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Quality-focused and customer-oriented

Kim Holt Published on 22 December 2011
Red Baldie Females

“In marketing, you don’t produce something and ask people to buy it.

Find out what people want and figure out a way to produce it,” says beef producer Jim Lerwick of Pine Bluffs, Wyoming.

His family’s Lerwick Brothers LLC, a third-generation and fourth-generation father-and-sons diversified farming and ranching operation located in southeastern Wyoming, has used Charolais sires on English crossbred females since the 1970s.

According to Lerwick, his family strives for a differentiated product, which incorporates the profit potential of the beef chain and is based on a customer’s desire and willingness to pay.

One goal is to turn out healthy, heavy and predictable value-added calves that gain at least 3 pounds a day from birth and harvest at 14 months old.

In doing so, genetic consistency plays a leading role and, as one of their major goals, has led to a “genetic coordination” with John Francis of Francis Livestock Co., Cheyenne, Wyoming, and 5L Red Angus, Sheridan, Montana, for replacement females.

Consistent, moderate, maternal females

In past years, Lerwick Bros. has both raised and purchased replacements for their terminal-oriented herd. While they could find the numbers to purchase, the consistent quality of the females wasn’t satisfying enough.

Three years ago, Lerwick became acquainted with Francis, who was marketing a set of bred Red Angus heifers mated to Hereford sires.

John Francis and female heifers

Lerwick purchased these females, and, since then, he and Francis have worked together with Lerwick as Francis’ dedicated customer for premium Red Angus-Hereford F1 replacement females.

Francis runs primarily all Red Angus cows, the majority built from Buffalo Creek genetics. He desires a moderate-sized cow that weighs about 1,100-1,200 pounds.

The Lerwicks, too, want a “strong maternal, moderate-sized” cow, but she needs to be a baldie, specifically a red baldie.

“The red baldie we’ve found attractive from a temperament and efficiency standpoint,” Lerwick explains. He also appreciates that the Red Angus breed has a stayability estimate.

This EPD (expected progeny difference) ranks animals with regard to the probability their daughters will continue producing in the herd past 6 years old.

To fulfill his customer’s need, and still leave replacements for his own herd, Francis buys Red Angus replacement females from Montana’s 5L Red Angus owned by the Larry and Lisa Mehlhoff family.

Lerwick and Francis researched this seedstock breeder and found their cattle fit the Francis herd’s genetic base and the Lerwick’s terminal-cross objective.

5L strives to breed balanced, moderate-sized, middle-of-the-road cattle with a lot of body. The females are maternal and adaptable. The Mehlhoffs say they focus on balanced genetics because “the cows are the bread and butter of the cattleman.”

Francis bought the first set of 5L replacements in 2010. “We don’t yet have enough experience to see the full potential of the 5L heifers, but as young cows they seem to fit well in our herd,” he relays.

Francis Red Angus females, including replacements, are bred to Hereford bulls selected from the Wyoming herds of Ned and Jan Ward near Sheridan and Jay and Janice Berry at Cheyenne. Hereford genetics contribute fertility, efficiency and longevity, Lerwick says.

Consistency in females is one of his goals, “which means consistency has to be a goal for us,” Francis points out.

Lerwick believes he can increase this consistency within Lerwick females if all Red Angus replacements are procured from one herd.

Limiting Hereford genetics to artificial insemination or from limited sources closes up the gene pool and should also lend itself to consistency.

“The idea is that most of the heifers will be half sisters,” Lerwick shares. While they’re not quite there, “once we have the consistency of the heifer, then we can select within the Charolais pool.”

Lerwick has roots in the hog business where his family was a PIC (Pig Improvement Company) grower of female breeding stock. He says they have applied a lot of those factors, including crossbreeding and sow efficiency, into the beef business.

He points out the productivity of the female in pork and chicken industry models is “tremendously enhanced” by the consistency of the genetic package. The terminal cross in pork and chicken is very controlled and has characteristics that don’t necessarily belong in the female.

Similar philosophies

With Francis Livestock as a genetic supplier for Lerwick F1 females, Lerwick now can concentrate efforts on their herd’s terminal end-product production.

For this, they choose to use Charolais sires for added performance on their maternal English crossbred cows.

“We believe the continental breeds belong on the sire side,” Lerwick relays. They’ve chosen to stay with Charolais for several reasons, including availability, genetic consistency and a knowledge base of how this breed performs within their system.

But more importantly, feeder-calf buyers like this genetic combination – they know how Charolais-sired calves are likely to perform out of English-bred cows.

