By The Ledger Staff, The Ledger – Summer 2019
Breed’s Suite of Traits Appeals to all Production Schemes
The popularity of American Aberdeen genetics in commercial, purebred and breed-up production schemes is increasing as commercial producers are seeing the benefits American Aberdeen can provide, including predictability and quality; docility and longevity; calving ease and efficiency.
The cattle are good natured, feed efficient and maintain themselves on grass. They are ideal show animals for bringing in the next generation of cattlemen and women. Their input costs are less and they exhibit excellent texture, taste and tenderness beef characteristics.
This is no secret to American Aberdeen breeders who have known this for years. But the trend is finally catching on with breeders across the country.
Fewer Inputs, Maximum Efficiency
Neil Effertz’ ties to the American Aberdeen breed can be traced back to 1996 when he brought the first Aberdeen female to the United States. American Aberdeen cattle thrive on smaller amounts of feed because of their efficient conversion of grass to meat, so the use of American Aberdeen cattle on his Bismarck, N.D., ranch has reduced much of Effertz’ labor, feed and management costs.
“The No. 1 variable cost in America’s beef cattle industry is maintenance and feed,” Effertz says. “These are incredibly low input cost cattle that take a lot of the expense out of beef cattle production.”
Since switching to the lower-maintenance American Aberdeen and implementing a better rotational grazing management system, Effertz has doubled his stocking rate.
Longtime Hobart, Okla., cattleman Kirk Duff has also improved his stocking density since adding American Aberdeen genetics to his cow herd. Duff’s half-blood American Aberdeen cattle have reduced his dry matter consumption by at least 25 percent.
With cattle in three states – Colorado, Wyoming and Oklahoma – Ft. Lupton, Colo., producer Brian Walters encounters a considerable variation in environments, so having more optimum cattle that will perform on less feed and minerals in drought-prone areas has been beneficial for his operation.
“We have seen a considerable difference in stocking rates with the use of the more moderate Aberdeen genetics,” Walters says.
Previously, it could take Walters as much as 35 acres per cow-calf unit, but with the use of American Aberdeens, he has seen that number drop as low as 23-28 acres per cow-calf unit.
“The savings in seven acres may not seem like a lot, but for every four cows, we can now add a fifth cow,” Walters explains.
The breed’s efficiency is what got Colorado cattleman Shane Goss, who ranches near Calhan, Colo., interested in adding the cattle to his operation.
“After learning about the benefits that Aberdeen cattle could have on my herd, it led me to start thinking about adding the feed efficiency and moderate size of these cattle to our bigger cattle in order to cut feed input costs,” Goss says. “By adding Aberdeen genetics to my cattle, I could establish a cow herd that could function on fewer acres per year per pair, which would allow me to produce more beef on fewer acres.”
Like Goss, Groesbeck, Texas, ranchers Larry and Kim Watkins of Flying J&L Ranch were also attracted to the breed’s efficiency. Since adding American Aberdeen cattle to their operation, the couple and their ranch manager/daughter, Lynn Watkins, have been able to consistently produce more beef on fewer acres.
“The way we are heading, we are going to be more efficient and produce more pounds per acre,” Lynn says. “We can run 1.5 animals on the traditional stock per acre, and we can do it quicker.”
The Watkins family credits part of their success to the introduction of the American Aberdeen Association’s Moderator® program. The program was instituted to designate percentage American Aberdeen cattle of high genetic quality as Moderators. The purpose of these animals is to moderate a commercial herd in the first generation while improving beef quality.
“Whatever works in your part of the country, Moderator cattle can be bred to fit your environment,” Larry says. “The added value you get is built-in calving ease from the maternal and paternal side, along with the ability to reduce your mature cow size to something that fits your program.”
American Aberdeen’s ability to moderate frame size is the driving force behind the Esser family’s decision to continue raising this breed of cattle on their Bloomington, Wis., operation.
“We wanted a breed that we could expand with on our small acreage, and American Aberdeens fit the bill,” Shea Esser explains. “Their docility, easy fleshing ability, functionality, stocking rates and beef quality were what really made us consider the breed.”
Over the course of the last 15 years, the Essers’ program has made great strides and evolved from the hobby it started as, incorporating a more rigorous breeding program that includes Moderator and fullblood American Aberdeen females.
Like the Essers, the breed’s frame size and efficiency appealed to Cody, Neb., rancher Jerry Adamson and his son, Todd.
“Our cows were too big and they weren’t paying their way on this grass,” Todd says. “We couldn’t expect a 1,400-pound cow to eat grass and wean 50 percent of her body weight.
