“The cows have to work for you, you don’t work for the cows,” says Heath Klein, co-owner and ranch manager of Klein Ranch, Atwood, Kansas. “We easily see an extra year or year-and-a-half of longevity in our Simmental cross cows, good feet structure, and overall performance.”
Klein Ranch, located 10 miles northwest of Atwood in Rawlins County (population 2,000), has been in the cattle and farming business since the 1930s. Today, the diversified operation runs 100 registered and 300 commercial Simmental, SimAngus™, and Angus cows in addition to 2,500 acres of farm ground.
“We run a tight operation — we raise and breed cattle that can perform in a diverse environment,” Klein shares. “The cattle graze primarily on the rough and hilly grasslands of Beaver Creek. Our cattle and the cattle we provide for our customers have to be sound to travel and be able to handle the extremes of Northwest Kansas.”
Selecting for SimAngus The early days of Klein Ranch focused on breeding commercial Angus and Hereford, but slowly transitioned into SimAngus. Klein recalls his grandfather telling stories about introducing Simmental into the operation in the ’70s and never looking back. “We started running Simmental and have ever since.
We had yellow, red, and black Simmental. There was a short time where we had started having a higher percentage Angus, but switched back over to breeding Simmental when we noticed the changes in longevity of the cow.” “We went back and forth on Angus and Simmental bulls to develop a solid 3/8 to 5/8 SimAngus animal.” He explains that the original Angus-Hereford cross females ran with a Simmental bull, and then the heifers from that breeding would be run with an Angus bull. “The females in a 5/8 to 3/8 Simmental range provide our ideal fertility, longevity, and overall structure,” Klein explains. “We offer a good mix of percentage SimAngus and purebred Simmental cows to commercial producers who use Angus bulls because they can make an F1 cross that works for them.”
In addition to selling commercial Simmental and SimAngus females, the operation started developing registered bulls in 2010 when Klein returned to the operation to work with his grandfather and father after graduating from Fort Hays State University
“We started developing a registered SimAngus herd, but we really run all of our registered cows and commercial cows the same.” Klein delves into how they distinguish between the seedstock and commercial herds. “We don’t look at our operation as ‘registered and commercial,’ we look at it as we pay ASA to register cows and receive EPDs. If we have a registered cow that I paid a good price for, and she isn’t performing, she is culled just like if she was commercial and didn’t have papers.”
Run Like Clockwork
The Klein family handles the operation with no outside assistance. To ensure that everything is done in an efficient manner, the operation works on a precise and thorough schedule.
Starting in April, replacement females are put on a 14-day CIDR program followed by AI-bred cows. Klein feels that by using CIDR's he sets the herd up for better conception rates and to produce a calf on the best timetable. “With SimAngus, we benefit from mother-ability, stayability, and longevity. We run a 75-day breeding cycle with a 95% conception rate on a five-year average. It really helps when you have a high conception rate.”
After heifers are AI bred, about 30 recipient cows are implanted. Following embryo transfer work, a third of cows are bred AI and the rest are pasture exposed. The ranch’s breeding window means that heifers are calving the first week of February. By mid-month recipient cows calve, leading into the cows that were AI’d and pasture bred at the end of the month.
Klein explains that, while they have a longer breeding season, they break up the calving because of smaller facilities. “We have a small barn, and there is no way we could calve everything out at one time, especially when the heifers and the recip cows are calving close together.” All bull calves are weaned and begin development for their annual March sale the week after Labor Day. This year marked the first year that Klein Ranch hosted their own sale. They sold 25 registered Simmental and SimAngus bulls and offered 55 females consigned by some of their long-time buyers. He says, “Our consigners run similar operations that we do, and they have been long-time family friends.”
When selecting bulls for the sale, Klein focuses first on indexes and overall soundness. He says, “We stay above top 25% in $API and $TI and balanced in all EPDs. EPDs are 60% of our selection process and the rest is structure and performance.”
The rest of the calves are weaned the end of October, and steers are separated in groups, backgrounded to 850 pounds, and sold in the spring. Buyers are provided a copy of the IGS Feeder Profit Calculator™ Certificate, veterinary inspection certificate, and preconditioning affidavit.
From 1960 to 2003, Klein’s grandfather fed out the cattle and sold directly to packers, but when bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) became a problem, the operation transitioned to backgrounding and selling the cattle at a local sale yard, Tristate Livestock Auction, McCook, Nebraska.
Every other year in the fall, Klein Ranch consigns a few heifers to the Burlap and Barbed Wire Female Sale with Hofmann Simmental Farm on Columbus Day. Klein credits the Hofmann family for helping them as they expanded to a registered operation. “Rodney and Kim Hofmann have been mentors to us. We would be nowhere near where we are today without their guidance and insight.”
“Our ideal cow will have great feet structure, perform, and produce a calf every year. Our Simmental and SimAngus cows provide hybrid vigor to our commercial customers, and we are finding that we easily see an extra year to year-and-a-half in longevity in the herd,” Klein says as he explains his selection criteria for their operation. “The way we look at it is that we only have so much grass; we only have so many spots. We need cows that will work for us.”
As with the bulls, replacement females are chosen based on being in the top 25% of indexes, balanced EPDs, and overall appearance and structure. After weaning, any heifers that are below average in either their EPD profile, frame score, or leg and foot structure are culled and fed out with the steers. Prior to breeding, all heifers are bangs vaccinated, pelvic measured, and final heifer selections are made.
Klein expands upon his selection criteria. “If I have a heifer that is top 5% for $API and she didn’t pelvic measure, she is gone. It just doesn’t matter if they were raised in my herd or a $6,000 purchased heifer. If they aren’t working, they are gone.”
Even after the replacement females have been selected, cows are still under the microscope. He explains that the cow must produce a quality, healthy calf, raised on her own, or the cow is gone. “Our cows are not pampered. They don’t get extra chances. They have to earn it.”
For Klein, focusing on selecting the right cow is how they focus on performance and profit. “If you select cows that continually produce a calf, structure are culled and fed out with the steers. Prior to breeding, all heifers are bangs vaccinated, pelvic measured, and final heifer selections are made. Klein expands upon his selection criteria. “If I have a heifer that is top 5% for $API and she didn’t pelvic measure, syou are putting the right genetics in place for better herd performance and your operation to succeed and make a profit.”
Family and Community Centered
Since childhood, Klein and his late brother, Cody, have been active in their community. They grew up participating in 4-H, FFA, and sports — all while being active in the daily farm chores. While there is a lot to do for the operation, the entire Klein family helps out. Klein’s wife, Ami, parents Kendall and Delores, and parents Doug and Jan make up the team that manages the entire ranch and farm.
Heath, Ami, and their two young sons, Miles, 6, and Hudson, 3, are just as active in their 4-H, faith, and community as Heath was as a youth. During the lull of ranch and farm duties, the family helps coordinate the local fair. Klein was an officer for the fair board from 2009 to 2017, and president for four of those years. He concludes, “We took a little break from the fair when we had our two little boys. My oldest will start 4-H this October. I’m sure we will start up again. We are passionate about our cattle and our way of life. We enjoy it.”