The Stewart family has found that their SimAngusTM seedstock genetics work for their commercial customers in any environment.
“Everything we do revolves around if it’s going to help our customer succeed in the cattle business,” says Ken Stewart speaking for both Southern Cattle Company, Marianna, Florida, and XL Ranch, Powell, Wyoming. “Our bread and butter is our commercial bull buyers. Every decision we make, we ask ourselves if it will be good for the commercial cattle rancher.”
Ken and his wife, Jenny, are ranch managers for Southern Cattle Company, a 4,000-head seedstock operation owned by John Downs. The 20,000-acre ranch, located in the panhandle of Florida, 10 miles south of the Alabama border, focuses on developing SimAngus™, Angus, Brangus, and Charolais bulls for commercial and seedstock producers across the US.
“When Jenny and I came to work for Southern Cattle Company, we ramped up the SimAngus program and now we sell twice as many Simmental-influenced bulls as any other breeds," Ken shares.
In addition to being ranch managers for Southern Cattle Company, Ken and Jenny help their adult children, Keighly, Jimmy, and Jacob on XL Ranch, a 220-head SimAngus seedstock ranch, situated in the Shoshone Valley of Wyoming, characterized by the harsh, desert climate of the western plains.
“Both Southern Cattle Company and XL Ranch have the same SimAngus genetics, and they work in both environments,” explains Jimmy, the middle of the three children. He along with his fiancee, ShayLe Hildebrand, manage XL Ranch. “Florida has sandier grass and Wyoming is a desert. Both places require cattle that have more capacity to survive and produce a good calf. It’s unique to have a breed and genetics like SimAngus that will work in varying, but just as harsh environments.”
The Stewart family advocates for collecting phenotypic data, DNA testing, and implementing a progressive breeding program to produce seedstock that will be profitable for their customers. “Both operations have worked really hard over the years to make sure our cattle are convenience trait-oriented with a shot of heterosis.” says Ken. “Our customers have cattle that market, sell, and grade, but capitalize on a little more performance because of the Simmental influence in the genetics.”
Southern Cattle Company
In their role as managers for Southern Cattle Company, Ken and Jenny continually strive to make improvements in how the cattle are managed. They place a high priority on improving the length of their breeding and calving season.
Currently, calving starts on the first of December and wraps up by the end of February or the beginning of March. Ken says, “When we got here three years ago, the ranch was calving all-year-round. Right now, three months sounds a little long. We are continuing to narrow up the calving window, but we can utilize winter grazing, so we don’t have to supplement the cattle, which has been a great benefit for the operation.”
During the breeding season, embryo transfer (ET), AI, and clean up bulls are used. Southern Cattle Company partners with TransOva for an on-site ET center for in vitro fertilization. Jenny manages all the data and inventories of the flush records.
The majority of the cattle are bred AI at the end of February and multi-sire pasture sires are utilized for clean up. All registered females and heifers are AI’d at least once, but Ken emphasizes that all herd bulls are the same quality as the AI sires used in the operation, “With our herd size we have the ability to do a little bit of everything, but we want to make sure that the embryo, AI, or pasture bred calf is of the same caliber.”
At as close to 205 days of age as possible, calves are weaned. Ten days after weaning, heifers are bangs vaccinated, and steers are backgrounded for an additional 45-60 days after weaning. A majority of the steers are sold in the fall through Superior Livestock.
“We will sell steers as close as we can to weaning and start our bull development processes.” says Ken as he explains their focus on feed efficiency, “We take as much space as we can at the University of Florida Bull Development Center. We max out at 120 bulls, a fraction of the number of bulls that we produce, but we get a sampling of all the breeds we use and how they are doing in terms of feed efficiency. We use this data to help make breeding decisions moving forward.”
Southern Cattle Company will retain ownership on around 500 steers annually to feed out and collect carcass data. Ken summarizes why they spend the time and resources collecting carcass data, “We want to ensure that we are raising the right cattle that they will be of value and help our customers succeed when we sell our bulls.”
Jenny manages all the data collection for the Southern and XL operations using a cattle management software called GEM. She says, “With our large numbers, inventory management is a critical component to make sure that there is accountability. We use it as our key measure for calf crop production and look to it to make improvements.” In addition to the basic calving and birth records, the Stewarts collect birth, weaning, and yearling weights on all their calves, including ultrasound scans on all bulls.
For XL Ranch, calving starts the last week of February. Cows are managed on an open range and calving barn space is limited.
