From the March/April CONCEPTIONS Beef Newletter
In the 1960s, my Dad and our oldest cousin entered into the early Chianina and Simmental craze. My brother and I were the “grunt labor” for this project and when I was 16 years old I was sent to a breeding school to learn AI.
We had ordinary Angus cows and equally ordinary Hereford cows. The Angus got bred to the Chianina bulls; the Herefords got bred to the Simmental bulls. I averaged 2.25 services per pregnancy my first season on 15 cows.
The Chi bull calves were very popular for club calf projects. The Simmies were targeted for a freezer beef sales project. Initially, all heifers were kept to grow the cow herd and needless to say, after the first year (with 90% bull calves) they were multiplying easily (the last year we wintered 70 head— ran out of hay—not a good move).
I recall that first calving season. My brother already had a favorite cow (she was able to feed two calves no problem) and that maternal character showed one day as I was watching cows and calves grazing in the heat detection pasture.
Her bull calf was maybe a week old, and was nuzzling around her mouth. All at once momma turned her head and shoved a wad of fresh grass into the mouth of her youngster. It was clearly an epiphany for both calf and me: the calf found grass to be worth eating, and I guessed I had just seen how the grazing instinct was passed between generations. That bull calf (her first) weaned at 689 pounds.
Based on dispositions, we eventually favored Simmentals over Chianinas, but the way we used both was to sell the Chi steers for club calves, the Chi heifers became the freezer beef (and were easier to finish at a weight acceptable in that market) – the Simmie steers were sold as feeders, and the Simmie heifers herd replacements.
We had fun, we made a little money, we hauled a LOT of manure, gained a lot of experience. This set me up for my adult investment in a grass-based dairy farm.
I think from these experiences that any successful cow-calf operator must keep in mind the “maternal” qualities he desires. The cow willing to lick a calf to life and teach it to eat that has a pelvis built for calving and housing an udder is priceless to a beef breeding program. Many “clubby” bulls are obviously a terminal cross, wonderful for making a winning show steer but less wonderful when it comes to getting his daughters bred, who then require assistance calving and nursing