A Colorado operation focuses on continually improving their Simmental herd and annually feeding hundreds at the NWSS.
By Emme Troendle
Ask Simmental producer Ron Mari (pronounced Mar-ee) of Mari Simmental what he likes about Simmental cattle and his answer is “performance”.
Ask him what led him to Simmental, and the answer is “performance”. Ask him why he doesn’t raise more cattle of other breeds, and his answer is the same: “performance”.
It all started with when he first laid eyes on a Simmental, “As a part of an FFA class, we did farm visits of different cattle breeds. We visited Bauman Charolais, Pauling Angus, and two Simmental ranches: Carlson Livestock and Propst Ranch. That’s pretty much when I made up my mind when I saw those Simmental calves, and I saw how well they performed and how well they grew.”
Mari started his Simmental herd as an FFA project with three open cows and five bred heifers, and since then, his herd has grown to 85 cows and 20 replacements that he and his wife, Sherry, manage together.
Sherry summarizes the trends they have noticed with their cattle, “In our herd, we breed using EPDs and the $API index. Simmental has always stood out because of their maternal values, growth factor and carcass value.”
Mari Simmental is located at Holyoke (population 2,200), in northeast Colorado; about 20 miles east of the Nebraska-Colorado border. It is rich farm country with cornfields dominating the landscape, and cattle being utilized as crop cleanup.
The Mari’s 105-head cow herd includes primarily registered Simmental, and in recent years, they have used some select SimAngus™ genetics. Mari explains, “When I first started out, I was participating in the breeding up program, trying to get from percentage to purebred Simmental. I ended up purchasing some purebred heifers from Bernie Brown, and he helped us increase our Simmental percentage. We also bought some bred cows from Willie Altenburg”
To improve EPD accuracy, Mari Simmentals participates in the Total Herd Enrollment program enrolling their entire herd and reporting whole herd data. For the last two years, Mari Simmentals has been designated as a Performance Advocate (PA), recognizing breeders who consistently submit data on six different traits: calving ease, birth weight, weaning weight, yearling weight, yearling hip height, and ultrasound data. Mari reiterates, “I have always taken advantage of EPDs and indexes. I collect data and focus on birth weights and growth in my cattle.”
“In my mind, since the beginning, the Simmental breed has been changing rapidly for the better, more than any other breed. We breed based on performance, there is always room for improvement, and that’s what keeps the Simmental breed strong,” Mari states, “We have made them polled, solid colored, moderately framed, kept performance, and improved carcass in the past 37 years.”
Heifers are synchronized first at the end of April and bred AI for two heat cycles before being put out with a cleanup bull. A few weeks later, cows are synchronized and AI bred once before being turned out with the cleanup bull. To complement their AI program, Mari also does embryo transplant work, flushing a cow from their herd and using up to 10 recip cows every year.
During the summer, the cattle are kept on 1,100 acres of pasture split in three sections, and in September, calves are weaned and weaning weights collected. The replacement heifers are weaned, broke to hotwire and put on cornstalks until breeding time. A supplement is provided only if the weather doesn’t hold out. The remaining heifers and steers are fed for 60 to 90 days before being sold at the Sterling Livestock Auction.
The rest of the heifers and steers are put out on cornstalks and broke to a single hot wire strand fence. Dependent on the year, steers will be fed out 60 to 90 days past weaning, or sold shortly after weaning time. Bulls and heifers are sold primarily private treaty to local commercial producers. Occasionally, heifers are consigned to the Wild Wild West sale. Mari says, “It really just depends on how busy we are, whether or not we have time to take heifers to the Wild West sale. I do consign some bulls to the Colby Community College Bull Test, and I get repeat buyers from that.”
Throughout the winter months, cattle are kept on the corn stalks to help cut down on feed costs. Mari laughs, “Our largest upkeep throughout the year is the hot wire fence around the cornstalks. Cattle are frequently moved to new sections.”
All the corn fields are cash rented through-out the winter. Unlike many cattle operations in the area, Mari Simmentals’ primary focus is the cattle operation. Mari follows-up, “We don’t farm at all, but we have some good, close neighbors who allow us to run on their stalks every year.”
