By Larry Stalcup Contributing Editor
Jimmy Taylor knew his commercial Angus herd needed a spark to generate more revenue from his family’s century-old operation. That was in 2005. Nearly two decades later, hi-tech expected progeny differences (EPDs) selected from DNA data and other performance numbers are helping him produce calves that grade Prime more often than not. His overall premiums can top $300 per head.
Taylor and his wife, Tracy, ranch in western Oklahoma near Cheyenne. His great-grandfather started ranching there in 1914. His grandfather and father expanded and improved the operation. Now, the Taylors run 600 females bred to Angus and Angus-cross bulls on rolling hills that span several thousand acres.
That’s Jimmy’s day (and night) job. He also volunteers to serve as chairman of the Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB), which oversees the use of funds collected from the $1-per-head National Beef Checkoff. He’s one of 101 men and women producers who volunteer to serve on the board.
Of course, the checkoff spearheaded the iconic motto, “Beef – It’s What’s for Dinner.” Made famous by Sam Elliott and others, the saying helped increase consumer demand for higher-quality cattle. And checkoff-funded research, among other things, led to new beef cuts to help increase beef sales. Despite economic downturns, the pandemic and higher retail and food service prices, consumers’ desire for and willingness to pay for higher quality beef has steadily increased.
Taylor has served on the CBB since 2018. That was several years after he got involved in the Certified Angus Beef program for improved production and marketing. He was among producers who, early on, started depending more on EPDs to select sires.
“In 2005, Tracy and I looked for a production program that would create more bonuses when we sold our calves,” he tells CALF News. “Over the years, we realized it was important to use more EPD technology available through DNA testing, which has regularly advanced in making more data available to producers. We decided to retain ownership through the feeding cycle to take advantage of the genetics we invested in.”
After weaning calves in 2007, Taylor placed them in Cattleman’s Choice Feedyard in nearby Gage, Okla. The feedyard’s owner, Dale Moore, was also dedicated to quality. He worked with feeders to market their cattle through various grids.
“We found out it was vital to produce more Prime calves,” Taylor says. “We obtained data from the feedyard and the processing plant. The initial data showed the calves were 12.5 percent Prime, compared to a national average of about 2 percent Prime.”
82 Percent Prime
The Taylors trusted advanced DNA testing and genomically enhanced EPDs to yield even higher quality ratings. As DNA testing programs improved, they tried several in hopes of improving their genetics. They currently rely on GeneMax Advantage DNA testing.
“With genomically enhanced EPDs, timed AI and DNA testing on all females, we’ve attained 82 percent Prime on a couple of groups of cattle,” Taylor says. “We’ve been able to capture additional bonuses from producing either all-natural or NHTC (non hormone-treated cattle) cattle.
“We don’t implant anything. Before, buyers typically wouldn’t pay enough of a bonus for non-implanted cattle. But that has changed. With those combined bonuses, the last time I tracked a group of cattle through the feeding and processing phases, they averaged about $360 per head in premiums.”
The result is beef cuts from the Taylor cattle and like animals are typically served at white-tablecloth restaurants in the United States or exported to Europe, where non-hormone-treated cattle are preferred.
The Taylors’ production program helps enhance their genetics. The ranch runs spring and fall breeding seasons. “There’s a 25-day breeding period for heifers and 52 days for cows,” Taylor says. “These periods help identify fertility qualities.”
Calves going to the feedlot are EID tagged as part of an independent, third-party verification system. Cows and calves are on a vaccine protocol to develop a strong immune system. Calves are weaned at 4 to 5 months of age. Taylor prefers to fence-line wean when possible to reduce stress on calves and their mamas.
Calves then graze native grasses and gradually move to more hay and feed during backgrounding. Supplements include feed from Livestock Nutrition Center. After backgrounding, calves are usually placed in the feedyard at about 700 pounds, then marketed through quality and production-based grids.
Taylor gauges grass quality to help assure cows maintain good body condition scores (BCS) at breeding, usually at BCS 5 to 6. In August, he was concerned about the quality of a pasture being grazed by cows that were near ready to calve. So he placed lower-quality hay in a bale feeder within the pasture.
“The hay helps lure cattle into a pasture,” he says. “And I figured that if the cows preferred the hay over the grass, the grass may not be as good as I thought.”
Jimmy, Tracy, and their associate, Jesus M. Esparza, manage and run the entire operation. Whether it’s reading DNA and EPDs to produce the best calves, or assuring calves receive preconditioning programs to meet the specs for all-natural or NHTC markets, the operation enables them to take advantage of demand-based markets spawned by the Beef Checkoff years ago.
“Our ranch is being paid a high premium for our calves partly because of checkoff-funded research that has helped improve quality,” he says. “That and beef promotion help bring more domestic and international consumers to the beef dinner table.
“I believe it would have been difficult to attain our overall success without the demand developed through checkoff funding.”
EVERY CHECKOFF DOLLAR HELPS – BUT MORE ARE NEEDED
The Beef Checkoff has paid for itself many times over. “In 2022, every $1 collected from producers generated an $11.91 return on investment,” says CBB Chairman Jimmy Taylor, a producer from Cheyenne, Okla.
Checkoff-supported programs aimed at beef research, promotion and education have created exploding demand for U.S. beef here and abroad. The checkoff and the development of better genetics have led to more than 70 percent of U.S. beef carcasses grading Choice or better.
Consumers love it. They pay high dollar for high-quality beef, even during a pandemic and weak economic times. Foreign buyers want the same quality, even in beef cuts and variety meats that may not appeal to American families.
“Exports account for 15 percent of U.S. beef sold,” Taylor says, adding that export values increase annually for U.S. carcasses. “Exports account for about $450 in value for every fed animal marketed.”
As CBB chairman, Taylor is one of 20 producers on the Beef Promotion Operating Committee that selects checkoff-funded projects dealing with beef promotion, research and education.
There are nine checkoff “contractors” and three subcontractors that make proposals for projects to meet promotion, research and education goals. The goals are developed from input from six key Checkoff Program Committees: Consumer Trust, Domestic Marketing, International Marketing, Nutrition and Health, Safety and Product Innovation, and Stakeholder Engagement.
“Our 2024 budget is approximately $36 million,” Taylor explains. “But we have requests for about $49 million in projects. We’re typically $8 million to $10 million short. This year we’re $13 million short of what is being asked for program funding.”
All Producers Benefit
There are occasional complaints about the checkoff. Taylor stresses as an individual producer, he couldn’t come close to matching what the checkoff provides to his family’s operation. “Last year I paid about $400 into the checkoff,” he says. “With that amount, I’m limited to what I could do by myself to promote beef.
“But checkoff dollars from me and thousands of other small and large producers pooled together help fund tremendous programs that help increase beef demand. However, more money is needed,” he asserts.
“In 1988, when the first checkoff dollars were collected, the value of each dollar was much higher than it is now. Today, the same $1 per head amounts to only about 35 cents per head compared to the late 1980s.”
Even with calf, stocker and fed-cattle prices elevated to record high levels the past couple of years, beef demand has remained high. “Last year domestically, beef demand was at a 33-year high and, internationally, we set an all-time record in value at $11.68 billion in exports,” Taylor says.
“The checkoff is doing its job in creating beef demand. The problem is with the dollar shrinking more each year due to inflation, good checkoff programs go unfunded. As the dollar continues to shrink, it will eventually impact our program’s ability to function at the level we are accustomed to.
“We need more funding for the checkoff.”
For more on the Cattlemen’s Beef Board and the Beef Checkoff, visit DrivingDemandForBeef.com.