Spotlight on Members
Members of the Heritage Shorthorn Society encompass a wide variety of cattle operations with utilization of Shorthorns in many different ways. This section will highlight a cross section of our members (some who are relatively new to Shorthorns and some who have had Shorthorns for multiple generations) to show the appeal and adaptability of Heritage Shorthorns.
This Spotlight on Members Posting will be changed quarterly.
David and Diane Robertson
Farm/Ranch name: Misty Overlook Ranch
How long have you been involved with cattle? with Shorthorns?
We are relative newcomers to the cattle business. We started the operation in 2015. This is a second career for us. It has been 35 years since either of us were involved in the cattle business in any way. David has family farming roots in this part of the country (i.e., the Ozark hills of Missouri) where he grew up on a multi-generational dairy farm about 100 miles west of here. So much has changed in both the dairy and beef industries since then, any latent knowledge from his late teens and early twenties has not been much help. The focus today on data and the seeking of ever greater efficiencies is several levels above what it was over a generation ago.
What initially attracted us to Shorthorns is docility. Considering we were starting this activity in our mid-50s, we did not want high strung or aggressive cattle. We have definitely found Shorthorns to fit that bill. David felt like his parents and grandparents Holsteins were gentle, but our Shorthorn cattle here are another step up in that regard. They are so easy to handle in comparison, and they have not even been on a milking line. The other strengths of Shorthorns such as calving ease, good mothering characteristics, carcass weight, and their ability to thrive on natural (grass) forage, have made us huge fans of the breed.
How or why did you become interested in Heritage/Native Shorthorns?
We want to sell our animals as either seedstock or grass-fed beef. With that goal in mind, our initial thinking was twofold. First, we felt that there will always be a need for purebred heritage/native genetics in the Shorthorn seedstock market. Second, we felt that heritage/native Shorthorns were developed and bred over a couple hundred years to do well on natural forage. We have definitely found this last point to be the case. For instance, we recently took one of our heritage/native Shorthorn steers to a USDA inspected processing facility. He was 21 months old and weighed 1200 lbs. He had never consumed anything but forage besides his mother’s milk prior to weaning at 6 months old.
Our interest was also nostalgic for such an influential and historical breed. Since heritage/native Shorthorns fit with our plan to be a relatively small grass-fed operation, we were more than happy to lend our hand to keep this breed alive. When we first looked into it, both of us were shocked at how few heritage/native purebred Shorthorns there are. Even though helping to keep a heritage breed alive was not the main reason we were interested in them, it is important us.
What size and type of cattle operation do you have?
We are a small operation. Currently we have 38 head of registered Shorthorns with 29 of them having the heritage/native designation. We plan to continue growing the heritage portion of the herd and reducing the number of non-heritage stock until we have all heritage Shorthorns. We hope to increase to 60-80 head which is about the most we can support as a pasture based grass-fed operation without purchasing or renting additional pasture. Our current land area is approximately 270 acres with about 170 acres of it cleared for pasture. Another 50 or so acres could be cleared in the future. Even if we attain our maximum capacity for the farm, we will still be considered small for this region of the country.
We purchased our foundation heritage/native cows from Haumont Shorthorns (Kevin Cooksley) and Ridgeview Acres (Paul Wheeler). We then obtained heritage/native semen from various sources and have continued to add to our inventory of potential AI heritage bulls. Until the fall of 2018, we relied solely on AI breeding. In November of 2018, we purchased a heritage herd bull from Bert Moore. While we used AI on a small group of cows, our bull has done the majority of breeding this fall. We plan to continue this approach.
We pasture our animals year-round. In general, all the primary feed for our herd is grown on the farm. If there are a few animals we feel need a supplement for some reason, we give them alfalfa pellets. We are able to extend the grazing season here with proper management. For instance, we began feeding hay in early January 2019. We will continue feeding hay until either late March or early April, depending on the weather. We do one cutting of hay from a 30 acre field in order to have enough hay to make it through the non-growing season. If needed, we will then purchase additional hay depending on the yield obtained from our own field. We custom hire the hay cutting and baling to minimize capital investment in equipment.
