Getting used to their new digs, Larry, Moe and Curly are getting a little TLC before going to work on December 1st. Three nice bulls from Mrnak Herefords West will add a little more heterosis to our predominantly Angus cowherd.
Fifty-five years ago, our cowherd was mostly Hereford when my Dad began breeding our first-calf heifers to Angus bulls because the Angus calves came smaller, and thus made calving easier on our heifers. But the resultant hybrid vigor, or heterosis, of the cross is what caught his eye. Bottomline: the black white-faced calves were heavier on sale day.
Much has happened since here on the ranch and in the cow-calf business in general. Today’s market prefers black-hided cattle that can bring as much as a $10/cwt premium in the sale ring, though that spread has decreased in recent years. With technology and DNA testing, bull selection for all breeds has become data driven, a scientific and complicated formula that purports to project the performance of progeny all the way to the consumer’s plate. It includes a bull’s birth weight, weaning weight, yearling weight, rib eye measurement and marbling among a dozen more factors to consider, right down to how much more money a bull’s calves will bring than the average for the breed.
I remember buying bulls for $400-500 each based on what I saw in a bull, his structure, movement and temperament, on my subjective eye. Starting price to today begins at ten times that to where a $7,500 bull is commonplace. In the end, I depend on my eye. But with intensive breeding and feeding for the numbers, to create attractive data, a bull’s ability to acclimate to a new environment, to work and hold up, is often lost along the way.
Our cattle harvest grass that they convert to protein that we sell as calves. Perhaps the most important factor of all is that we are raising cattle that can thrive on this uneven, and often unforgiving, ground. In that respect, each bull breeder has a reputation for performance and longevity. Mrnak Herefords West has been at the top of our list for over a dozen years.
It was chilly this morning when Robbin and I left to look at the calves on the Paregien Ranch, going up Ridenhour Canyon along the way. Though we employ a few select Hereford bulls for heterosis that have added frame, durability and a calmer disposition to our cowherd, we typically don’t have too many straight Hereford calves. At 30 days old, we caught this bull calf posing in the canyon’s early light as if he was aspiring to become an FFA/4H show calf.
Since we posted a photograph with his mother at five days old, I thought it appropriate to include a photo of his father, Ruger 119 from Mrnak Herefords West, ready to go to work for his fifth year on this ranch.
Five years of service: docile daughters
who have daughters of their own
camouflaged in black with bone,
he’s left his stamp, gets along
without much help, keeps the peace
when all the bulls are grumbling
on vacation in the shade. Another world
within the one we own, he could be
human, but with a better disposition.
for Loren Mrnak
Robbin and I headed to Lake Tahoe for a Western Folklife Board Meeting at the Thunderbird Lodge, taking State Route 88 over Carson Pass where a historical landmark exists at the spot where Kit Carson inscribed his name in a tree in 1844. Our meeting was held in the Thunderbird Lodge built by George Whittell in 1936, currently owned by the Thunderbird Lodge Preservation Society administered by WFC Board Member Bill Watson. We even got to ride on the fifty-five foot Thunderbird yacht built to Whittell’s specifications and driven by two 1,100 hp. engines.
After the Board Meeting, Robbin and I drove north through Lassen National Forest to Loren Mrnak’s ranch, and then came home south through Santa Cruz to see our granddaughter Elsie. We met the ‘old man tree’ each time we stepped out of our room at The Inn at Pasatiempo. Good to be home.