Lukefahr Cattle Ranch is located in south Texas, a region that has prolonged extreme to exceptional droughts, brutally hot and humid summers, and relentless external parasites. “STAR” cattle fit into this adverse environment. STAR stands for S – Senepol, T – Tuli, and AR - Angus Red. Angus is the most popular breed in the U.S. beef cattle industry, but red rather than black color is important with regards to heat tolerance. STAR could also stand for South Texas Angus Red in terms of the infusion of many genes to a Red Angus base from the Senepol and Tuli breeds for heat tolerance and drought adaption to this harsh region. Cattle are adaptable to this drought-proned environment by maintaining body condition on grass, and raising a good calf year after year, and doing so efficiently because of their moderate body size – to enhance profit per ace.
In recent years of exceptional drought, with appropriate genetics and sound pasture management practices, it was not necessary to feed hay or sell any good cows. Hay has not been fed for 13 years now. The feed cost per cow in 2011 was just under $45, about $16 in 2012, and was $19 in 2013. Nonetheless, in 2013, stocking rates were reduced and additional land was temporarily leased so that good pasture health could be maintained by not allowing overgrazing to occur. Finally, after years of drought, some 20 inches of rain was received between mid-July and September of 2013. Pastures quickly rebounded and the cattle bred during this same time. By April of 2014, a year’s supply of stockpiled forage was procured. By November 2014, the feed cost per cow is only $3.23 and total costs per cow is $303.05. The pregnancy rate for 2014 was 96% and the same 96% figure applied to cows conceiving during their first heat cycle. Cows were rebred during July and August of 2014. Below are photos of cows with their newborn calves that were born last spring, mostly in May. These cows did not receive any energy or protein supplements during pregnancy.
More about genetics – The N’Dama (the foundation breed of Senepol cattle) and the Tuli are breeds that survived for over 5,000 years in Africa, despite drought, tropical climatic conditions, and real challenges associated with fly- and tick-borne diseases, which resulted in developing major genetic resistance. In addition, these African breeds are not fed dietary supplements such as grain as is done in feedlots. Too, only the most gentle or docile cattle were selected. The Senepol, Tuli, and Red Angus breeds are compatible in body type and conformation, which, along with potentially substantial hybrid vigor, translates into remarkably productive and efficient cows and calves that are also highly uniform. Presently, cows average approximately 33% influence across Senepol, Tuli, and Red Angus breeds. If Senepol is about 50% N’Dama, then between this and the Tuli breed this translates into the figure of about 50% African genetic influence for STAR cattle, which accounts for their high level of fertility and(or) adaptability with minimal inputs.
Below is a photo of a STAR cow that weighs about 1,050 pounds with her Red Angus-sired heifer calf. The cow is homozygous dominant for the slick hair gene, which means that all her calves will be slick. Besides the advantage of heat tolerance, the slick coat makes it difficult for ticks to climb onto the animal. Instead, an animal with hairy ears with its head down grazing is an invitation for ticks to grab a hair and climb on board! Also notice the many vertical skin folds – particularly in the neck area. This feature helps to stretch the hide to dissipate body heat. These and many other evolutionary-based features account for her adaptability and the ability to rebreed readily every year without pampering.
This custom-made, commercial three-breed composite yields adaptable, easy-care cattle. These cattle are entirely of the Bos taurus type with no Brahman-influence (Bos indicus). Bull and heifer calves reach puberty early, even at 5 to 6 months, in part due to no Bos indicus influence. These uniquely bred cattle possess slick hair coats and numerous vertical skin folds, while depositing little fat along the tops of their backs (but more in the abdominal region), among other vital characters that collectively explain why they are often observed grazing in pastures during the heat of the afternoon in summer. Body coat colors range from white to red. Cattle with black body coats fare poorly in south Texas and fertility is poor in the summer, which is the ideal time to breed.A recent trend at Lukefahr Ranch is the use of light-colored STAR bulls to produce more light-colored (yellow and white) replacement heifers. Soon most cows should be yellow or which to confer additional heat tolerance because lighter colors reflect more ultraviolet radiation from the sun. In addition, presently most STAR cows are heterozygous for the dominant slick coat gene. In the near future, most will become homozygous dominant and will breed true for this critical trait.
Below is a photo of a heifer that calved at 17 months of age without assistance. Although the mating was not planned, because of her genetics for adaptation (a 5/8 blend of Senepol and Tuli with 3/8 Red Angus) the heifer developed well even while pregnant. She also bred back one month later.
At maturity, cows are small to moderate in body size (weighing mostly between 900 to1,000 pounds), produce just enough milk, and do not carry excessive flesh or bone. Cows thrive on mature, coarse forage during summer and winter seasons with limited or no energy or protein supplementation. At weaning, it is not uncommon for a cow to wean 60 even 70% of her own body weight in terms of the weight of the calf. The photo below is of an approximate 900 pound cow with her 9 month-old, Red Angus-sired calf. In 2013, heifers were wintered on their dams to minimize stress and avoid unnecessary costs of feed supplements. This calf’s 205 day-adjusted weaning weight was 505 pounds. On 6 March 2014, the heifers were weaned. The cost per heifer over the winter was only $3.26 in vaccination costs. In previous years when heifers were weaned in the fall, the cost (mostly feed) was well over $100 per heifer. In addition, all cows that wintered their heifers successfully calved and were in good body condition.
With our emphasis on small, efficient and easy care cows that are adapted to the region, we figure that we can run three of our 1,000 pound cows instead of the norm of two 1,500 cows on the same pasture area. Such large cows wean a lower percentage of their body weight in the weight of their calves, so we bank on both cow and pasture efficiency. Smaller cows are also easier to manage, cause less wear and tear on facilities, and more can fit in a trailer.
An added value is that calves are suitable for all natural, grass-finishing operations. For several years now, we have sold many stocker calves to grass-finishing businesses. STAR stockers fatten easily on grass. There is also adequate marbling and the tenderness of the meat has been impressive. A study conducted at the Texas A&M University beef cattle station at Ulvalde reported that Senepol X Angus and Tuli X Angus crossbred steers had numerically higher carcass dressing percent, marbling, and ribeye area than purebred Angus steers.
The goal of Lukefahr Ranch is to breed adaptable cattle that can be sustained on forage stockpiled between severe droughts with no energy or protein feed supplementation and readily breed during the peak summer period and make a good profit on a per acre basis. It is my belief that this goal is important in the face of global climate change.
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