When you keep about a third of your heifers as replacements, feed out the other calves in your own feedyard, and want to return to selling cattle on the grid, you have to have "the complete package." That's why Marc Feller, Feller Farms of Redfield, Iowa, said he began buying Judd Ranch bulls two years ago.
Marc, who runs about 350 cows, had been crossbreeding for a number of years using a two-breed crossbreeding program involving Angus and Horned Hereford on an original cowherd that had a lot of Simmental influence. Getting more toward a true Angus X Hereford herd, Marc began wanting stronger maternal traits and more heterosis. So he changed his program to a three breed crossbreeding program, adding purebred Gelbvieh to the mix.
"I've always been a fan of Gelbvieh and knew that it would be my Continental breed of choice," Marc states. "My philosophy is that, if you're going to add new genetics to your herd, then you should buy the best genetics available."
"In the case of Gelbvieh, that's Judd Ranch genetics."
Marc said he pinpointed Judd Ranch after reading a lot of magazines and liking the look of Judd Ranch bulls and females in their advertisements. He was also impressed with Judd Ranch's reputation for having winning pens of bulls at the Denver Pen Show or being named the top herd for Dams of Merit.
"My criteria when it comes to selecting a bull are pretty darn stringent," he explains.
After getting his Judd Ranch sale catalog, Marc studies each and every black, homozygous polled bull. While he prefers the older 18 to 19 month old fall yearlings, he said he won't pass up a spring born bull if it meets his criteria.
He pays extremely close attention to frame size, testicular development - "since its highly related to fertility of daughters" - and carcass traits. He says he doesn't target milk because he knows the Gelbvieh breed is strong for milk. And he knows Judd Ranch bulls have a reputation for posting impressive weaning and yearling weights.
His next step in the bull selection process is placing a call to Roger Gatz, Judd Ranch's consultant.
"A couple of weeks before the sale, Roger and I go over my top 20 head or so and discuss each and every bull," Marc tells. "I take Roger's information to heart because he knows each and every bull."
Once at the sale, Marc visually inspects his top choices. He's adamant that a herd bull "look like a herd bull."
Marc purchased his first Judd Ranch bulls in the 2013 sale. Both of his choices were black, homozygous polled purebred Gelbvieh because he likes his cattle polled - to offset the horns attributed to the Horned Hereford genetics - and he likes his cattle black. He doesn't have to have solid black cattle. He's okay with black white faces, blacks with a blaze or stripe face and such.
Once at Feller Farms, both Judd Ranch bulls were used on mature cows. Come calving season, cows bred to all three breeds of bulls were calving side by side.
"The Judd Ranch sired calves were so physically eye appealing that I didn't even need to look at my records to know which calves were sired by the Judd Ranch bulls," Marc states. "Those Gelbvieh calves were super nice."
Feller Farms calves in March and April and weans in late August to early September. Without creep, his calves hit the scales at 150 days of age averaging 500 to 575 pounds.
"That's right where I want my weaning weights," he states.
Sorting through the heifer crop, Marc keeps his top 55 head. The rest, along with the steer calves, enter the family feedyard where they will be fed out to 1,250 to 1,300 pounds.
"My Judd Ranch sired calves should really take off in the feedyard. When we get things to rolling, I'm anticipating that they will come out of the feedlot weighing closer to 1,350 pounds," Marc interjects. "And, with 50% Gelbvieh x 25% Angus x 25% Hereford calves, they should hang some darn good carcasses as well."
Anticipating that cattle prices will go down, Marc wants to be prepared to sell on the grid once again - and be glad that he's selling on the grid.
"But I didn't buy Judd Ranch bulls simply to produce calves that do well in the feedyard and on the rail. That's just a bonus," he states. "I bought Judd Ranch bulls to create females."
"My goal is to create females like the ones you see in the Judd Ranch newspaper and ads. Those are tremendous females with high fertility. Fertility is extremely important to me."
"The most important part of our operation is getting females to re-breed year after year. That's what makes us the most profit." Marc pauses for a moment.
"As I think about it, it is extremely critical when we select a bull that he have balanced traits and produce daughters that will cycle, breed, and calve every 365 days, and produce sons that will work in the feedyard and hang on the rail. That's a lot to ask of one bull," he summarizes. "But I think we have that in Judd Ranch bulls. They bring all points together."