Beef Management Tips
Livestock Update, April 1998
A.L. Eller Jr., Extension Animal Scientist Emeritus, Virginia Tech
As I write this article, midday temperature almost got up to 30 degrees. It's March 12. We're not supposed to be having this kind of cold weather this time of year. Of course, when we reflect back upon the winter we have had a great deal of warm weather and indeed at least twice as much moisture as normal. As we enter spring, here are some thoughts.
As I think about the history of the performance movement in this state, a progression of events involving many individuals comes to mind.
The research, Extension and breeder team: Dr. Charlie Kincaid and Dr. Bob Carter carried on beef cattle breeding research at the Beef Cattle Research Station at Front Royal with Bob Priode, Station Superintendent, involved in this landmark research on beef cattle selection for growth. Their work proved that selection based on performance testing worked. George Litton, who was Animal Science Department Head at that period, was extremely supportive and got the funding together to hire Dr. Tom Marlowe in 1955 to promote the performance testing program and use the data collected in his research. Many of the early adjustment factors used in the industry were calculated by Marlowe using BCIA field data. Curtis Mast led the charge and with progressive breeders organized the first Beef Cattle Improvement Association in the country in 1955.
The field performance testing program actually got its beginning in 1953. There were 9 Angus herds with calves weighed and graded during that first year. Mr. Charlie Wampler of Harrisonburg was President of the Virginia Angus Association and the first calves that were weighed were on his Sunny Slope Farm. Other breeders during that early period who were prime movers would have included Bill Clover at Charlottesville, George Palmer at Charlottesville, Ned Johnson at Sperryville, Dave Brower at Hume, Jim Givens at Newport, Owen Thomas at Round Hill, and Kent Loving at Columbia.
Joe Graham at Goshen probably did as much as any one person, spread the gospel about performance testing as he served as first official grader of calves.
In those early years not only was rate of gain considered important but type was considered equally important. An index was constructed which theoretically gave half credit to growth rate and half to beef type.
The first Extension Specialist who was charged with the responsibility for BCIA performance testing was Hop Dickenson. He soon left and went to the Hereford Association and Charlie Cooper was hired and operated the program for a couple of years. I had taken a teaching appointment with the Department of Animal Science after being Extension Agent for 5 years and was appointed Extension Specialist with the responsibility for performance testing in 1961.
The first scales used for weighing calves were made in a blacksmith's shop at Dayton, Virginia, under the supervision of Charlie Wampler. This portable monstrosity was hauled by Chevrolet car many, many miles and weighed lots of calves. There were no portable scales commercially available at the time. By the early 1960s the program was in full swing and numbers of breeders and numbers of records processed increased steadily until 13,000 to 14,000 calf records were run through the computer here at Virginia Tech by the mid 70s.
A second wave of breeders: The Virginia Beef Cattle Improvement Association became stronger in the late 60s and through the 70s and on into the 80s. There were lots of individuals that made things happen that would include James Bennett at Red House, Mike McDowell at Vernon Hill, Dick Ellis at Buckingham, Charles Fariss at Rustburg, Dwight Houff at Mt. Sidney, Richard McClung at New Market, Don Benner at Deerfield, Jerry Burner at Luray, Tom Clark at Wytheville, Bill Thomas at Round Hill, Earl Kindig at Stuarts Draft, and many, many others.
During this period of time national breed associations came forth with good performance programs and when Virginia BCIA stopped keeping records on purebred cattle in the late 1970s, Virginia purebred breeders were already in the habit of keeping performance records and swung into national breed programs. This gave Virginia a leg up over most other states that had had less of a performance program in the early years.
There were several other people strongly involved in the development of the performance movement that would include Norm Vincel of Select Sires, Roy Wallace of Select Sires, Walter McClure of ABS, Dave Leonard and Paul Coleman who worked for the Virginia Angus Association, Burton Eller who worked for the Virginia Hereford Association, and then many who were leaders of the various breed associations in Virginia.
Bull test stations: Curtis Mast, Tom Marlowe, George Litton, and a group of interested breeders including Walton Loving, Dave Brower, Kent Loving and Ned Johnson got the Culpeper test started in 1958 at the Culpeper Agricultural Enterprises. This made this central bull test station the first one in the east. The Culpeper test continues to operate today with bulls being tested at Glenmary Farm south of Culpeper and the sales occurring at the Enterprises. In 1967, Roy Meek and his partners who ran the Pulaski Livestock Market decided to host a central bull test at the Dublin Fairground. This test ran for 3 years with sales being held at Dublin. There was a couple of years that bulls were tested at Neuhoff Farm at Foster Falls but there was never an auction sale organized. In 1972 the Red House Bull Evaluation Center, owned by James Bennett, was founded and ran for 26 years ending with the January sale this year. The Red House test was the first central bull test to feed a silage based ration. The Red House test probably did more to improve the quality of cattle in Southside Virginia and Central North Carolina than any other one thing. It had tremendous influence. The Southwest Bull Test Station was started at Wytheville in 1980 on the Brent Moore Farm that was later purchased by Danny Umberger and this test station continues until today, testing about 220 bulls a year.
Bull test stations would not have been so fruitful without the likes of Lee George at Culpeper, Jack Poole at Wytheville and James Bennett at Red House.
Other central test stations have sprung up in Virginia in the past several years. G & E test center at Gretna, owned by George Wynn, today tests 500 to 600 bulls a year and out of that test has grown at least 3 bull sales.
Breeder Sales: For many years the strongest and best bull sales in the state of Virginia were those at the central bull test stations. These sales continue to be strong but today there are many breeders who are testing bulls on their farms or having them custom tested who are putting on their own private production bull sales. The one that broke the ice and started this successful venture was Wehrmann Angus at New Market. Today other similar sales are Oak Hill Farm at Farmville, Virginia's Finest Angus Sale at Abingdon, Mystic Hill and Associates Angus Sale at Culpeper, the Grove-Benner Sale at Harrisonburg, Perform Angus Sale at Gretna, Program Angus Sale of Mike McDowell and guests at Gretna, John Mitchell's Angus and Salers Sale at Hot Springs, Whitestone's Angus Bull Sale and Sugar Loaf Farm Angus Bull Sale. All of these sales currently are in addition to test station sales held or scheduled this year including Culpeper Senior, Red House Senior, Wytheville Senior and Junior and Culpeper Junior.
Breed Associations: The breed associations have been helpful in promoting performance testing and the use of performance technology. The Virginia Angus Association has for many years managed the bull sales at the central bull test stations. At one time the Virginia Hereford Association managed part of these sales. Other strong associations include Virginia Simmental Association and the Virginia Charolais Association. All national breed associations have very aggressive programs and broker performance data and EPDs for their breeders.
The Future: Today, performance data and EPDs are available on most breeding animals across the country. This is a far cry from the place performance testing was in the early 1950s. This performance movement has had a profound effect on the cattle in Virginia and indeed the cattle throughout the country. Great improvements have been made in growth rate, feed efficiency, fertility, milking ability with the next chapter of improvement coming, carcass merit.