MERCER, Pa. – Like most seedstock producers, Greg McKean spends a lot of time studying the genetics of his herd. He looks for light birth weights, above-average rib eye and marbling scores, and correct feet and legs in his bulls. Years of experience have taught him what traits work and which ones to avoid.
But there’s something besides genetics that makes his Angus operation a success. McKean believes in his product – so much that he’s willing to put his money where his mouth is.
Proving it. For the past three years, McKean Brothers Farm has hosted a bull and female sale in April. About 50 bulls and 30-35 females cross through the sale ring, typically headed for commercial farms. When those farms are ready to sell feeder calves, McKean is waiting to be the first buyer.
“It gives them (commercial cattlemen) a marketing option,” McKean said. “I’d rather buy calves out of my bulls because I know a little more about where they came from.”
And it lets other producers know that McKean is confident in what he sells.
“If we don’t believe in our genetics, why should anyone else?” he asked.
On alternating years, the farm also hosts a fall production sale, putting about 60 cow-calf pairs on the auction block.
How it works. McKean, the farm’s managing partner, keeps the breeding stock at his Mercer, Pa., farm, while the feeder calves are sent to a feed yard in Scott City, Kan., to be finished.
Last year, steers from McKean Brothers’ cow herd had the best dry matter conversion of any group at the feed yard. They were fed 160 days and gained 4.53 pounds per head per day with a $3.19 cost of gain.
In addition to the feeder calves and breeding animals, McKean and his wife, Peggy, own a buying station – a facility similar to a stockyard – where they assemble loads of cattle for a packing company.
McKean Brothers Farm has earned recent recognition from two state organizations, being named the Pennsylvania Angus Association Seedstock Producer of the Year and the Pennsylvania Cattlemen’s Association Seedstock Producer of the Year.
Breeding. Breeding at the farm begins April 1 every year with artificial insemination. McKean tries to get through about two-thirds of the herd before early May when the animals go to grass. After that, the breeding is left to the farm’s bulls.
The Angus producer usually keeps five to seven bulls on the farm. Much of the artificial insemination is done with semen from those bulls to get as much productivity as possible from each animal.
McKean has also done work with embryo transfers, but said he reserves that breeding technique for only the best cows.
Calving season at the farm lasts from mid-January until the end of March, with 220-240 calves born each year.
“Our goal is to breed functional, moderate-framed, easy-fleshing, easy-calving cattle for the commercial man,” McKean said.
Besides raising cattle, the McKeans also raise their own feed and forages, which includes corn, spelts and hay.
Females are fed a diet of corn, silage and hay, while bulls get a high-roughage diet.
Always Angus. Angus have been in the McKean family for five generations. McKean makes up the fourth generation while his three children are generation No. 5.
McKean grew up on the farm he now runs. He operates the business in partnership with his parents, Robert and Peggy McKean.
Robert named the farm for his four sons and, although McKean is now the only one who works there, the name has stuck.
As the oldest child in the family, McKean said farm chores often fell to him while his younger brothers worked at the family’s grocery store. From the beginning, he liked being around the animals and showed cattle in 4-H. McKean went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in animal production from Penn State before returning to the farm.
“I guess you could say the cow herd is a just a 4-H project gone wild,” he said.
Now, McKean runs the 1,200-acre farm with the help of his family, parents and a hired employee.
Stay focused. As a seedstock producer, McKean faces many choices when it comes to breeding and genetics. With so many options, it’s easy to get lost in the details.
But he tries to stay focused on the big picture. It’s not about perfecting one aspect of the breed or even two. It’s about producing a well-rounded animal with many desirable characteristics.
“We’re not chasing a single trait,” McKean said, “We want an animal that can work and do it all.”
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at email@example.com.)
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