Building a cow herd with Beefmaster and South Poll genetics

Years ago I found a book entitled The Lasater Philosophy of Cattle Breeding by Laurence Lasater. It was a real eye opener for us, and the guidelines from this book have been the backbone of our breeding program for cattle during the last couple of decades. Tom Lasater, founder of Beefmasters, believed you could take the guess work out of cattle breeding by requiring your breeding stock to accomplish some simple, but tough goals. In a nutshell, every cow must raise an acceptable calf and breed back every year in a defined breeding season, grazing the grasses that grow naturally on your ranch with little or no outside inputs. No exceptions. Doesn’t produce one year out of ten, she is off to town. Simple plan, but very hard to follow. Even though Lasater developed and bred Beefmaster cattle, the philosophy can be applied to any breed.

We have used Beefmaster bulls from the Lasater foundation herd for years now and while we like the cattle, there were still some changes we wanted in the herd that would either take years to accomplish or perhaps a lifetime. One, was a polled animal.

Lasater, rightly so, said it was so difficult to breed animals to fit the simple but tough parameters he used for selecting replacement cows, that you should not add extra traits such as color and polled to the selection process. That said, we still do not like horns or dehorning and wanted to add the polled trait to the cow herd by using polled bulls. We had tried Red Angus bulls to develop a crossbreed that would give us the polled trait but found both the bulls and the crossbred calves unable to fit in our grazing system. We move cows every day and many of our paddocks do not have shade. We also have several grazing paddocks that have a large amount of endophyte infected fescue which adds about 10 degrees to a hot day for cattle affected by the endophyte. Though there are many good Angus breeders, even the best will usually tell you that if you are breeding in July/August in the fescue belt their bulls will probably not work. They simply get too hot. We turn bulls in July 4th for a 45-60 day breeding season and have yet to have an Angus bull make it all the way through the season without falling out.

Another trait we were looking for was moderation in cow size. While many of our Beefmaster cross cows are in the 1100-1250 pound range, we would always have some that topped the scale at 14-1500 pounds. Since we don’t supplement our cattle, size has never been that big a concern to us, but we envision some day a larger commercial market for grass fed beef and wanted to have cows that would raise calves that could go either way, to the traditional feedlot or to the grass finisher. Finding a breed that would add these traits but allow us to retain the heat tolerance, early maturity and adaptability of the Beefmaster cows was tough. Then one day, about six years ago, my wife Judy read an ad for South Poll bulls for sale.

South Poll Bull

There are many composites in the cattle world, but most seem to be trying to accomplish the same thing. Combine English maternal breeds with Continental terminal breeds to produce a cow that combines both characteristics and allows the use of one bull to produce replacement females and fast growing steers for the feedlot. While the merits of these composites can be debated, one thing I believe is that once you get past hybrid vigor and begin reproducing the crosses to stamp the breed, you will always have tradeoffs.

Those tradeoffs, generally speaking are:

  • Faster growth = less fertility, late maturity
  • Too much milk = less fertility, harder keeping.

A friend of mine who breeds some of the best maternal Red Angus in the business said he’s always breeding for average. If you go past average in any direction you give up something in another direction. The hard part is marketing average.

South Poll/Beefmaster Cross Heifers

South Poll/Beefmaster Cross Heifers

The South Polls on the other hand are not looking to compete with terminal/maternal composites in growth, but to compete with Angus in the hot, humid regions where maternal, non Bos-Indicus cattle often fail to reproduce at an economical rate. South Polls are a fairly new breed developed by Teddy Gentry, combining Barzona/ Herefords with Senepol/Red Angus genetics to produce a heat tolerant, moderate sized, polled Bos Tauras mama cow for the south. They are not going to grow faster than a Charolais or a Gelbvieh. But they are going to breed back in a hot humid climate while raising a good calf on nothing but grass.

And the other strength of this composite is its ability to fatten in a grass finishing market. At the recent South Poll Grass Cattle field day I was surprised by the number of breeders who sell a majority of their cattle as grass fattened beef direct to the consumer.

Though the numbers are still small, the breed is growing fairly quickly. While the breed originated in Alabama, Missouri seems to be a hot bed for South Polls as they fit our climate, and are able to tolerate endophyte infected fescue well. They have also been bred with the grass finisher in mind and the growing popularity of grass finished beef has helped to fuel demand for South Poll calves.