“We knew we had to get back to the smaller-framed cow, bred to a crossbred bull of some sort,” he adds. “We needed to get back to that efficiency to best sell our grass.”
Initially, the Adamsons crossed fullblood Aberdeen bulls with their first-calf heifers, a win-win for calving ease and delivering a smaller-framed cow. The best heifers were kept as replacements, and the process continued as they worked to cycle the cow herd. Eventually, they switched to half-blood Aberdeen-Angus bulls to keep the resulting calves from getting too small to fit their end goal.
“Our intent from the get-go was to create a more efficient herd that would fit into the commercial industry,” Todd says. “The [Aberdeen-influenced] cattle are easier fleshing and, in general, they will wean a higher percentage of their body weight than the average cow.”
Sound Reproduction, Elite Mothers
While more beef per acre is a priority for many producers, the longevity and reproductive success of the American Aberdeen breed is another attractive quality. The Watkinses are no exception.
“We are really trying to produce for the commercial cattlemen, so we need animals that can consistently reproduce, year after year,” Larry says. “As beef producers, we see the dollars in each cow. She has to produce a sizeable calf each year to pay for the amount of pasture and feed she consumes.”
Due to the smaller size of an American Aberdeen newborn calf, assistance is not generally required at calving. American Aberdeen cows are also known for being excellent mothers, a trait that appeals to many breeders, including Effertz and Goss.
Effertz calves all his first-calf heifers on open range and notes his death loss and calving problems have significantly decreased since raising American Aberdeen cattle.
“A 78-year-old friend tried my Aberdeen bulls on 140 heifers. He called me later and told me this is the first year he will wean 100 percent of his first-calf heifer crop,” Effertz says.
The cattle’s docility and vigor has also reduced the labor required to handle Effertz’ herd.
“It’s taken so much work out of the cattle business for us,” he says.
Upon adding American Aberdeen genetics to his herd, Goss soon learned there were numerous reasons why breeding American Aberdeen to other cattle breeds could add value to the beef cattle industry.
“True low birth weights,” he says. “You can’t argue this point when we can consistently crank out 40-pound fullblood calves. I can put a percentage bull on a set of commercial first-calf heifers and can sleep at night during calving season.”
Like Goss, Duff is also enjoying increased calving ease since he started breeding all of his Angus and Red Angus females to Aberdeen bulls. Most of his calves fall within a 60- to 70-pound birth weight.
Quality Cattle, Quality Beef
Producers who add the breed’s genetics to their herds also experience success in the feedyard. American Aberdeen cattle are praised for their excellent taste, texture and tenderness characteristics and exceptional ribeye area per hundred pounds of body weight, which translate to high-yielding, high-quality, high-value beef carcasses.
“Your calves can go from weaning to stockers to feedyards to packers. Moderator cattle can be tailor-made for grass-fed beef operations, short-fed programs or totally forage-based operations. They will work in any situation,” Larry says. “Moderators will have more meat and muscle; they will be better at converting grass or feed to red meat than other breeds of cattle. You can have more calves to sell on a set number of acres with few inputs.”
Walters has also noticed a difference in the end product. When his Aberdeen-cross cattle were fed through the feedlot and sold on the grid, he noticed improvements in feed efficiency and pounds of gain.
“The Aberdeen cattle outperformed our larger cattle in consistency of Quality Grade and the amount of primal produced per pounds fed,” Walters says.
Duff has found that his American Aberdeen calves have added marketability over other low birth weight breed options as replacement females or as feeder cattle because they will grow, finish and grade well.
“The other thing I’m seeing as we feed out Aberdeens is they are finishing with fewer days on feed because they reach a mature finishing point more quickly,” Duff says.
These breeders all agree, regardless of production scheme or operation size, American Aberdeen cattle offer a profitable alternative to cattle producers across the country.
“With the changing needs of the agriculture industry, we believe that cattle producers must start thinking outside the box in order to produce quality cattle, be competitive and turn a profit,” Larry says. “The way the industry is headed, we have to be more efficient, and that is what our breeding program is proving can be done with the American Aberdeens and Moderators.”
“We’ve never been prejudiced toward any one breed,” Jerry says. “We think a lot of breeds are good, but we are definitely of the opinion and it is well documented that with [crossbreeding], whether it be cattle or hogs or flowers or vegetables, nobody can argue with hybrid vigor.”
Goss shares the same sentiments. “I firmly believe that Aberdeen cattle can fill a void in the commercial cow herd of America.”