For the last 21 years — as long as many breeders can remember — Ron and Sherry Mari have been the faces behind the meal served before the One Sale at the National Western Stock Show (NWSS). The couple has been heavily involved with the Colorado Simmental Association with Ron serving three terms on the board of directors. Back in 1987, Ron took over managing the pen shows at the NWSS, and they both manage the lunch before the sale.
Sherry laughs as she summarizes the current process to prepare for Denver, “We just pack up half our house and take it with us, but we didn’t get started doing this all at home.”
When the Maris first started serving dinner before the sale, they contracted the meat from a business in Fort Collins. Every year they would have to drive to pick it up and get back, “Driving to Fort Collins and back turned into an all-day ordeal. Now we just cook the meat at home. We pack up everything and take it with us, except for plates, chips, and buns. We pick those up in Denver. We really have it down to a science after doing it this long.”
While at home, Ron will smoke nine briskets over the span of a few days each year. Sherry explains, “Usually we do all of the prep the weekend before Denver. We smoke the meat, chop it up, put it in ziplock bags, and freeze it.”
When the pen show starts the Monday before the sale, Sherry reheats the meat and prepares the beans, while Ron is tied up with the heifer classes. Sherry thanks all the people who pitch in the day of the sale, “We always have help from the Simmental Board and the junior members to serve the meal. It’s never a problem to get enough people to help, it usually goes pretty quickly.”
Each year, the Colorado Simmental Association finds sponsors to help support the meal. Sherry says, “The meal is designed for the buyers — for them supporting the sale. A lot of visitors come through and it’s just a nice way to say thanks for showing up in Denver and for buying at The One Sale.”
On the Personal Side
Ron grew up on an irrigated farm northeast of Sterling, raising corn, alfalfa, sugar beets, and a cow-calf operation feeding out 200 to 300 yearlings annually. As a teenager, Ron lost his parents and spent the rest of his childhood with his older sister. It was while he was living with his sister that he started his Simmental herd.
At 16 years old, Ron attended the first ABS AI school in Sterling, taught by Harold Miller. Ron laughs, “We had to halter these cattle — basically feedlot cows, that had never seen a halter before. Two or three guys would drag them, or they dragged us, over to the fence where we tied them up and that is where and how we learned to AI. Talk about the wild west, it was pretty western. No fancy AI chutes back in those days.”
By the time he graduated from high school, Ron’s herd had grown from the initial handful to 20 head. After graduation, he transitioned from working for a local welding shop to farming in Atwood for his brother-in-law where his herd expanded to 60 head in New Raymer, and they also ran 500 head of yearlings on summer grass. Ron shares, “I didn’t end up going to college. I stayed with raising cows and working. My brother-in-law did a lot of farming, but my focus was always on utilizing AI and improving the breed.”
Today Ron is the hands-on manager for the cattle operation, and Sherry works as a remote medical coder for Centura Health, giving her the flexibility to help Ron with the operation.
When Ron and Sherry need another set of hands working cattle, their three children help out whenever they can. Their oldest, David, works full time as a farmhand in Holyoke, and because he lives close, he helps out most weekends with his three children: Braxton, 9; Bronson, 4; and Bridgett, 2. “The grandchildren are just starting to get interested in cows, and Bronson seems to think that the cows are all his,” Sherry smiles, “He will tell Ron, ‘Well, you can’t sell my bull.’ They really love being out working cows with us.”
Their second child, Ceeara, lives in Haxtun, and works at a childcare center; and their youngest child, Blake, recently graduated this past May from West Texas A&M with a bachelor’s degree in animal science. Blake also runs 11 head with the current herd and helps out with the operation.
Ron’s brother, Gene, also helps with the AIing and calving. Mari summarizes, “When it’s time to work cows, we round up whatever friends, neighbors, and family as we can to get the job done.”
Ron concludes, “Since I have been involved with it, the Simmental breed has improved and it will continue to improve using DNA, EPDs, indexes, and carcass values. There is a lot of hard work involved, but we breed to balance our EPDs. Everything is worthwhile when you see those calves grow up, do well, and your hard work is rewarded.”