As proof, Lerwick reports, “The calves made about $200 per head in the feeding cycle in 2010, and 2011 steer calves topped $1,000 per head off the cow.”

As far as sire selection, the Lerwicks look for a big spread between birth and yearling weight. “We want growth and look hard at the yearling number because we want to pass on that advantage to the feedyard, and because sometimes we retain the right to feed those cattle if the market says we should,” Lerwick shares.

They also buy within the top 15 percent of a bull supplier’s offering, and are of the belief that bull and semen expenditures are not a good place to take cost-cutting measures.

On the dam side, Francis looks hard at the weaning-weight-to-dam-weight ratio. “We think a 1,650-pound cow that produces a 540-pound weaned steer is costing us money.

Especially when you consider the 600-plus-pound calves are raised by much lighter cows. The smaller cows are putting their feed energy into their calves rather than themselves.

We found it to be common that the extra-large cows weaned among the lighter of the calves.”

He adds, “We cull the cows that produce in the bottom 15 percent for two years. Many years ago we had an outlier pen after weaning.

This could include as many as 15 calves.” Today, he says, they have a hard time finding more than a couple of calves like these.

Francis also appreciates why Lerwick employs Charolais for a terminal cross, as he used to produce a similar product. In doing so he, too, found his herd not big enough to raise both replacements and calves for terminal markets.

He reflects that for every non-Charolais-sired replacement heifer, there was a non-Charolais-influenced steer calf that wasn’t as heavy as his terminal counterparts.

In this coordination, Francis says, “We end up producing a product Jim wants in a breeding heifer and selling it for equal to or more than we would have Charolais-cross steers.”

Ranching sustainability

This coordination with Lerwick has also allowed Francis Livestock to grow its herd, as Francis now sells premium red-baldie heifer calves to Lerwick around the first of each year.

Francis says the percentage of his cows bred to Herefords is increasing each year, as they replace Red Angus bulls with the white-faced breed.

“This year more than 90 percent of the cows should be bred Hereford,” he says, with Lerwick likely to take all but 5 to 10 percent of the heifer calves as replacements.

He ensures that Lerwick has the top pick to choose from. “My dad taught me an important lesson,” he explains. He’d make the buyer take all calves when he sold his cattle in the country.

But Francis doesn’t do this – he sorts before Lerwick arrives and then Lerwick can resort replacements, too, to ensure the quality he needs.

On the remaining F1 females, Francis has options. He might breed and sell as breds or sell as calves. The red-baldie steer mates are sold on Torrington Livestock Markets’ Cattle Country Video, and Francis says it’s “very likely” he’s receiving $75 more per head from the added weight gain of heterosis.

While Lerwick is able to acquire what he needs, so is Francis, who realizes the Lerwicks are a “nice part of his business” – close to half.

Three years ago, the Francis family was trying to recover from 10 years’ worth of drought. In several of those years, Francis says the grass grew but never turned green.

These days, green grass and a dedicated customer are a welcoming change of pace for this fourth-generation rancher who has been managing the family ranch since the age of 19.

Francis points out that trust is a big factor in this arrangement. “There is not a contract anywhere in this,” from 5L to Francis to Lerwick. Integrity is a big factor in making this work but so is, as Lerwick advocates, finding out what people want and then figuring out a way to produce the product for them.  end_mark

Francises find niche with Pure Wyoming Beef

Aside from their production of premium F1 replacement females, John and Jane Francis also run a separate herd which supplies locker beef for their own Pure Wyoming Beef.

John says the sales for this business, which they’ve run for some 30 years, are mostly through word of mouth from around Cheyenne and Laramie. But he is proud to say, “We’ve sold beef from coast to coast.”

As the name implies, Pure Wyoming Beef is an all-natural product produced from Red Angus genetics, a breed John especially praises for its feeding ability.

Their niche lies with customers who tell this couple they prefer to buy home-raised beef over beef offered in the grocery store. So, there again, they’ve found out what people want and are producing to their specifications.

PHOTOS

Top: Red-baldie females like this are attractive from temperament and efficiency standpoints for Jim Lerwick of Lerwick Brothers, Pine Bluffs, Wyoming. His family breeds these females to Charolais sires in order to harvest heterosis from their southeastern Wyoming herd.

Bottom: John Francis of Francis Livestock Co., Cheyenne, Wyoming, is Lerwick Brothers’ Red Angus-Hereford F1 breeding heifer supplier. The Lerwick and Francis genetic coordination also includes Montana’s 5L Red Angus, who supplies Francis with Red Angus replacements. Photo courtesy of Jane Francis.

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