March 20, 2023

Match cattle genetics to environment, management skills

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Cattlemen should select genetics for grazing operations that fit their environment and management.

“You need to look at the cattle and focus on the environment, as well, so management is a big part of that,” said Travis Meteer, University of Illinois Extension beef educator.

“You also have to know your market,” said Meteer during a webinar hosted by the Embarras Grazing Partnership. “There are so many different markets you need to know what your customers want and how to produce that product.”

Smaller-framed, more moderate milking cows that maintain a good body condition score will be more successful in a grazing environment, Meteer said.

“We need to take the time to let the cows teach us,” he said. “If you observe a cow that has a calf every year, weans the calf at an acceptable weight and finishes appropriately on the rations you have on your farm, those are the genetics you want to propagate.”

Most breeds of cattle can work in a grazing operation, Meteer said.

“There’s more variation within a breed than there is from breed to breed,” he said.

“The bulls should have a wedge-shape with a wider front that tapers towards the rear and the females should be the opposite — wedge towards a deeper flank and very feminine,” the beef educator explained.

“If you walk up to a herd of cattle, it should be somewhat immediate to you whether the cattle are thriving or not,” he said.

Meteer advises cattlemen to keep a holistic approach to selecting genetics for a grazing operation.

“You can have the best genetics in the world, but if you don’t take care of them, you’ll have issues with production, performance and profitability of the herd,” he said. “Keep in mind health, handling and selecting for functional traits.”

When purchasing genetics from another cattleman, Meteer said, it is important to evaluate the environment and how cattle are managed.

“I think that’s where more mistakes get made in genetics,” he said. “We don’t do due diligence to look at the environment and the genetics we select.”

Up To Par

Evan Schuette manages a 260-cow grazing herd that is half Red Angus cows and half Black Angus/Simmental cross cows.

“Most of the herd is 3 to 6 frame cattle that weigh 900 to 1,200 pounds,” said Schuette during the webinar. “I don’t want a cow with high milk production because that will cost me a lot of extra grass.”

Schuette started his beef operation in 2018 when he bought his first farm.

“The farm had been abused over the years, so I’m in the process of getting the soil back up to par,” he said. “The pH levels are at 4.8 to 5.2, so I’ve been working with chicken litter.”

So far, Schuette has not harvested any hay from his grazing paddocks while he is focusing on building the soils.

“I’m now purchasing some hay to keep the cattle on the pasture longer,” he said. “I give them a strip of grass and unroll some hay and that way our fall calvers should make it to the first part of April.”

The cattleman built two winter feeding stations on his original farm.

“I utilized those to the fullest extent during the first two years because I didn’t have a stockpile,” he said. “Last year, I purchased another farm, so I was able to add enough stockpile to make it through the winter.”

Schuette starts his stockpiling process in August.

“We try to get across the pasture two to three times,” he said. “The stockpile now is 2 to 2.5 feet tall and it was fertilized in the fall after the last grazing.”

For selecting cattle for his operation, Schuette’s most important criteria is conception.

“That’s the biggest driver for making my herd better that’s going to fit my operation,” Schuette said.

“Disposition is my second-biggest thing. I have a zero-tolerance policy on that,” he said. “I also focus on calving ease because I can’t get out to the pasture every day to babysit the cows and I can’t remember the last time I pulled a calf.”

Martha Blum

Martha Blum

Field Editor