Van Nice Angus — Our journey back to the Angus business began in 2004.
Looking back, Willodine and I never expected we’d wind up in Oklahoma. I’d grown up on a family farm in Iowa, raised quality Angus seedstock in Montana, and when we dispersed our successful 700-head seedstock operation in 2001, I thought our days in the cow business were done.
But the questions kept gnawing at me.
What if we got back into the cattle business, and “custom built” an elite Angus herd from a select set of proven donor cows and the best AI bulls in the business?
How could we apply the principles of biosecurity and preventive herd health management to improve the marketability of our cattle and protect our customers against the spread of disease?
And, what if we took everything we’d learned from years of raising seedstock - all the mistakes and all the successes — and applied it to a well-executed business plan for raising purebred Angus cattle?
I wanted to know the answers to these questions. And I wanted to see if we could make this dream a reality.
Our ranch represents the culmination of years of careful evaluation and commitment to the cattle business, and whether you are a big producer or small, we invite you to take a look at our program. We are confident you will appreciate the quality of our genetics, and the commitment we’ve made to genetic progress.
The Van Nice Angus ranch is located near Hanna, which rests in a wide basin, protected on its northern edge by a rocky ridge. A paved highway runs right up to our front door, and a network of good gravel roads stretches into the far corners of the ranch, providing for efficient movement of cattle and machinery.
The property has abundant grass, its pastures brimming with Bermuda. Its natural obstacles - rolling hills, high ridges, a network of streams - isolated the ranch from other cattle, making it ideal not only to run cows and yearling heifers, but to develop young bulls as well.
Our cow herd is built on the best genetics in the Angus business.
In 2005, we purchased approximately 600 embryos from some of the better bloodlines in the Angus breed, and transplanted those embryos into recipients. We ended up with approximately 300 pregnancies, and the first calf was on the ground the following year. Van Nice also identified and purchased two dozen elite donor cows from proven programs, and these females now constitute the heart of the ranch’s breeding program.
The future of our herd will be built on these donor cows. But we believe in continuous improvement, and we hope that the heifers we’re producing today will be better than the cows we started with. We have about 160 heifers out of our first calf crop that we are calving out now; some of those will probably become donor cows in the future.
Today, the primary focus of Van Nice Angus is to produce cattle with “spread” genetics - namely, cattle that possess low birth weights, yet high growth and moderate mature size combined with excellent muscle and marbling.
To identify cattle that fit these criteria, we’ve made extensive use of dollar-value indexes, which were recently developed by American Angus Association.
Some of these indexes include Weaned Calf Value ($W), Feedlot Value ($F), Grid Value ($G) and Beef Value ($B) and enable producers like Van Nice to identify genetics that are superior not only for production traits but also end-product quality.
For instance, research has shown that selecting for cattle with high $B has multiple economic benefits. For instance, progeny produced by high $B sires can more than triple the percent carcasses that reach the Prime quality grade, while cutting the percent Select carcasses by half when compared to low $B progeny.
In addition, high $B progeny can increase the percentage of upper two-thirds Choice carcasses by 34% and Yield Grade 1 carcasses by 20% while decreasing the percent of undesirable Yield Grade 4 and 5 carcasses by 5%.
High $B progeny also had a 42-pound weight advantage over low $B progeny. And, high $B progeny returned $3.08/cwt. more in premiums and had a net carcass value advantage of $82.65 compared to low $B progeny.
I want cattle with high dollar beef ($B), high dollar weaned ($W), low birth weights and as much yearling weight that I can get into a moderate-framed cow. But that doesn’t mean we’ve lost sight of producing cattle with a good, functional look to them. Our cows must have good udder quality. They must be good females; I’m not into breeding terminal-cross cattle.
Our health program
What makes the Van Nice Angus program truly unique is our commitment to biosecurity and preventive animal health.
With the assistance of Dr. Patrick Edmond, we began testing every animal on the ranch for brucellosis, persistently infected Bovine Viral Diarrhea (BVD) and Johne’s disease.
Research shows that BVD is a major economic concern for U.S. industry, costing cattle producers about $30 million per year. In some cases, it can represent a $42/head loss at feedlots.
Brucellosis is a disease that not only causes abortion “storms” in infected cow herds resulting in losses that can exceed 15% of a producer’s calf crop, it also can cause enormous economic losses for the entire beef industry because of international trade restrictions placed on countries where the disease is prevalent.
Johne’s, which is a contagious, chronic and sometimes fatal disease that infects the small intestine of cattle, reduces the productivity of livestock and causes mature cattle to waste away. In recent years, it has become a pressing issue for beef producers across the country.
We figured he’d draw a line in the sand, and do all we could to prevent the spread of these costly diseases.
Our entire cow herd including the recipient cows were tested for these disease in the fall of 2007, and we’ll continue to retest those cows on an annual basis. All of our calves are tested for BVD and the ones that are retained in the herd will have an ongoing program of testing for Brucellosis and Johne’s.
“Joe is trying to produce seedstock with credibility and value, so he’s unusually committed to this herd-health testing program,” says Edmond, who tells us this is the largest herd-health testing program among his clients. “The great thing about his program is that his customers have assurance that if they buy something from him, they’re buying cattle that will be as good as anything in the nation from a health standpoint.”