Big Gully Farm

Our breeding philosophy is much different than some and in the beef industry there have always been great discrepancies in breeding criteria because of the vast differences in environment, marketing and breeder independence that are more apparent than in the swine and poultry industries.  We are confident in our direction and wouldn’t be proud of the cattle we produced if we took a vastly different approach.  There will always be small fluctuations, but many fundamental criteria will always remain important in beef cattle selection.

Expected Progeny Differences (EPD)
We are firm believers in the utility of EPD in selecting and breeding cattle.  They are an excellent tool so long as data is submitted in volume with accuracy and integrity.  They are dramatically more accurate at comparing the genetic value of animals than raw or adjusted performance weights.  We utilize Gallagher load cells to measure birth, weaning, yearling and cow weights each year.  We think that progress cannot be made on phenotypes that aren’t measured.  It is the responsibility of being a purebred breeder to put forth the extra effort in recording as much information as possible to utilize in selection and mating decisions-therefore creating cattle that will have a positive impact for the purchaser.

Past the grand-parent generation, we do not pay much attention to pedigrees since the average genetic impact diminishes from 25% in the grand-parent generation to 12.5% in the great-grand-parent generation.  Along with the sire, dam and paternal grand dam-we focus on the particular animal we are interested in selecting.  There can be large differences in full-sibs and for that reason we believe depending on the genetic contribution (good or bad) of animals three generations back in a pedigree becomes difficult.
During the spring, summer and fall months cattle are run on pastures of either tame or native forage varieties.  We develop all calves and bulls on quality baled forage, rolled oats and Cargill Right Now mineral.  Yearling cattle and cows are provided protein supplementation at appropriate times of the year.  The pregnant females are not fed grain during the winter for the simple economic savings we can realize without sacrificing fertility and body condition maintenance.  We also show cattle at Canadian Western Agribition and the Lloydminster Stockade Roundup.  Cattle we show are developed on Masterfeed's Showstopper Accelerator ration including oats, protein supplements, corn, beet pulp, vitamins, and mineral.  We feel it is foolish to think that cattle which have been shown cannot be productive breeding tools or vice versa-productive breeding cattle cannot be shown successfully.  There are too many good cattle people that can correctly manage cattle for this to be a concern.  We don’t breed cattle for ranchers, commercial breeders, purebred breeders, the show ring or range conditions-we breed what we think are quality cattle.  Quality cattle can be successful in a diverse set of production scenarios and conditions.

We do not single trait select, however we do make breeding decisions based on all the information we have available including past performance, EPD and corrective mating criteria.  We are very happy with several traits currently, within our breeding program; however there is always room to continue improving.  A list of the most critical breeding objectives at our farm includes:

Structural Correctness
Structure is the most important criteria in creating low-maintenance, practical and long-lasting breeding cattle, therefore it is always critical.  Herefords naturally are sound-structured, although sometimes not the most appealing so far as balance in relation to structure.  We have to enjoy viewing our cattle, therefore straightness of lines, levelness of hip and balance are priorities.

Natural Muscle Shape
Our aim at the farm is to continually create stouter Hereford cattle that possess more natural muscle shape due to superior width of skeleton, squareness of top, expression of stifle and dimension of forearm.  We feel muscle shape is one area that some Hereford cattle are most certainly deficient in.

Udder Quality
We believe this is a convenience trait that has cost the Hereford breed market share in the past, especially compared to Angus.  We make an effort to evaluate the dam and paternal grand dam of a potential sire to make sure udder quality is apparent.  We udder score each cow when they calve and make that a criteria for culling decisions each year.

Center Body Dimension
Over the last decade we have moderated the frame size of our cattle and increased the body depth and rib dimension of our cattle simultaneously.  We believe this has helped create a cow herd with lower nutritional demands and higher efficiency.  Cows are simply wintered on quality hay and mineral, which we believe has been made easier by our shift in frame score.

Although we have moderated our cattle in terms of frame, we have not sacrificed pay weight, since we have simply made them wider and maintained skeletal length.  Although we believe other breeding objectives more important, a large portion of commercial breeders find performance to be the primary driver in the revenue equation-if they sell calves at weaning or after a brief back grounding period.  This explains the huge prevalence of Continental breeds in the Canadian cow herd.  Therefore, we remain cognizant of having cattle that can grow rapidly both while suckling and post-weaning.

Carcass Merit
All replacement females and yearling bulls are measured ultrasonically for carcass merit each spring.  Currently our herd measures very well for ribeye area, however we need to continue selecting for increased marbling due to its related impact on tenderness from a consumer standpoint. 

