Breeding Stock (by Ken Klemm of Beaver Creek Buffalo)
I have been raising buffalo since 1987 and have managed some of the largest buffalo ranches in the country. In 1999, Laurie and I moved our children and our small buffalo herd to Kansas and struck out on our own. Then, in 2005 we joined forces with Peter Thieriot and formed Beaver Creek Buffalo Co., LLC.
My experience of managing 3500 buffalo and closely studying their behavior and performance has helped us develop a very refined seed stock herd. The Great Drought of 1999 through 20?? (will it ever end!) has had a great and positive impact on the herd also. As the drought continues, we continue to cull the lesser performing animals. This dual force of massive drought and years of experience has made the Beaver Creek Buffalo herd a leader in providing solid genetics.
Solid genetics. It’s a term most every seedstock producer uses. We use it too. What does it mean? Different things to different people. Read some more. If you agree with what I write then you have found your seedstock provider. We are not all things to all people. Our animals are adapted to the High (and lately, very dry) Plains. They produce well, taste good and are easy to work with. They do it on grass WITHOUT the feed pail. If that’s what you want, then we have it.
Our philosophy can be summed up by saying that we are selecting for the best converters of grass to meat that nature can produce. We let the environment pick the animal. We do not make the ranch fit the animal but instead expect the animal to fit the ranch. We keep the ranch as close to nature as possible.
Our animals are raised rough and can be expected to perform well for you. Fertility is paramount to our cows. The cow has one opportunity to be open in her life. If she is open a second time she is culled. No excuses. No calf – no keep. Simple and very effective. Since buffalo are a wild animal they will only breed if they are doing well. Pregnancy is a very reliable indicator of a wild animal’s adaptation to the environment and we depend on it heavily.
Cows are also culled for not raising a calf to weaning age (ie. aborted calf, still born, etc.).
We also look for high weaning weights in proportion to the mother. In nature, the larger, faster growing animals had an advantage and this is true in business too.
Our breeding stock is also chosen for their disposition. Over the years we have noticed that excitable animals do not breed well. Furthermore, excitable animals and/or aggressive animals frequently leave the safety of the herd and are a problem for management. In nature, this behavior was severely dealt with by the wolf, quite often with death. Only, calm animals that were bound to the herd were relatively safe from the constant threat of predators. These animals were able to pass their genetics on. In keeping with our idea that our actions should retain the inherit benefits of the specie, we cull overly aggressive or excitable animals.
Reasonably sized cows are more adapted to the rigors of nature and, not coincidentally, are more profitable. Our cows range from 975 – 1100 pounds (in good flesh) and weaning weights are typically 45%+ of the cows weight. Bigger cows are normally culled as are the smaller sized animals. These under or oversized animals tend to miss a breed-up easily. Additionally, we’ve never had a 1400 pound cow wean 45% of her weight (630 lb calf) off of grass and the smaller cows don’t do well either.
Our cows must maintain good flesh and be easy keepers on native range. Winter supplement for 2007-2008 was zero. That’s right – no hay, no cake, no protein. All they received was salt, mineral and water. Stockpiled, standing grass and some standing cane is the cows’ winter diet, except for years of severe drought or iced, caked snow when the animals cannot range. In winters such as those hay becomes a greater part of their winter diet. Cows that cannot maintain body condition and produce a calf yearly on this regimen are aggressively culled.
Calves and Yearlings
We do not wean our calves. We expect the cow to do this. We have found that in this climate the most efficient production model is just what nature had developed. The cows do a good job of weaning the calves themselves. The ones that don’t will not breed back consistently and will be culled. The calves learn a lot from the cows through the winter and become pretty adept at surviving. We find this lack of stress and education that the calves get is most beneficial for all of us. When spring grass arrives the calves are left on the cow herd to graze through the summer. We closely watch these calves and monitor how they respond to this minimalist management regime. Only the top performers are even considered for breeding stock in our herd or in yours.
When fall/early winter arrives we gather, tag and sort the animals. Possible replacement heifer and bull calves are left in the herd to continue to grow or are sorted off and sold to others. The possible replacement yearling breeding bulls are sorted off and moved to prime grass for further study. See below for more information regarding our breeding bulls.
The rest of the yearlings are destined for our meat program. These are finished by one of two methods. Our pure grass-fed animals are finished on reserved grasslands, lush with stands of pure, high-quality grass. We finish the rest with a free-choice diet of corn and hay in a clean, fresh area. Since we are in the meat business also, we are supremely cognizant of how our animals “eat” and how they yield. An animal that tastes like fatty beef or 30 year old saddle leather is not a recipe for long term business success.
We look for animals that yield 62%+ (live to hot weight) and have retained the very desirable buffalo trait of lean meat that cuts like butter. This may sound a little too much to ask from an animal but we have found that the genetics are there to do all of the above. It is our job to design a system that will make these animals stand out and be identified.
We offer you these genetics here and welcome any questions that you may have.
For us to even consider a bull for a replacement breeding bull he must be at or near slaughter weight (~1000 lbs) off grass his second fall (~1.5 years old). No fancy feed, no blow dryers or hoof paint. These bulls must prove themselves on grass, out with the cows. The bulls must finish on grass at a young age.
Replacement bulls must have a mellow disposition. A mellow disposition makes for good meat and it makes for fertile animals. Straight legs and a well-balanced physique are also required for consideration. If he is too big and framy we don’t keep him. We do not accept extreme traits of any kind.
Our perfect bull is a long-yearling bull (fall of the year) that comes in off grass in November at 950-1050 pounds. He should have a good cover of fat and be essentially finished. Click here to learn the difference between grass-fed and grass-finished. If he has a huge frame, he will not finish at the right weight (1050 lbs) and will require too much feed and time to reach slaughter weight. We always remember that we are in the business of growing and harvesting grass and, as such, we are breeding for the best grass harvesters possible. We may never win a show like this but we really don’t care. Our livelihood is not in winning shows but in converting grass to meat.
Virtually all of the buffalo shows have become feeding contests where no thought or documentation is given as to how the animal was cared for. The buyer has no idea how the animal attained the size or weight seen on that day. Consequently, the buyer is in the dark as to potential profitability of the resulting offspring. Remember, profitability is determined by an animal’s ability to convert grass to meat efficiently. Profitability can’t be determined at a show and since numbers and spreadsheets don’t draw a crowd, I don’t expect things to change anytime soon. In the meantime, we’ll just keep doing what we are doing and if you agree, you have found your seedstock provider.
Click here to see our current offering.
Or Contact us with your questions.