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Prairie Grove Ranch manages for high premiums

Robert Fears for Progressive Cattle Published on 24 December 2020
Gary Lee Price with the cattle

When Gary Lee Price became manager of the Prairie Grove Ranch near Windthorst, Texas, calves were removed from the cows and shipped to market the same day.

Price felt that improved ranch profits could result from weaning and backgrounding calves on the ranch.

He drafted a management plan with projected costs and returns and presented it to the ranch owners. The ranch is owned by Mike Garrett; his wife, Toni; and two daughters – Kelly and Meredith. Price became manager of the ranch on Jan. 1, 2016. After several months of study and discussion, the Garretts accepted Price’s proposal.

“I wasn’t sure how well the ranch weaning program would work because we wean in July and August. These two months are the hottest part of the year, and we are in one of the hottest areas of the state,” says Price. “Fortunately, there are big oak trees in our pastures that provide nice shade.”

During the first two years, only about half of the calf crop was weaned on the ranch and the other half sent directly to market. During the weaning period, calves on the ranch gained about 2.5 pounds per day. Only one calf was lost during the two years, and there was very little sickness. For the next three years, basically all the calves were weaned on the ranch with an average daily gain of 2.5 to 3 pounds. Less than 1% death loss was maintained during that period.

“Market prices don’t always move in the right direction, but the weaning-backgrounding program has produced a profit every year,” says Price. “This year (2020), the market went in the right direction during the summer, and the ranch received a 199-dollar-per-head premium for the steers and a 155-dollar premium on the heifers that were sold directly to a buyer.”

Production methods

Price feels that herd genetics are one of the primary contributors to calf gains. Calves are weaned for 45 to 60 days on stockpiled native grass and supplemented with a 14% protein ration fed in self-feeders. A quality custom mineral mix is continually available free-choice along with plenty of clean water. Earthen ponds or tanks serve as the water source and are dredged when needed to ensure a sufficient water supply. During this past summer, the largest tank was dredged to a 30-foot depth. Pastures are checked regularly for adequate supplies of feed, minerals, grass and water, and cattle are closely observed for health and condition.

“At 2 months [old], we brand our calves and vaccinate for blackleg and viral respiratory diseases,” says Price. “We also use a pour-on to treat for internal parasites, and all three treatments are repeated at weaning. Calves are weighed at weaning and again before they are loaded on the truck for their trip to a feedyard. Replacement heifers are weighed at the time of selection.”

Animal stress is minimized by breeding for docility and moving cattle quietly with horses. Price’s truck is equipped with a cattle caller, and the cattle learn to come when they hear the signal. Once the cattle gather around the truck, they are rewarded with cubes from a truck-bed distributor.

Genetics also make a big contribution to ranch profits. The cow herd is almost entirely straight Angus with a few black baldies. All bulls are registered Angus purchased from reputable seedstock producers. A 60- to 90-day breeding season begins in December when bulls are put with the cows just before Christmas. Bulls are picked up from the heifers by March 15 and from the mature cows by May 1. Fall calving begins around the third week of September with a vast majority of the calves born within a 60-day period. Since calving rate is about 94%, mature cattle have not been palpated for several years.

“Replacement heifers, raised on the ranch, are bred to Angus bulls selected for their low birthweight and calving ease EPDs. Conception rates are 85 percent to 90 percent with very little calving problems. During calving season, heifers are checked three times daily at sunup, noon and sundown,” says Price. “When a bull proves that he has the ability to produce small calves, we’ll breed him to heifers as long as he is productive. Bulls used on our mature cows are kept three to five years depending on their fertility, soundness and condition.”

Ranch history

Prairie Grove Ranch was put together piece by piece with some of the land owned by the Garrett family since the 1800s. Mike Garrett’s father, Muldrow “Mully” Garrett, had a vision of a large successful cattle operation and was instrumental in acquiring the majority of the land. Mike and his family have continued to acquire more properties near the ranch when they become available. The last piece was purchased in 2018.

The purchased properties are not contiguous, consisting of 18 different parcels of various sizes. Number of animals grazed on each property ranges from 12 to 60 head. Because of the number of land segments, a large bull battery is required so all females are bred within the same time period. The land arrangement also makes pasture rotation difficult, but each place is cross fenced at least once. On properties with only two pastures, cattle are moved on Jan. 1, May 1 and Sept. 1. Where more than two pastures exist, cattle are moved more frequently.

“Success of the cattle operation on Prairie Grove Ranch is largely due to Gene Bolton, the previous long-term ranch manager,” says Price. “Mully Garrett hired Bolton in 1989, and he stayed with the ranch for 26 years. He retired at the end of 2015 after I had joined the ranch in January of that year. During Bolton’s tenure, due to his keen eye for cattle and hard work, quality of cattle on the ranch greatly improved. Bolton was instrumental in beginning the ranch’s transition to Angus cattle.”

“In 2006, Mike Garrett and Gene Bolton began working with the American Angus Association through their AngusSource program, which later transitioned into AngusLink. This 15-year relationship has been very rewarding in terms of value added to the herd and introduction to new buyers,” Price continues.

“In 2019, we received our initial certifications for non-hormone treated cattle (NHTC) and NeverEver3 (NE3) from AngusLink. NE3 cattle receive no hormones, animal byproducts or antibiotics. This year, our calves were placed in the Prime Pursuits program by the feedyard because of their quality. The value-added programs plus calf crop uniformity has allowed us to sell directly to feedyards at premium prices. Due to current affordable commodity costs and premium calf prices, we have enjoyed nice profits.”  end mark

PHOTO: Gary Lee Price stands with pairs at the Prairie Grove Ranch near Windthorst, Texas. Photo by Robert Fears.

Robert Fears is a freelance writer based in Georgetown, Texas.