BRYAN — The drought of 1996 was devastating to many Texas cattle producers, but it’s also producing a myriad of opportunities to produce the kind of beef that pleases cusumers, according to a beef cattle expert at the recent Brazos Valley Cattlemen’s Clinic at the Bryan Livestock Commission Co.
“As a result of that drought, we liquidated an awful lot of breeding females from Central and southern Texas,” said Dr. Bill Mies, a professor of animal science at Texas A&M University. From 1 million to 1.2 million females were sold to relieve the parched forage conditions. “A lot of people got hurt financially,” Mies said.
But winter and spring brought abundant and timely rains in many areas of the state. Grass is growing well in pastures, and producers have an excellent chance to grow hay.
As cattle producers replace the females they had to sell, they have the opportunity to replace them sot they could produce a higher quality animal, he said.
“Our definition of quality here is not that we produce everything to be excellent,” Mies explained. “It’s more that we produce fewer to be bad.”
What Mies is promoting is that ranchers produce a more uniform calf — the quality of which has run from the extremely good down to, unfortunately, the extremely bad.
“We want a product that eats more consistently, that people can depend on more, so that when people have been out to a fine restaurant, they don’t go say to their friends, Gee, I had a great steak last night.’ They should expect to have a great steak,” he said.
Cattle producers should strive to put together genetic packages of cattle that will give consumers a great steak night after night, he explained.
It’s not good when a cattle producer gets a bad steak in a restaurant, “but it’s even worse for someone who is simply a consumer, who has no loyalty to the business,” he said.
A tough steak forces consumers into an economic decision. If they can’t get a consistently good product, they’ll quit buying beef.
“When those kinds of decisions are presented to people, a great number of them will not take the chance, and therefore we’ve lost customers,” Mies said.
Producers should seize the opportunity to make a breeding plan. “Think about the kind of females you need to produce on your ranch and then go out and buy just that one kind of female, just that one genetic cross or pure breed,” he explained.
Then, only one breed of bulls should be put in the pasture with them. “Now we may have cows that are two breeds, and we may have a third breed of bulls (with) them. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
However, some producers make the mistake of having herds with five or six breeds of cows and then four more breeds of bulls turned out with them.
“The calves coming out of that herd are genetically the whole range of the rainbow, and the whole range of the spectrum in eating quality,” he said.
“If the target of excellence is the middle of the road instead of the extremes, we’ll produce a product that will be more competitive at the retail level and at the restaurant level. That’s a hard target.”
It is more of a challenge than breeding an animal that’s obviously big, short, fat or thin, he acknowledged. “It’s probably not as exciting, either. But it’s very necessary for our business if we’re going to survive.”