ENON VALLEY, Pa. – For Ed Nicol, breeding cattle is more than just throwing the bull in with the cows. It’s about continuous research, consistent monitoring and nonstop learning.
Nicol, a Limousin producer in Enon Valley, Pa., devotes a lot of time to improving the breeding and genetics program at his 160-acre operation, Maple Lane Farms. It’s an effort he’s been working at for nearly three decades and one he never tires of studying.
No bull. Nicol doesn’t use bulls in his breeding program. All of the breeding at Maple Lane Farms is done through artificial insemination.
“No one bull will work on every cow,” Nicol said. “I figured that out a long time ago and that’s why I stopped turning bulls out.”
About half of Nicol’s calves come from embryo transfers and the rest come from standard artificial insemination. The embryos come from three donor cows Nicol owns.
Most the embryos are put in recipient cows from Nicol’s herd, but some are put in cows belonging to a producer in eastern Pennsylvania. In return for the use of the other producer’s animals, Nicol buys back the calves when they are born.
While Nicol has been doing embryo transfers for the past 10-12 years, he is using the technique more frequently now.
Take caution. The beef producer said he pursues homozygous black and homozygous polled black genetics, but he does so cautiously.
“If you’re not really careful, you’re going to hurt the breed,” he said.
According to Nicol, muscle is one of the most important Limousin characteristics.
“You’ve got to keep the muscle in those cattle,” he said. “If we lose the muscle, we lose what they’re all about.”
When Nicol looks at his herd, he likes to see animals that excel in the show ring, work in the pasture and exhibit signs of productivity.
“I just like good cattle; I can’t imagine life without cattle,” he said.
Commercial. He breeds mostly for commercial buyers because about 90 percent of his bulls are sold into commercial herds. Nicol strives to produce muscle and soundness in his cattle.
In cows, he looks for animals that can wean a calf weighing a minimum of 550 pounds. Also, his cows must raise calves that continue healthy growth after weaning.
In addition to the seedstock, Nicol raises 10-12 calves each year for freezer beef. At its peak, the herd consists of about 100 head.
Nicol often sells bulls through private treaty and many of his calves are sold at Circle L Farm’s fall sale in Burbank, Ohio.
He raises his own feed and uses a nutritional consultant to monitor the rations. He grows 60 acres of corn, 20 acres of oats and 100 acres of hay every year.
Nicol and his wife, Rita, have always kept cattle at Maple Lane Farms, but since retiring from his job at a plastic mill two years ago, Nicol has been able to devote more time to his herd.
Dairy influence. As the son of a dairy farmer, Nicol thought he would follow his father’s footsteps. In 1972, he bought Maple Lane Farms and began milking a small herd of cows. But two years later, a fire destroyed his entire operation, including the animals.
With nothing but a lot of debt in his pocket, Nicol didn’t have the resources to rebuild his milking parlor. So, he decided to try his hand at raising Herefords.
“I just wanted to raise cows at that point,” he said.
After selling a steer to a local 4-H’er, Nicol got involved with a Lawrence County 4-H club and began looking for ways to upgrade his livestock.
“I just grew with the club,” he said.
Nicol sold freezer beef for a while before finally taking a good, long look at the exotic breeds of cattle. After studying his options, he settled on Limousin because of the muscling.
“I just felt that was one (breed) that could get us where we wanted to be,” he said.
Getting started. With the help of some astute 4-H’ers, Nicol bought his first Limousin bull in 1978. He purchased his first Limousin cows around 1980.
Today, Nicol is the adviser of the Lawrence County Baby Beef 4-H club and president of the Lawrence County Junior Livestock Association.
Nicol shows his cattle at the Ohio State Fair, New York State Fair, Keystone International and the Pennsylvania Farm Show. He earned the premier exhibitor and breeder awards at the 2006 farm show.
He always looks for advice and information from judges and other professionals in the beef industry.
“Other producers are the best source of information,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you go to a county fair, a state fair or national show – there’s always something to learn.”
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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