Welcome to Lukefahr Cattle Ranch! My operation 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.
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. 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. Pastures quickly rebounded and the cattle bred during this same time. By April of 2014, a year’s supply of stockpiled forage was procured. Now nearing the first half of 2014, the feed cost per cow is $0.00. The pregnancy rate for 2014 was 96% and the same 96% figure applied to cows conceiving during their first heat cycle. The cows are in good condition and are dropping calves now. Below are some recent photos. The last one is a cow with twins.
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.
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 abdomen region), which explain why they are often observed grazing in open 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.
At maturity, cows are small to moderate in body size (weighing about 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. This year, 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, the heifers were weaned. The cost per heifer over the winter was only $3.26 (vaccination costs). In previous years when heifers were weaned in the fall, the cost (mostly feed) was well over $100 per heifer. Also, as of May 23 all cows that wintered their heifers have now calved and are in good condition.
With our emphasis on small, efficient and easy care cows, 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 levels of efficiency. Moreover, smaller cows are easier to manage, more can fit in a trailer, and they cause less wear and tear on facilities.
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.
My goal 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. It is my belief that this goal is important in the face of global climate change.
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