“We manage our cattle a little different than the average seedstock operation. We run our cattle in a commercial environment and leave them to graze throughout the majority of the year,” Jimmy explains. Using heterosis captured through the SimAngus composite has benefitted their cow herd management style as well as their customers, “We depend on our cows to calve on their own. We have a small barn that we use for our first-calf heifers, but there isn’t room for more than three or four cow-calf pairs at a time. We rely on our cows being able to calve easy and the calves being able to get up and go.”
Making the Cut
“We allow our management style to sort a lot of our cattle for us,” Jimmy says. He shares that the environments in Wyoming and Florida help make the initial round of replacement female cuts. “Our cattle are run a little harder than most. You’ll find that lower-end, harder-doing females tend not to breed back early or at all, and get culled first.” Mature cows are continually culled with the philosophy that if a cow does not breed, she is gone.
“In both locations, we start at the ground when we are evaluating cattle,” he says. While both ranches are miles apart, the general replacement female and bull selection criteria is the same, “No matter what kind of cattle breed you like, you have to have the structural integrity to raise viable seedstock.”
Ken echos Jimmy’s sentiments, “First and foremost, we pay attention to feet and legs and then we go off performance and EPD profile when making bull and heifer selection.” Both operations focus on individual performance within contemporary groups, and none of the seedstock calves are creep fed. Ken further develops, “We make sure the cows are raising the calves on pasture with very little supplementation because we want to make sure that we aren’t keeping or developing cattle that are behind in performance.”
All bulls that are sold in Southern Cattle Company’s December bull sale and XL Ranch’s April sale are all low density genomically DNA tested and parent verified. For the Stewarts, genomic testing and parent verification is viewed as an essential part of their management style.
Both operations recently participated in the American Simmental Association’s Cow Herd DNA Roundup project, a research project designed to genotype each female in the herd at a low cost. “The accuracy within each cow’s EPD profiles will provide more reliability and provide more information on how each cow will perform.” Jenny shares, “Plus, if you do have a cow switch calves, which happens occasionally, it is easier to sort it out. We are big advocates for DNA and having our genetics and pedigrees backed- what we are marketing is exactly what it says it is.”
Southern Cattle Company offers over 200 bulls and 180 commercial bred heifers in their annual sale. Last year, 80 Simmental and SimAngus bulls were offered along with Angus, Brangus, and Charolais. Ken shares, “With how they work in our market, Sim-Angus bulls sell just as well as any other straight or cross-bred cattle.”
XL Ranch is hosting their inaugural Big Country Genetics Bull Sale in Powell this April with offerings from XL, Southern, and Black Summit Cattle Companies.
Sticking with SimAngus
Ken and Jenny have known each other their entire lives. Both were born into the cattle business and grew up just across the cornfield from each other. In high school, they started dating and were married shortly after they graduated.
Jenny worked as a computer programmer and Ken worked in construction building houses for many years. They always owned cattle on the side. In 2000, they moved to northern Michigan and ran 120 cows for about 10 years. “The family has been in the Simmental business since 1982,” says Ken, “There has only been a few years where we didn’t have cattle.”
When the construction market shifted, the family sold out and followed their passion for cattle into ranch management. Ken started as the purebred herd manager and riding foreman for Rollins Ranch when they first moved south, near Okeechobee, Florida, and soon received an opportunity to work in Mississippi for 7L Land and Cattle, a registered Angus ranch. He explains, “We established a commercial bull market at 7L, and got the operation in the black in a few short years. We also implemented a SimAngus bull program.”
The ranch was making money, but the owner, Jimmy Levins, had the opportunity to sell his cattle to another Angus breeder. At that time, Ken and Jenny were offered a position as general managers for Rollins Ranch, and later returned to their seedstock roots and accepted general managers position with Southern Cattle Company. “Now we are on board managing Southern Cattle Company, really the best place we could be in the country. It is a good ranch with excellent cattle and good ownership and everything is going smooth.”
All three of Ken and Jenny’s children, Keighly, Jimmy, and Jacob, were drawn to Powell, Wyoming, by Quinn Lafollette, who recruited them for the livestock judging team at Northwest College. Jimmy shares, “We were introduced to the area, fell in love, and decided to settle here after school. We are partnering with Quinn and his SimAngus operation, Black Summit Cattle Company, for our bull sale this month.”
“SimAngus takes the best of both worlds. It’s the best combination of the Continental and British Breed.” Ken summarizes why the Stewart family will always be cross-breed oriented, “Overall profit is there when you’re using SimAngus in the cattle industry. The right SimAngus is hard to beat.”