Freezing temperatures and record-breaking snowfall is synonymous with February 2021. It was a turbulent time for everyone, especially cattle producers. Despite the difficulties brought forth by many days living below zero, the Beefmaster herd at Texas A&M University (TAMU) endured the cold and more than tripled in size.
“One of the calves happened to be born during the middle of the ice storm, where it was down to zero and essentially, we couldn’t read a temperature on the calf,” said Jason Cleere, Ph.D., TAMU Associate Professor and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Beef Cattle Specialist. “We had graduate students work to save the calf and it survived. Our students have bonded with our Beefmaster cattle, and they are getting real-world learning experiences.”
In 2019, TAMU launched a purebred Beefmaster herd through donations from several Beefmaster Breeders United members. The donors supplied 15 purebred Beefmaster heifers and purebred Beefmaster embryos to the TAMU Beef Center. The Beefmaster herd has expanded from 15 heifers to 53 total Beefmaster animals.
“Overall, the program is going well. All of the donated cattle are doing well,” said Cleere.
The spring 2021 calving season resulted in 15 natural purebred Beefmaster calves and 23 purebred Beefmaster embryo calves, by way of commercial cow recipients.
“We’re really grateful to the donors that supplied the live animals, as well as the embryos that were donated,” stated Cleere. “The opportunity to flush some of the best donor cows has allowed us to build the program rapidly. We are thankful to BBU and the breeders. We are excited about the program.”
TAMU made the decision to upgrade their cattle breeding program with a purebred Beefmaster herd, as well as a purebred Red Angus herd, back in 2018 and began accepting donations in 2019.
“There are multiple reasons why we decided to initiate a herd with Beefmasters,” said TAMU Animal Science Department Head Dr. Cliff Lamb. “Globally, about 70% of the world’s beef cattle are in tropical or sub-tropical regions. It is certainly a reason to have a breed that is associated with the ability to adapt to those climates.”
At this time, the Beefmaster herd and Red Angus herd are separate, and will remain separate herds until each herd is well established. The existing goal is to focus on expanding the purebred Beefmaster herd to approximately 60 premier Beefmaster cows. The long-term goal is to breed several of the Beefmaster females to Red Angus bulls, to ultimately demonstrate an example of systematic crossbreeding for educating cattle producers through Texas A&M AgriLife Extension programs. The breeding decisions amongst the Beefmaster and Red Angus cattle is solely to demonstrate a systems approach of crossbreeding for commercial cattle producers for educational purposes, not to develop a new cattle breed.
As a result of the in-kind donations, the Beefmaster herd is currently utilized in the classroom as teaching tools for beef cattle production courses, as well as TAMU Livestock Judging Contests and the TAMU Beef Cattle Short Course.
“Dr. Andy Herring teaches a class, and they discuss crossbreeding systems, body condition score and they’ve actually come out and helped vaccinate and deworm the Beefmaster cattle,” Damon Acord, TAMU Beef Center Manager, described.
The Beefmaster herd has also been utilized by Dr. Ky Pohler to teach graduate students exactly how to collect and sort embryos.
Cleere conveyed that “as a faculty member, it’s really nice to be able to have high quality cattle to use to teach students, as well as to be able to teach ranchers.”
The opportunity for the Beefmaster breed to be at the forefront of educational programs produced by a top agricultural university is invaluable to the marketing of this sustainable and efficient beef cattle breed. More students are learning about Beefmaster cattle and these students are future agricultural leaders. More livestock producers are introduced to Beefmaster cattle and these producers are future customers for Beefmaster breeders. The opportunities are endless for expanding the market and knowledge of Beefmaster cattle.
In the long term, the TAMU Animal Science Department would like to implement another systems approach by developing the crossbred Red Angus/Beefmaster calves on feed, finish them out at the TAMU Beef Center and then market them through their retail outlet as a branded beef program.
Nonetheless, the present goal is to instruct students through hands-on education, instead of instructing them from only a beef cattle production book.
“The temperament from our Beefmaster herd has been great,” explained Acord. “They are compliant, they do what they’re supposed to. They raise the calf. They take care of that calf first.”
According to Cleere and Acord, the Animal Science Department’s demographics are changing, and many students do not come from cattle production, agriculture, and ranching backgrounds. The students can be very naive to working with cattle. The docile Beefmaster cattle are an extremely positive aspect for student engagement and judging contests. The docility and calm temperament exhibited by the Beefmaster herd mixes well with students.
“It really has been a pleasure dealing with the Beefmasters,” Acord confirmed.
The current cow/calf pairs will continue to be used for educational demonstrations in the classroom and extension programs until approximately September 2021. The Beefmaster herd is setup for early spring calving, so the calves will be weaned in the fall. At weaning time, the heifer calves will be retained to expand the herd swiftly and the top bull calves will be developed on feed, and then marketed to bull buyers in fall 2022.
In summary, this partnership has created a tremendous opportunity for the Beefmaster breed to become a part of a leading agricultural university’s quest to build a premier cattle operation. The TAMU Beefmaster herd is growing in numbers and in quality, thus promising a positive outlook for the TAMU Animal Science Department and Beefmaster Breeders United.