After seeing the ad for South Polls Judy and I went to see the bulls for sale and had the pleasure of seeing one of the nicest cattle herds around. What surprised us was the consistency of the cows. Being composites, we expected to see a lot of variance and were very pleased to see an almost “peas in a pod” herd. We bought three bulls and so added South Polls to our Beefmaster bull battery to eliminate horns but retain the heat tolerance, mothering, and grazing ability in our cattle. One trait that we have emphasized beside fertility is disposition, and this is a trait where the South Polls really shine. While we ship cattle for poor disposition and have a gentle herd, we were very pleased and surprised with the gentleness of the South Polls. And while Beefmaster don’t throw large calves, we have found breeding our heifers to South Poll bulls almost eliminated the need to check two year olds during calving. This year we calved fifty 22-24 month old heifers and had to pull one. His head was turned back, and he was a little large. The calves are extremely quick to their feet and to the teat.

South Poll cross calf

South Poll cross calf

Breeding cattle always has a bit of dreaming and imagination that goes with it. We envision a herd of peas in the pod, red, polled, heat tolerant, moderate sized cows that can withstand the below zero temps of winter and still be able to breed back in the heat and humidity of our Missouri summers while providing us with a good marketable calf. And do all this with little or no outside inputs. Not only do we envision this herd, we know that it is, and will continue to be, necessary in order to make a profit in the years ahead.

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About Steve Freeman

Steve Freeman joined Forester Industries as a partner in 2005 after being one of the first customers to use the PasturePro post. He installed his first electric fence in the early 1980’s and implemented management intensive grazing in 1987. Presently, the operation is exclusively beef cattle, but in the past it has also included both goats and sheep. Steve is always happy to talk grazing practices, livestock raising and fence building.
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12 Responses to Building a cow herd with Beefmaster and South Poll genetics

  1. avatar Crys Wilson says:

    Last spring I found a copy of The Lasater Philosophy of Cattle Breeding by Laurence Lasater in a used book store in New Mexico.
    Once I started reading it I couldn’t put it down. The program outlined in the book made complete sense. However, I didn’t actually own any cattle at the time, so I wondered if the system really would work.
    Needless to say I was so happy to run across your blog. I plan to purchase my first brood cows in late summer. Thanks for the first hand information.

    It’s a good life!

    Crys

    • avatar Steve Freeman says:

      Glad you found an older copy of the book. The older copies are becoming hard to find and expensive. New editions have had sections on management added to them by Laurie Lasater and are available at http://www.isacattleco.com/Beefmasters/books.html

      Following the outline for raising cattle presented by Lasater sure makes decision making easier. As he put it “cattle breeding is a relatively simple endeavor, the only difficult part is keeping it simple”.

      Good luck with the new venture this summer and thanks for the input.

  2. avatar A.J. says:

    Hi Greg we run ~200 head of mixed red angus based commercial cows in northeast oklahoma. The Red Angus bulls I am using are working okay, but they do have problems breeding around July on fescue. Our vision is much the same as yours “We envision a herd of peas in the pod, red, polled, heat tolerant, moderate sized cows that can withstand the below zero temps of winter and still be able to breed back in the heat and humidity of our Missouri (Oklahoma for us) summers while providing us with a good marketable calf.” I will be looking to replace my red angus bull with a more heat tolerant breed so let me know what you think.

    • avatar Steve says:

      Hi A.J.

      We now have two and three year old South Poll heifers in the herd and we are pleased with the results of the cross. Docile, polled and heat tolerant. The cows are getting smaller but not losing thickness and have added more fleshing ability. Our only concern is keeping frame scores acceptable for our commercial herd. If we were selling to the grass-fed industry we would almost, without a doubt, go straight South Poll.

  3. avatar Gerell says:

    Steve,
    Get back to me if you have any heifers or cows to sell, I couldn’t find any other way to contact you except through this blog system.

    I am very interested in taking a closer look at your work with the Beefmaster South Poll mix.
    Thanks

  4. avatar Steve says:

    Gerell,

    We too are curious how this cross will work for us over the long run. While this is actually a cross of two composites, it could easily be argued the Beefmasters bulls we use from the Lasater herd are some of the purest genetics in the beef breed since the Lasaters have not introduced new blood into the herd, including bulls, since the forties and no new Beefmasters have been made from the original three breed cross since that time.