Calving Ease
Our aim is to have calves born without assistance at an acceptable weight.  We don’t focus on birth weight, as much as we do calving ease-since calving ease is the truer indicator of the economic impact of parturition.  The Angus breed has done a tremendous job propagating cattle that are born easily and perform well.  Although the Hereford breed has not done that to the same degree, we are trying to isolate sires whose calves are born easily, yet don’t sacrifice muscle and weight per day of age post-parturition.

We make a conscious effort to source cattle that are short-marked, fully-pigmented and possibly red-necked.  Over the past couple of years cattlemen have become more critical in this regard when buying bulls, in an attempt to make their calves more consistent and marketable at sale time while warding off perceived problems in the cowherd.

We try to blend different methods of mating cattle.  That includes making corrective or complimentary matings while also trying to mate half-sib families as a group to particular sires if the phenotypes and EPD align correctly.  We synchronize all our replacement females with a fixed time Artificial Insemination (AI) with CIDR protocol for calves beginning the start of February.  We AI or hand-breed all cows on the first cycle to coincide with calving at the start of February.  Rather than insuring our bulls, we collect semen and therefore the vast majority of AI conceptions are to the bulls that will later be used naturally or are already in our bull inventory.  Our calving season has been consolidated to 68 days, so the calves are closer in age. 

We have chosen to calve beginning in early February for several reasons that include:

  1. Offering yearling bulls with more maturity for sale
  2. Avoiding damp conditions with temperature fluctuations during calving
  3. Making processing calves (tag, tattoo, weight, vaccinate) more convenient than on pasture
  4. Increasing the docility of calves through handling early in life
  5. Minimizing the labor and feed associated with back grounding later born calves
  6. Maximizing warm weather months for recreation, travel or other farm jobs
  7. Matching quality forage availability to the cow’s peak nutritional demand experienced at breeding

Obviously, early calving requires tremendous dedication to checking cattle and fortunately we have a facility to alleviate weather concerns during calving.

Big Gully’s Online/On-Farm Bull & Heifer Sale in December
Beginning in the fall of 2010; we hosted four consecutive online sales to merchandise elite bull calves, heifer calves, bred heifers and embryos.  In December of 2014, we initiated our first combined Online/On-Farm sale here at Big Gully Farm.  We maintained the online component via because:

  1. It allows potential customers to view or participate in the sale if distance, cost, time or scheduling prevents them from attending in person.
  2. It exposes our program to a larger number of viewers and clientele across North America than would be possible without.
  3. It allows the sale to be hosted for 4 days previous to the physical sale so that information, pictures, videos and bidding are available for interested parties

New in 2014, we hosted a live conclusion to the sale at the farm.  The VIDEO sale was held at the farm early in the evening at 5:30 PM.  Hosting a live closeout with an auctioneer and cattle available for viewing helped:

  1. Provide an exciting atmosphere/event to host, feed and visit with potential customers, friends and neighbors prior to Christmas.
  2. Provided a definitive day for everyone to view the cattle and make a point to show up for the sale compared to the non-commitment associated with private treaty sales.
  3. Provided bull buyers more confidence by physically seeing the cattle.
  4. Provided everyone equal opportunity to purchase the bulls early in bull sale season
  5. Allow us to portray the farm and our management strategies to those in attendance.

It was very important for us to undertake a sale that featured:

  1. Both yearling and two-year old bulls to increase merchandising flexibility.
  2. FREE Wintering, Breeding Soundness Examination and Delivery of the bulls as part of customer service.
  3. The top 30% of the bull crop from each year as an indication of the low proportion and high quality of the bulls available for sale.
  4. A volume discount of 5% when more than 2 animals are purchased to reward customers who support us in volume.
A VIDEO sale with ONLINE bidding so that labor and overhead were both limited, while technology was implemented for ease of operation and to appease a broader customer base.

We retain approximately the top 25% of our bull calves for sale each year based on the previously mentioned criteria.  We currently aim to market bulls privately because we feel it has several advantages to the purchaser and ourselves including:

  1. The opportunity for customers to become familiar with us and the management of our operation
  2. The opportunity to see the sires and dams of sale bulls at the farm
  3. The opportunity to discuss the customer’s needs and bull selection criteria in a more relaxed setting
  4. Reduced labour, time and expense for our operation in terms of avoiding the organization of a production sale
  5. Increased convenience for customers to visit when the opportunity presents itself

We are always happy to have visitors to the farm and are proud to showcase the cattle we are producing at any time.

In conclusion, we always enjoy listening to what potential customers or fellow breeders find most important for the success of their operations.  Part of what makes our industry so interesting is the enormously different perspectives people have with regard to operating a beef cattle enterprise.  Some environments demand unique criteria, but hopefully by having the fundamentals bred into our cattle, it opens up our marketing possibilities to as many potential clients as possible.