We practice rotational grazing and pay close attention to forage management in order to have quality grazing for the herd from early spring through late fall. The cool season grasses (fescue, orchardgrass and bluegrass) begin in March and are growing well by early April followed closely by the clovers (white, red, and hop). During the hot portion of the summer, the warm season grasses that seem to do well here are bermudagrass, crabgrass, and eastern gammagrass. The lespedeza legumes do well here and it grows in abundance in some areas of our farm. We see a regrowth of the cool season grasses and clover in the fall. We concentrate on having a good mix of grasses and legumes to make sure we have enough quality pasture throughout the grazing season. From our observations, this is where we believe the Shorthorn breed excels.
For example, extended periods of drought are common during the summers here. The warm season grasses then go dormant. The only forage that continues to grow well is sericea lespedeza, a very drought resistant legume (which is branded a noxious weed). It is considered a poor forage except during its very early growing stage. We faced several weeks of severe drought this past summer. The hay cutting and grazing season ended almost as soon as it began. The only thing still green and growing was the sericea, but it was at its more mature stage just prior to blooming. We put our Shorthorns on it. They thrived. Our veterinarian came out for an unrelated visit and was shocked when he saw the excellent body condition of our cattle. He was even more shocked when we told him all they were receiving was the pasture they were on. Other folks in the area were feeding what little hay they had and beginning to panic about whether they would have enough hay. Farmers in our region baled whatever they could including their yards and road shoulders. Some areas were marked for disaster relief. There was no change in our routine. Our cattle grazed through the summer. This experience was one more data point to make us thankful we have Shorthorns. Even in difficult conditions, they are outstanding at converting natural forage to beef.
What are the main markets for your shorthorns?
Since we are still in the native/heritage herd building phase, we’ve only sold our non-heritage Shorthorns for beef. We hope to sell our packaged beef at local farmers markets this year. We also have three non-heritage Shorthorns consigned to the Missouri Classic Shorthorn Sale this March.
Last year we were thrilled to receive notification of the Heritage Shorthorn Society’s formation. We consider the web site to be the best resource for Heritage Shorthorn breeders and for those interested in them. We feel the well researched and written articles about the breed’s history, the mentoring offered in the viewpoint articles, as well as the classified and breeder listings have and will continue to help us reach individuals interested in seedstock or grass-fed beef.
What is the best piece of advice that you received about raising cattle?
The best advice we’ve received is something Kevin Cooksley said after we purchased some of his cattle. He said the main thing he looks for in cattle is “overall balance.” As we continued to think about that comment later, we believe it summarizes Shorthorns as a breed, and, in particular, heritage Shorthorns. All the breed’s characteristics are important from structural soundness and confirmation to calving ease, mothering instincts, feed conversion, growth, temperament, etc. There is not just one or two characteristics that define the breed. We look for this in our cattle.
We feel this philosophy is also how we manage our entire operation. The forage we foster and overseed naturally does well in our region and spans the entire growing season. Our feeding program is a simple, low input approach. We try to minimize the amount of equipment we own. The handling of our cattle is low stress. Our approach is to let the cattle do the work as much as possible (work with nature, not against it). Cattle that are well-rounded across the board (i.e., have overall balance) will produce in such an environment. We may be applying the “overall balance” comment well beyond what was initially intended, but it certainly fits.
What do you enjoy most about raising cattle?
As previously stated, docility was one of our primary reasons for choosing Shorthorns. We spend a lot of time with our cattle. Their easy going gentle nature has made them a pleasure to work with. As seen in several of the photos entered in the Heritage Shorthorn Society’s photo contest last year, Shorthorns enjoy being groomed. They don’t mind being milked, hugged, or wearing hats. Their tolerant nature, coupled with calving ease, takes a lot of the stress out of our calving season. In addition, their color patterns are beautiful. As we look out our windows at the herd we are able to recognize individuals. In general, we’ve been very thankful to have learned about and to own Shorthorn cattle.