enjoys it and I think really has a love for it. He’s almost a celebrity when he comes to the sale now.”

In their 2007 sale catalog, Rancho Casino and Dal Porto showcased 10 loads of cattle from their customers with CAB acceptance rates from 40 to 68 percent.

In 2009-2010, those same cattle, they report, had acceptance rates from 74 to 85 percent, with the difference being one more generation of Rancho Casino and Dal Porto genetics.

The industry average for CAB acceptance at this time was 14 to 23 percent. Included in these statistics were cattle raised by Jimmy and Kenny.

Medeiros points out that Jimmy has, a lot of times, focused on sire groups for two or three years and bought a number of half brothers.

“So his cowherd is pretty similarly bred and by the same token it’s probably pretty similar to the genetics in ours.”

Both Medeiros and Dal Porto willingly work with customers and will assist with enrollment in such value-added programs such as the American Angus Association’s USDA Process Verified Program, AngusSource.

They try to match up customers with people who do a good job feeding and “that’s where meeting Terry has really been huge for us,” Medeiros remarks. “Bellers have done such a good job of feeding Angus cattle and are committed to the CAB program.”

The meeting of Beller, Medeiros and Dal Porto was originally orchestrated by Jimmy. “He and Terry were a big part of us getting recognized so we could win the CAB award,” Medeiros points out.

“The cool part is that all of us, over the years, have become friends and developed such a relationship and all have won that award. It’s pretty cool that it came all the way around.”

Jimmy echoes his friend’s comments: “It’s a full cycle of our cattle, which makes me feel pretty good. I don’t imagine there are a whole lot of operations that can say that.”

He adds, “Not only are we proud of what we’ve done cattle-wise, those guys are some of our best friends.”  end_mark

PHOTOS

TOP: These close friends, Terry Beller, David Dal Porto, David Medeiros and Jimmy Thomas, have all been recognized by Certified Angus Beef LLC for their hand in the production of this brand’s high-quality end product. Photo courtesy of Jimmy Thomas.

BOTTOM: Thomas-bred calves have a superior history of meeting all 10 specs for the Certified Angus Beef brand. They have also been enrolled in the AngusSource program since it began in 2003.

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