Summitcrest Farms: Genetics is future of cattle business and the future is now

SUMMITVILLE, Ohio — Summitcrest Farms are leading the way in a new frontier of the cattle business: genetic testing.

History

The current Summitcrest Farms began as 160 acres purchased by the late Fred Johnson, although his father farmed before him. Johnson later co-founded Certified Angus Beef, and served as the first treasurer and second chairman of the national Beef Promotion and Research Board. His name is recognized internationally for his dedication to the cattle industry.

Johnson, who purchased his first Angus cattle in 1949, went on to purchase two other ranches, one in Freemont, Iowa, and a second in Broken Bow, Neb., and expand the Angus herd in the 1970s.

It is now known as one of the most successful Angus stud farms in the United States. Today, the farm is entering the fourth generation and is looking forward to celebrating 100 years of family ownership.

At the Ohio farm, they are breeding 650 cattle this year on the farm, which is comprised of 3,200 acres. Summitcrest Farms plans to sell 75 in the herd this fall.


Genetic testing

The biggest development at Summitcrest Farms is the involvement with Pfizer Genetic Testing in the HD-50 (High Density 50K profile) program.

The farm is testing some of its bulls with the new technology. Three of the Summitcrest Farms bulls tested have placed in the top three of the 5,000 cows tested using the HD-50 program.

The technology is designed to refine breeding practices and sell better end products.

The farm has been using genetic testing for the past 8-10 years, but in small numbers.

Summitcrest started out testing for the tenderness and marbling trait, and increased to 36 markers in 2009.

In 2010, the Pfizer technology is allowing producers to test for as many as 50,000 genes in the cattle DNA.

Sam Johnson, farm manager and Fred’s son, said it is a brave new world in the cattle business and the fun is being at the front end of this new endeavor.

The use of genetic testing allows more refined breeding of the animals. The genetic profile shows many more things than what had originally been available to buyers. It gives the buyers an idea of what they are buying because they don’t have to wait years to have the carcass tested or to see the animal’s offspring.

Management techniques

It also allows producers to work around and manage newly discovered genetic defects in a blood line. For example, one defect is dwarfism, which had been noted in Angus and Hereford breed. Before, producers would have to breed around entire lines of cattle. Now, the line can be eliminated without finding out a cattle carried the gene by its offspring displaying the defect.

Another trait discovered through the use of genetic testing was a neurological gene that was a fatal defect in cattle. It was discovered in September 2008 and by December of 2008, a test had been designed by Pfizer to detect the gene.

Johnson said the genetic testing allows them to find the traits earlier and to eliminate them from bloodlines quicker.

Sexed semen

Another new technology Summitcrest Farms is using is sexed semen. The farm will find out next spring how well the procedure works in beef cattle, and if it will produce more bulls.

Johnson said it is no secret bulls are going to do more to improve genetics in a herd than one single cow. A bull will produce 100 offspring where a cow may produce 10 over a lifetime.

The farm feeds out its own cattle in feedlots across the farm and collects carcass data from all of them. The farm is proud that 30 percent are prime beef and two-thirds are upper choice beef certified, which means a greater profitability for other producers using the seedstock from the Summitcrest Angus line.

New breed

. Another new idea going on at Summitcrest Farms is crossbreeding Brahman cattle with Angus.

Johnson said the breed is best suited for the southern United States including Florida and Texas. The breed tolerates heat well and has some tolerability to certain insects, and animals are homozygous for the tenderness trait in meat. The goal is that quality cattle do not have to compromised for survivability.

Cattle management

Summitcrest cattle are segregated in pastures according to age. The first-calf heifers are kept separate until they wean their first calves. The farm uses four separate breeding facilities and operates three separate calving facilities.

He added the farm finds more success in better management through the different stages of maturity. It allows the farm to feed the animals according to their age, which may have different requirements.

Other crops

The farm raises hay, corn, oats, alfalfa and soybeans. They use a seven year pasture and hay rotation in their operation. They rotate corn, oats, hay and then seed it back to grass.

About the Author

Kristy Foster Seachrist lives in Columbiana County raising sheep and horses. She earned her degree from Youngstown State University and has worked in both print and broadcast journalism. You can follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/fosterk96. More Stories by Kristy Foster Seachrist

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