The American cowherd is a patchwork quilt with diversity sewn right into the fabric. That creates both opportunities and challenges for the stocker operators who take beef a step closer to the consumer’s plate.
“The reason our program exists is that the cow-calf sector is so fragmented,” observes Brock Karges. “There’s good management, bad management, big herds, small herds — and this is where the cleanup takes place.”
Putting calves on the path to performance is what Brock and Shelia Karges do at Triple Heart Ranch. Along with daughters, Karena and Jessica and a savvy crew, the Kargeses run about 15,000 head each year through their facility near Wanette, Okla.
The 500-lb. gorilla on the truck that backs up to unload at any stocker facility is Bovine Respiratory Disease (BRD). Hard to classify and tough to predict, BRD carries an industry-wide price tag that blows right past $800 million annually.
Proper nutrition is the most important factor in dealing with any ailment, Brock asserts, but the Kargeses are very proactive in all areas of calf health. Good quality five-weight cattle come in from a 200-mile radius and have a 24-hour hay and water rest period prior to processing under Beef Quality Assurance vaccination protocols. The calves remain in receiving pens for three to five days, advancing to larger traps before moving on to pasture. When it comes to getting those cattle off to a good start, Draxxin has become the Kargeses’ treatment of choice in dealing with BRD but the product’s efficacy first had to be proven on the ranch.
“Draxxin has been a learning experience,” Shelia notes, explaining that their first trial with the single-dose antibacterial took place in the fall when big temperature swings can put newly-arrived cattle in peril. “We started using some in 2005 and, after making several protocol improvements, we went 100 percent with it in 2009. It gives us time to make decisions up-front. And, it also takes some pressure off pen riders since the calves have 10 days to respond to treatment.”
“Our program centers on records,” Brock adds. “We let our records guide us — we don’t guess what’s going on. Shelia is very meticulous about recordkeeping and we have very detailed health information. … Draxxin isn’t the cheapest drug out there but we found that the Draxxin cattle jumped right off the page at you.”
Triple Heart Ranch records show a performance edge of .2-.3 lbs./day for cattle treated with the Pfizer Animal Health product, along with enhanced predictability and dramatically reduced overall health-related costs.
It took some time to get used to Draxxin’s extended therapy duration, Brock acknowledges: “It takes out the human decision factor because the decision to pull or retreat is out of a pen rider’s hands for 10 days. After that, we quickly know what we’re up against and can make fact-based decisions because every calf that goes through the chute is in the computer. Being able to adjust quickly can alleviate some of the loss and maintain some of the profit in the cattle.”
Extended duration therapy gives calves time to straighten up with fewer pulls and re-treats. The Kargeses also credit Draxxin with cleaning up cripples caused by mycoplasma as well as clearing up eye problems. The latter is especially important for Triple Heart Ranch. In addition to growing feeder cattle in an alliance that involves Stockman’s Livestock and Friona Industries, the all-heifer operation supplies cattle for cutting horse competitions where “two good eyes are a necessity.”
With Oklahoma City just up the road, every heifer on the ranch is used in cutting shows and never misses a meal — “They’re fed before they leave in the morning and fed again when they get home at night,” Brock explains.
The Karges cattle have an end-weight of 722 pounds and normally hit that target in 75-80 days. Depending on the time of the year, they may bring in 400-pounders, extending the grazing time to about 90 days. In addition to starting cattle for the feedyard, a summer grazing program, and the cutting cattle enterprise, the ranch custom manages a 250-head mama cowherd.
Besides their focus on health and nutrition — facilitated by detailed computer records — Brock and Shelia place a good deal of importance on employees and facilities. “We have a good team and we’ve tried to develop the facilities to make things easier for the people as well as the cattle,” Brock says. “We want everything user-friendly for our employees and our cattle.”
The overall management plan even extends all the way to the remuda that includes cow-bred Quarter Horses bred and developed on the ranch. “Good horses make a big difference in getting the job done around here,” Shelia says.
In what is an exceedingly comprehensive approach to handling stocker cattle, the Kargeses strive to continue to learn and to hone their management skills. “We’re constantly evaluating everything we do,” Brock concludes, “and, in the end, we try to learn from what went right and not just from what went wrong.”