LUSK - Good seed stock breeders know that the foundation of the genetics they are passing on through the bulls they sell are influenced by the females that they breed. WEBO Angus in Lusk, WY is no different. They follow one of their founding owner’s principals of “putting as much milk and performance as your environment will let you have in your cow herd to keep performance wound up.” This focus on maternal traits and ensuring that their bulls are siring feeder calves that produce marketable pay-weight calves with selection pressure on yearling weight Epd’s of +90 to a maximum of +115 are helping to keep WEBO Angus competitive and advancing in a market that has taken some heavy hits in the last few years. They want their customers to be able to have good control over cow size and cow maintenance requirements while assuring their offspring have high feed efficiency with top performance.
Buttons York and her daughters Elly and Odessa have worked in ranching most of their lives and WEBO Angus is the result of their combined knowledge and experiences. Buttons handles the paperwork, data, finances and marketing (as well as helping with herd management) while Odessa provides most of the day-to-day labor on their ranch and handles the technology end of things with Elly pitching in when she can around her full-time insurance business. These women are committed to continuing the tradition of excellence that their customers have come to expect with aggressively selected females that breed up early and produce bulls that pass on predictable traits.
WEBO Angus’s decision to re-enroll in the American Angus Association’s MaternalPlus program in December of 2012 is evidence of the data-driven approach they take to their breeding program and the standards of consistency that they hold their own cow herd to in order to provide their customers with the best combination of lower input calves that work in the feed lot and fetch a premium at harvest and ultimately result in a satisfied consumer eating experience. As York says, “The MaternalPlus is so data driven. We keep a tremendous number of young cows and it has allowed us to have a strict 45 day calving window for cows and 30 day window for heifers. If we are not more strict with our cows than our customers are then we are not helping our customers improve their herd.”
The AAA’s MaternalPlus — Whole-Herd Reporting program provides Angus breeders and their customers the information they need to make effective selection decisions. It’s a voluntary, whole-herd reporting system designed to capture additional reproductive trait data and, ultimately, expand reproductive and cow survivability tools. (www.angus.org). This program is a program that incentivizes enrolled breeders to report birth weight, weaning weight and cow disposal codes. The submission of this data has multiple benefits. The first being that it adds to the data that is collected by breeders on their herd. As with many businesses, the more you know the more you can make predictive decisions. The data allows breeders to make decisions that improve cow production and leads to an evaluative process to develop longevity and improve their herd traits, ultimately assisting in making management decisions when deciding whether to eliminate females not paying their way in the operation. Another benefit to enrolling in and submitting data in the MaternalPlus program is to receive calving ease direct, birth weight and weaning weight EPDs on unregistered calves once all the records have been submitted and evaluated. The MaternalPlus program is the only way that breeders can receive EPDs on unregistered calves and have access to additional herd reports which include genetic trend reports, calving distribution charts and dam disposal reports.
For WEBO, the MaternalPlus is a natural extension of their data-driven management style. Adding PAP testing for their herd in 2018 was an example of being able to provide decision-making data to their customers. Their commitment to quality and maternal traits becomes even more evident when you review the data in their bull catalogue. They are focused on providing bulls that pass on positive maternal traits and combine that with strong rate-of-gain for their calves. Part of that is ensuring the good genetics of their cow herd can be passed on through their bulls. As York quips, “If you have good cows the bulls will take care of themselves.”
The road and decisions WEBO has made to get where they are today has not been easy. In 2015 the “W” in WEBO, Waldon, passed away and Buttons, Elly and Odessa had to make the decision to sell the ranch or keep on building what they had started. They decided to keep on working towards the goals that were set prior to Waldon’s death. They continue to make tough decisions in a tight market and the MaternalPlus program is just one of many resources they utilize. WEBO is one of nine breeders in Wyoming that have chosen to enroll in this program. When asked about her perspective on the enrollment Buttons stated, “The enrollment in the MaternalPlus has definitely had a high return on investment. There is no way I could aggregate those reports and comb through that data myself at the $3 per head price of the program. This program has really changed our cow herd for the better by exposing holes in our program and allowing us to correct and see the results of those corrections. Since our enrollment in the program and aggressively using that data we have seen a 25% increase in fertility.”
At their 12th Annual sale on April 2, WEBO provided 17 PAP-tested and efficiency tested 2 year old bulls for consideration as well as 70 yearling bulls, this was only the second year they had offered 2 year old bulls and they plan to continue to increase this offering of only the best from their herd. York feels that as seed stock producers it is their job to not only provide herd improvement through the genetics in their bulls, but education their customers about desired data and desired outcomes. In Wyoming it is often necessary for producers to focus on the dollar wean for that end goal but York is also realistic enough to know that seed stock has a ripple effect and touches on every aspect from calving ease to final taste when it reaches the consumer and she has data for ever level of the market.
The irony of focus on maternal or dam traits is not lost on the operators of the female-run ranch in a male dominated industry. The health of a herd and the profitability outcomes are ultimately dependent on a strong mix of bull viability and female productivity, which is the same balance that WEBO has had to strike. They rely on the advice and help of others but ultimately run their ranch looking to the future, and that takes optimism and hard work from all three women.