Producing a quality product is the goal at F.E. Hill Ranch Company, Fairfield, Texas. They rely heavily on evaluating their product through weights and measurements and making decisions based on those numbers.
Numbers are not only important at this outfit, but they standout. The first number that gets your attention is that the family ranching company has a 100-year plus history and the sixth generation of the family is now involved in its management.
“1899 is the year that was the beginning of F.E. Hill Ranch Company and the family has always maintained operational headquarters from Fairfield. My dad, Dickie, is the fifth generation and my brothers and I are the sixth generation to be involved,” explains John Hill, a graduate of the Texas Christian University Farm and Ranch Management program.
This registered Polled Hereford operation changed to a commercial cow/calf unit in the early 1980s. At the same time, they also changed to a predominantly black hided cowherd as they purchased Brangus commercial females. This was also during the exotic boom, so they tried Charolais, Simmentals, as well as Beefmaster and Brangus bulls on the herd.
“In the mid 90’s, Dad decided he wanted more information on the cattle we were producing, so we began feeding pens of cattle. Even with minimal data at the time, the feeding and harvest information told us our cattle were average. While we liked what we saw when we evaluated our cattle in our pastures, what we saw they were yielding on paper did not suit us,” says Hill.
The average numbers led them to rethink what they were doing and how they were doing it.
First step was to improve the bull side of the equation. They began AI’ing to top Angus bulls and they decided to start raising their own bulls as cleanup sires, so they would know what the bulls were capable of producing.
“We participated in the Bradley 3 Ranch (B3R) program for about five years. This allowed us to get individual carcass data and our cattle consistently graded 88-92% Choice. We utilized this information and traced it back to the dams, grand-dams and great grand-dams and identified cattle that were not producing to our standards. We really began to gain ground and improve the quality of our product through these measures,” describes Hill.
Today the herd includes 900 top producing females, 300 of which are virgin heifers and 80% of which are black hided and maintain just a little ear from their Brangus background. They have also utilized some Brangus breeding in their AI program to maintain that touch of ear to take on the Central Texas heat and humidity.
All the females go through the AI program one time. Then bulls bred in their program are used as clean up sires. All the females are synchronized and the heifers receive a heat patch. The heifers are bred based on the heat patches and the older cows are bred on timed synchronization. The females are bred in mid-December and then in January. bulls are turned in with the females. Their AI conception rates average about 60 percent.
Every calf born on the place is source and age verified and the herd is almost entirely a fall calving herd. In addition, the program is all natural, hormone free.
They also began their own bull test in 1995. The Freestone County Bull Test was for their own use and any other producers in the county. This allows them to capitalize on producing bulls with generations of records behind the maternal side and to identify superior performers in the test. The bulls are marketed in a private treaty sale at the end of test and some are used in their program.
The bull test, which was developed by Dickie Hill, working through the county extension agent’s office, begins in June annually on the day the calves are weaned.
Only bull calves that wean at least 50% of their dam’s weight are considered for the test. We have four sets of corrals on the ranch and each one has a set of scales, so we weigh all calves and their dams. Most of the calves that are put on test wean at 60% or higher of their dam’s weight. Heifer and bull calves that don’t meet their requirements for breeding stock are marketed through Superior Livestock. They annually market 10 loads of steers and five loads of heifers through Superior and routinely top the sale for their region.
The test bull calves are backgrounded for 14 days on a cottonseed hull based ration and are put through the VAC 45 health program. Then after the 14 day period, they receive their VAC 45 booster and an average daily gain (ADG) for the 14 days is figured. The bulls are then placed out on pastures that are coastal and Tifton hay meadows. These fields will have been cut once for hay earlier. In the summer, some clover hay is put out for them also. They are always in pastures ranging in size from 100-200 acres. They are never dry lotted. They are fed a half percent of their body weight of a high percentage cottonseed cube daily the first 85 days. At this point they are weighed and another ADG figure is obtained.
Then the last 100 days, the bulls are placed on Purina® Accuration® with salt as the limiter. Once the test is completed the bulls are weighed again and a final ADG is figured. Then the bulls are ultrasounded for ribeye area, intramuscular fat and backfat and ranked for their ability to marble based on the ultrasounding information. Then a few days later a veterinarian performs a breeding soundness exam and all bulls selling have a 75 percent or higher sperm motility rating. Scrotal circumference scores are also taken.
The bulls are ranked from first to last based on all the data from birth weight to the final measurements. Then based on this ranking, the bulls are sorted into pens and priced accordingly. The bulls are 16 months-old at sale time and average about 1,300 pounds coming off test.
This will be the 18th Annual Sale on January 19, 2013. The number one ranking bull is priced at $5,000 and the second high placing bull is priced at $3,500. The remainder of the bulls are sorted by rank and priced by pens in $200 increments, beginning at $2,800 and going to $1,400.
Prospective buyers can come evaluate the bulls the day before the sale. The sale begins at 9 a.m. The bulls are sold on a first come basis. Hill says the sale usually ends around 1 p.m..
“We do not sell any bull that we would not use. The bulls are culled throughout the performance test to assure buyers of a bull that can perform and produce a quality product,” said Hill.
Prospective buyers are provided a complete data sheet that lists all the weights/measurements taken during the test, as well the bulls’ birth and weaning weights. In addition, weights and indexes on the three generations of cows on the maternal side of the pedigree are provided.
“We provide more numbers than anyone will read. The data is a picture of what’s under the hide. The bulls routinely come from the same cow family lines and the data we have on all our females tells us this should be the case. All the data provides us with information on each cow in terms of what she gives us in terms of dollars. We know quickly cows that won’t work in our program and they are culled quickly. We collect performance data on the heifers we keep too, so we can move her in and out of herd based on what she and the cows in her pedigree can do,” explains Hill.
This will be their 18th annual sale on January 19th and it is held at the ranch. They have built a strong repeat customer base over the years with most of the bulls going to small herds in Texas and some to Louisiana. They do have some alliances that are now using their bulls and buy in volume.
“The steers and heifers we sell through Superior have helped our bull sales and of course the way the bulls perform is critical to a buyer returning,” emphasizes Hill.
In addition to the commercial cow-calf operation, they have started selling hunts on the ranch and this year marks their third year to offer deer and duck hunts.
It’s more than a numbers game at F.E. Hill Ranch, but numbers are critical to the quality they produce for their use and their customers.
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