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Genetics Matter

For the first few years of my life, I lived in town. My life was very similar to most little kids. I played in our neighborhood's park, went to preschool around the corner from home, and went to the grocery store with my parents. However, soon after my brother and sister were born, my family packed up all our belongings and moved. My life drastically changed from the life of a "normal" kid to the life of a ranch kid, miles from town.

Soon to follow, my conversations switched from bugs in the back yard to cattle in the front yard. I came to know being a rancher is a combination of caring for the land, cattle, wildlife, and establishing a plan where each area works together to benefit the whole picture.

In the ranching community, we spend a lot of time and effort matching our cattle to their environment. This creates the mindset that allows for each facet (cattle, wildlife, and the land) to mutually benefit. Cattle, quite literally, thrive based on a variety of genes that foretell maternal, performance, and carcass traits.

Each trait gives them an advantage or disadvantage in the environment or landscape they live in. Some of these trails can be seen with the naked eye. Traits like coat color, docility, and body statue can be seen with just one glance. Other characteristics are seen through DNA tests. A few of these traits are birth weight, calving ease, stayability, heifer pregnancy, milk production, feed intake, daily gain, weaning weight, yearling weight, tenderness, marbling, ribeye area, fat thickness, and even carcass weight.

On my family's ranch, we analyze, make decisions, and breed our herd based on genes that equip the cattle to thrive on our ranch and genes that will best benefit the ranch’s lands. Our ranch is very rocky, receives little rain each year, and grows little native grass. In this environment and tough terrain, a few things we look for:

  • Cattle who have sturdy feet to walk on rocks

  • Cattle who like to travel and spread out, so we see even grazing across the pasture

  • Cattle who effectively utilize the food they eat to grow babies, produce milk, gain weight, walk to water/feed, etc.

As a rule, ranching and genetics are a balance that differs based on where the ranch is located, the ranch’s goals, and the ranch management plan. However, the basics are similar across the board. The makeup of a ranch's environment directly impacts the kind of cattle on that specific ranch. The combination of different genes builds a herd that will not only thrive in their environment but benefits their environment as they go. The goal is to own cattle that thrive in their environment and benefit the land.

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