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Striving for the best: Judd Ranch builds a genetic model in the Gelbvieh breed

Laura Handke for Progressive Cattleman Published on 24 January 2019
The Judd Family

Based in Pomona, Kansas, Judd Ranch has garnered distinction as the American Gelbvieh Association’s number one breeder and owner of Dams of Merit and Dams of Distinction for 20 of the past 21 years, a testament to the management and genetics the first-generation operation has worked to develop.

After finishing college at Iowa State University, Dave and Cindy Judd knew they wanted to start a genetics-based cow-calf operation and immediately began looking for the land that could accommodate their dream.

In 1981, the economics of making an established agricultural operation work were tough to pencil out, let alone beginning a livestock endeavor from scratch, but that is exactly what the Judds did.

“The ’80s was a really poor time to start,” says Cindy. “If we had waited another couple of years, there would have been more ranches for sale … but we didn’t, so we hunkered down and made it work.”

Today, Judd Ranch isn’t just making it work for their operation but for those commercial cow-calf operations around the country who use their genetics as well.

Getting started

“One of the first things we did was go through the MARC (Meat Animal Research Center) in Clay Center [Nebraska] to see what different breeds were offering,” says Dave.

What the couple found was good maternal ability, fertility, longevity and milking ability – all characteristics of the Gelbvieh breed.

Adding Gelbvieh genetics to their established Brangus herd, the Judds could hardly believe the hardy, well-doing offspring their cows produced.

“The heterosis really came through on that set of [Brangus x Gelbvieh] calves, and we were so impressed we bought a herd of Gelbvieh cows,” says Cindy.

Around the same time, and on the couple’s fifth anniversary, Cindy adds, they purchased the top-selling donor cow from a purebred Gelbvieh sale in Colorado. Today, the genetics of that anniversary purchase are in nearly every pedigree on the ranch.

Managing for success

One of the management decisions the Judds made early in their ranching career was to implement embryo transfer and A.I. to maximize the return of their genetic purchase.

Currently, 15 percent of the calves born on Judd Ranch are embryo transfer calves, with A.I. producing the majority, and the management those breeding systems entail is vast.

“We start A.I. (artificially inseminating) the first part of November. All of the cows are on natural heats, so we are gathering and sorting off cows twice a day. There is a lot of time invested,” says Cindy.

Judd Ranch females are known for superior milk production, maternal instinct and fertility

The ranch runs upwards of 800 cows, with two-thirds of the herd calving in the fall and one-third in the spring.

Fall and winter are busy times on the ranch, not that many times are especially slow, both Dave and Cindy concede.

The genetics the ranch chooses to incorporate is a combination of both the phenotypic and genotypic traits the Judds feel are most beneficial to a commercial cattle producer.

“For us, pounds, fertility, feet and udders are the most important. Cattle have to be able to travel. On our bulls, scrotal size is never a compromise we make. We aren’t just interested in numbers [EPDs]; we look at the whole picture,” says Dave.

To keep a current and closed herd, the Judds retain between 60 and 70 percent of their heifers as replacements each year, marketing the remaining cattle as replacements to both registered and commercial producers; 80 to 83 percent of the Judds’ bull calves are put on test, with the remainder cut and finished out on the ranch.

Land management is also an important part of the ranch and a tool Judd Ranch emphasizes in their operation

“We always strive to do our very best in all facets of the operation, and that means taking good care of the land,” says Cindy. “We are diligent about weeds and not overstocking our pastures; we burn every spring to kill the cedar and hedge trees to help keep our pastures clean. You have to take good care of the grass or it won’t be there for future generations. That’s what we are about – the long term.”

Infrastructure has been an investment the ranch has made to not only improve their land but their water as well.

“We have put in miles of cross fences and new fence,” shares Cindy, “and we have also made and put in several tire [water] tanks to keep cattle out of the ponds.”

Wells and the miles of water pipe the ranch has installed provide a gravity-fed fresh water supply to every tank and help to keep cattle from contaminating the ranch’s surface water.

Family operation

While the cattle are what draw the sale crowds each October and March, they aren’t the only thing raised on the ranch.

“We raise kids here, too,” shares Cindy, “and it takes us all to make everything work.”

Both Dave and Cindy are adamant the family dynamic of the ranch is a key to the success the operation has seen.

The couple has raised two boys, Nick and Brent, on the ranch and share that their boys’ interest in ranching has never waned. “This has always been the boys’ passion. Both boys were home almost every weekend, all four years of college; I think there were only one or two weekends total they didn’t come home,” Cindy shares.

All family members are involved in the day-to-day operations of Judd Ranch

Both Brent and Nick, along with their families, live and work on the ranch today and are instilling that same passion in their own children – the next generation of Judd Ranch.

Judd Ranch is always eager to share their dedication and commitment to responsible ranching with others. The ranch has hosted tours to help the public better understand their ranching system as well as the care every family member is dedicated to providing for the cattle, Cindy says.

“Our doors are always open. We love to show off our ranch and product; we want to let the public know what we are doing and how we are doing it.”  end mark

PHOTO 1: From left to right, Lily, Ginger, Levi, Nick and Lacy Judd; Cindy and David Judd; and Ashley, Oliver, Brent and Avery Judd.

PHOTO 2: Judd Ranch females are known for superior milk production, maternal instinct and fertility.

PHOTO 3: All family members are involved in the day-to-day operations of Judd Ranch. Photos by Laura Handke.

Laura Handke is a freelance writer based in Kansas.