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Lienemanns discover the optimum way to grow

David Cooper Published on 24 January 2014
Cattle grazing

If you’re worried about rebuilding the herd in 2014, Nebraska Angus producer Trevor Lienemann doesn’t think you need to fret.

As long as you have six good head of cattle, you can build a future in the industry.

The 45-year-old Princeton, Nebraska, seedstock operator and his wife, Torri, could write a few chapters about starting from scratch in the cattle business.

Starting a herd with six registered cows in the early ’90s, the Lienemanns learned the expansion game slowly, with an eye on steady-as-she-goes herd growth.

Today, his Angus operation maintains 200 females focused on production and replacements, along with a few dozen yearling and 2-year-old bulls for sale and a nearby feeding operation keeping a couple hundred head to measure “what kind of product we’re producing.”

Not bad for a cowboy who started out as an accountant. Truth be told, being a numbers guy is precisely what helped Lienemann drive toward a healthy bottom line two decades after his start.

Trevor and Torri Lienemann

Back in 1993, Lienemann was already working as a CPA. What he needed was something to fill the early hours of the day.

So he decided to take his boyhood experiences raising stockers with his brother and jump in the seedstock business.

The family was still farming 80 acres, with 15 to 20 acres more suitable for cattle, when he started with six registered cows that he bought for $750 apiece from a nearby producer.

On a whim, he asked the seller to throw in the Angus registration papers. Lienemann then burrowed into the use of EPD data and soon liked what he saw.

“I started studying about the Angus Association in the early ’90s,” he says. “It all just seemed a natural to me. I was an accountant and familiar with data and numbers. It just seemed that’s what you do is take care of the details.

“Soon I was turning in herd improvement records. Those first cows that I bought, they had bull calves and they were pretty good cattle, and I thought I should advertise them.

“I think we sold those three bulls for $1,500 each a year later. Knowing profit and loss, I said to myself, ‘this stuff works.’”

Onward and upward

From such a simple start, the Lienemanns began retaining a heifer or two with each passing year.

Six head grew into a dozen, then two dozen and upward each year to 100, then 200 cows. A.I. and embryo transfer became even bigger tools as genetics expanded in the industry.

Meanwhile, Trevor’s accounting work with equipment manufacturers kept him busy through most of the ’90s before starting his own business in sales and distribution, and developing patents for his own feed equipment.

Torri stayed home taking care of their four children, all while going to school at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, earning her way to a doctorate in special education.

Both of their career tracks continue to pay off for the ranch. Trevor’s entrepreneurial gusto is evident throughout the operation, from the marketing mantra he calls “Lienetics” to the rapid growth of the basket-style “Bextra” hay feeder sold around the nation.

Torri’s teaching acumen paid off as well, from writing and assembling the many details in the bull sale catalogue to marketing the operation on a statewide and then national scale.

The bulls started picking up honors at major Nebraska sales and the Midland Bull Test in Montana, with the Champion WDA Angus Bull 2012. Evidence that the genetic selection for optimum performance is working.

As a seedstock operation in the middle of corn country, the Lienemanns focus on growth – while maintaining efficient forage-based cows with convenience and carcass traits built to last.

0214pc cooper bull

Bull sale customers are typically the producers in their own region. The best feeding resource has been Nebraska’s endless rows of corn crop aftermath – a blessing for which Lienemann sings high praise.

The Lienemanns aim for the first of February in their spring-calving herds, after realizing January was too cold, too short on daylight and too demanding for feed.

“It’s amazing the transition that February makes,” Lienemann says. “You go from January highs of 32 degrees, then the average low is 15.

But on the first of February, the average high is 33, and the end of February, it’s 45.

“Days are pretty short in January; in February they get a little longer. I understand holistic management and calving when the grass is green. But for our operation we bring everything in and transfer out.”

Using A.I. protocols, the calving window is targeted for Feb. 1 to March 15 with Lienemann cows.

The A.I. processes starts April 20 with embryo transfer work included, and it all finishes by May 10, with all pairs out to grass.

The wagon-wheel approach requires a good map of the local area, as southeast Nebraska is primarily row-crop land with various grassland parcels intermixed.

“On our grass, 30 pair go there, 50 pair go here, 40 there and 16 there. So as we’re A.I.’ing, we’re shipping cattle out to grass to get them on grass within seven days of the A.I. to not affect your conception rates.

“Then, in late summer, we’ll wean, start preconditioning with shots, at various pastures, preg check cows, weigh calves for their 205-day weights, weigh and measure all the cows at the same time. That’s how we manage our herd.”

Avoiding excess

Steadily growing – without too much input cost – is an approach that has also defined the genetics of Lienemann cattle. When he started the brand in the ’90s, Trevor Lienemann called his seedstock “balanced” – balanced for growth, for carcass, for maternal traits.

It was a slogan slow to take off. Now that approach translates to “optimum” – as in an optimum measure for cattle traits that’s not too small, not too big.

While the industry today rewards weights, Lienemann makes sure cattle in the herd don’t tip scales toward the excessive.

“We used to have large cows, so we started weighing cows 10 years ago and got rid of everything that was over 1,700 pounds, which wasn’t much.

“You must realize, we’re trying to grow our herd, so it was hard to get rid of stuff, and those big cows look cool, but I knew they were eating too much feed.”

But buyers started taking notice at the sale barn and were buying more cattle. Lienemann responded by culling cows over 1,600 pounds, lower mature weights and low-mature weight EPDs. The result sometimes saw a 10 percent cut in the cow herd.

The next year, he made another 100-pound drop. “That one hurt because we had some beautiful cows at 1,500,” he says. “But I knew we needed to get our mature size in line.”

Bulls sold by Lienemann likewise aim for the optimum balance and consistency. Lienemann likes similar-type bulls that provide value and high-quality traits to match producers’ resources.

“It’s easy to grow big cattle, but it’s hard to grow efficient optimum cattle, and that’s our target.”

Growth that pays

Just two decades after buying those first two cows, Lienemann says the ranching experiment has reaped its greatest benefits in the home.

The Lienemanns say the work ethic seen in their four kids, now all in college and high school, tops any bull sale prize or profitable year at the auction.

“We like raising cattle, but it’s the way of life we’ve enjoyed most. To raise some of the best kids in the world with cattle – we just couldn’t do it without family and kids.

They’re all active in it. We do some show cattle, but we don’t raise cattle for the show ring.

“We’re excited about being a first-generation producer family. I know there are a lot of bragging rights out there when you’re a fifth-generation rancher. To me, it’s a little tougher to be a first one.”  end mark


TOP: A group of Lienemann replacement heifers placed on grass near the Princeton, Nebraska homestead. Photo courtesy of Trevor Lienemann

Middle: Torri and Trevor Lienemann have spent two decades building their Angus herd from an initial purchase of six cows. Photo by David Cooper

BOTTOM: Optimum Impact is the herd sire of the Lienemanns’ prize-winning bull at the Midland Bull Test. Photo by Legacy Livestock Imaging-Heidi Anderson