    What has pleasantly surprised using the South Poll bulls is the uniformity of the calf crop sired by these bulls. Not what we expected with a composite breed. So far we are pleased with the results, polled, red and heat tolerant with nice dispositions.

    I have sent you an e-mail answering your question about heifers for sale.

    Thanks for the interest.

  5. avatar Ron Wright says:

    Hi Steve,
    It seems like whenever I start moving in a direction to try something I find that you’re already there. I’ve been considering South Poll bulls, your article was very informative. Finding animals that will tolerate infected fescue is certainly an issue on my place. Did you find all your South Poll bulls were equally tolerant or are there certain blood lines I should look for?
    I read your article on the SP newsletter, it lead me to your blog. Glad I found it.

    Ron Wright

  6. avatar Steve Freeman says:

    Hi Ron,

    That’s a good question and like many questions I have to say “I don’t know for sure”. What we have noticed is many of the South Polls keep a slick hair coat almost all year round. A few even stay very slick in winter, though we haven’t noticed any difference in wintering ability for these few. Others will slick off for summer but hair up like a Red Angus or Hereford for winter; which I assume is the most desirable.

    I see a slick hair coat as a sign cows are very tolerant of endophyte infected fescue and a desirable trait for our cows to possess. However, this year we’ve noticed two very slick young South Poll cows with the long twisted toes that come from endophyte infected fescue. Now these two are out of a group of 100 or more in their age brackets so on our farm that’s a very low number dropping out because of endophyte. We will cull these two even though they are bred, to eliminate any possibility the problem is inherited. As a comparison we purchased angus/beefmaster heifers from a neighbor for a few years and a third of these heifers would develop the fescue toes by the time they were four.

    We are switching to all South Poll bulls next year for several reasons; temperament, size, uniformity etc. but the biggest reason is they have been the most fescue/endophyte tolerant cattle we’re raised. Able to breed and graze midday on the hottest summer afternoons.

    I guess my answer [I eventually get to the end] to your question would be sure to purchase bulls from a producer who is raising their herd on E+ fescue and visit them in July/August and see how the cows are behaving. I think this is the best way to get bloodlines that are tolerant of E+ fescue.

    Thanks for the question,
    Steve

  7. avatar Stephen Fahsbender says:

    Thanks for the article. Great Information. I live in northeast Missouri and am considering building a grass fed herd. My plan is to direct market. I will be just as concerned about the flavor, cuts of meat and the customer’s experience as I will a tenaciouis, fertile, slick haired herd that will eat all my grass for years. Not having infected fescue, my bottom line will depend just as much on repeat sales and referrals as it will the traits of the cattle. If you have them, could you please advise as to the carcass scores or customer reviews about their experience at the dinner table with this breed. I really, really, hope they are good! Thanks again for the article.

    • avatar Steve Freeman says:

      Hi Stephen–Well you are in luck. The South Polls were made to be used in grass finished beef operations. We are looking to eventually begin supplying grass fed operations with our stockers and have found the buyers for the larger grass fed companies are all very pleased to buy South Poll cattle and crosses.

      Teddy Gentry, the founder of the breed, specifically looked for animals that would work for grass finishing. In fact the name of the breed organization is the South Poll Grass Cattle Association. If you want to read a little more about the breed here is their website. http://www.southpoll.com/

      Thanks for the comments and questions. I’ll send you an e-mail as well and will give you some breeders phone numbers so you can perhaps see some South Polls in the flesh.

  8. avatar Joe Hopping says:

    Steve it was nice visiting with you about the South Poll breed the other day and I appreciate you answering all of my questions. With you also being a fan of Tom Lasater, Foundation bred Beefmaster Cattle and the “Lasater Philosophy of Cattle Raising” I respect your opinion when it comes to cattle performing in a “Real World Situation”. By the way Hoss and I are interested in a South Poll bull or two to put on some commercial cows. They probably need to be mature bulls for we’ll be turning them out on the cows this July. We’re also interested in purchasing some commercial South Poll or South Poll heifer calves this Fall if you happen to run across some in your travels. Thank you, Joe Hopping (918) 637-5590.

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