Following the Calves: A Florida weaning
There’s something about a Ken Griner greeting that makes you feel you’re right where you should be. Friend or stranger, it makes no difference. His words are intentional, his actions purposeful, and his decisions, they’re thorough.
“In the cow business, you’re either in the commodity business or the premium business,” Ken says, “and we chose a long time ago that we were going to pursue the premium end.”
Decades have passed since he left a family automobile business to join his father-in-law on the land, so the challenge now is what to do given the environment and resources at hand. “You can’t ever be perfect, but what can we produce? How good can we get?”
Look at the cattle, the bulls and AI genetics purchased – 400 cows and heifers were AI’d this year – and you’ll see an “investigation” in full swing.
Usher calves are bred and born with focus. Emphasizing Angus genetics as the key stepping stone to carcass merit, cattle are selected not only by soundness and phenotype, but for the ability to produce carcasses that earn premiums such as those awarded for Certified Angus Beef® brand qualification.
To get a base cow, they’ll take a quarter Brahman and breed her to an Angus bull, take that calf and breed to a Charolais. In a typical year Angus dominates the gene pool, but Charolais had its crest this year for the sake of the terminal herd.
“We want a 980-lb. carcass that’s Prime,” Ken says of his end-product goals. Those differ only slightly among the three primary herds on the ranch, as calves from each go on to the feedlot and packinghouse rails.
Developing your own genetics with both quality and performance as markers of success takes time. On the maternal side, Ken looks at yearling height and scrotal circumference, “as much marbling as we can get,” structural soundness, good udders and fertility, all in a moderate cow.
So as much as Ken can make you feel welcome to follow along, it’s those cattle that’ll keep you around.
On an early May visit, the cows that roam the family land know well the drill. Mornings are for grazing, afternoons for rest, followed by some more grazing. With confidence, calves venture out past their mothers, frolicking in the crisp, yet warm Florida daybreak, showing off for my camera, yet unaware of what the day will bring. It’s weaning time at Usher and the stillness of the morning will soon be interrupted with the sound of displeased youngsters.
With the majority already weighing 550 lbs. the calves are slightly younger than Ken is accustomed to at weaning, implying they’ll be handled a bit differently when preconditioned on the ranch. But it’s time.
“They’re coming off early but they are knocking their mommas back,” Ken says. “After a few days of whining, she’ll be proud of us.”
As the day’s events come to an end, the calves take a break. They settle down, relax, and begin the 60 days it will take to prepare for the trip to Kansas where the Griners have pasture in the Flint Hills. But with the price of corn where it is, will they instead go straight to feed?
Don’t miss out on what happens next — be sure to Follow the Calves.
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