Hicks Beef has long been committed to improving their program through science and data. Shortly after the formation of IGS, the program became a part of ASA’s THE Commercial Option, and today contributes important data and genomic records. Simmental genetics has been an important contribution to the program’s seedstock program.
Simmental cattle have long been credited with an impressive ability to adapt — hot, cold, dry, wet, or any combination thereof, the breed can thrive. Close to 9,500 miles away in Australia, Hicks Beef is utilizing Simmental genetics to the fullest extent. The family-owned operation takes advantage of ASA’s THE Commercial Option, EPDs produced through the IGS Multi-breed Genetic Evaluation, genomic testing, and an overall commitment to the benefit the beef industry can see from data collection and science. Located near Holbrook, on the border between New South Wales and Victoria, the Hicks family runs a 1,250-head Australian Beef Composite (Simmental, Angus, Gelbvieh-cross) herd and 200 purebred Red Angus females, and supplies around 200 bulls per year to Australian commercial producers.
Committed to Cattle
Andrew Hicks, the founder of Hicks Beef, has been passionate about genetics since he was a young boy. “My father had a small polled Hereford stud, and I just loved pedigrees from an early age. I was given a dairy cow as a kid and I kept the pedigree of every dairy calf from that cow until I was 15. I wanted to get into genetics and pedigrees,” he recalls.
This interest combined with a love for agriculture made his decision to be in the beef industry easy. “My love for the farm started with the small farm when we lived on the edge of Melbourne. Since I could walk I wanted to farm, and be a farmer.”
Andrew’s first introduction to the Simmental breed was in the 1970s. Australia’s experience with the breed mirrored that of the US, and despite the added growth of Simmental, many moved on. “I was impressed with the first cross cattle, and then the more it got to purebred, they were bigger leaner cattle that didn’t survive in our environment,” he says.
However, Andrew kept an open mind and upon seeing much improvement in the breed, decided to give it another try. “Then we got onto the composite thing, saw the improvement in Simmental cattle in the US, and it impressed us enough to go back and give them a go.” Simmental.
Andrew and his wife, Anne, now run Hicks beef alongside their son and daughter-in-law, Tom and Kate. Tom's involvement with the cattle operation has been paralleled by their utilization of ASA’s ability to gather and evaluate data. Around 10 years ago when Tom returned to the farm, they began to fully seek out and utilize the tools available to them. Hicks Beef had always been committed to data, but around this time began gaining access to more powerful avenues for narrowing down their ability to measure progress.
Devoted to Data
The guiding principle of Hicks Beef can be summarized by one word — data. Like any quality seedstock producer, the program takes into account other factors including phenotype. Every year, an independent professional visits the ranch to assess this. Andrew explains, “We cull regularly for feet and temperament. We have someone independent come to the ranch to assess bulls and heifers for their foot score and confirmation.”
However, the foundation of their program comes down to numbers. Six years ago, Hicks Beef enrolled in ASA’s THE Commercial Option and began sending the data they were already collecting to the Association. “It’s been the biggest change to our program, using ASA’s database. We’re linked into the genomics and just such a huge amount of data. It seems to be doing such a good job over multiple breeds. Nothing like that is available over here,” Tom explains.
Andrew explains that before utilizing these tools they were forced to use more subjective measures of progress. “We couldn’t measure what we were achieving. It’s been revolutionary for us to have the likes of the figures behind us to take that next step.” Hicks Beef is highly committed to using ASA’s indexes, especially $API. As a producer of bulls for commercial operations, they believe that $API is the most well-rounded tool available across the industry. “What we love about the $API is its factors in all of the economically-relevant traits,” Tom says.
In addition to a large amount of data submitted to ASA, and their subsequent use of it in their selection process, Hicks Beef also believes in genomic testing. So far, their program has added around 2,500 genotypes to the evaluation and was a participant in the Cow Herd DNA Roundup project. “It’s for the accuracy of data and knowing our cattle. We can take out as much risk for our clients possible. We think it’s essential,” Andrew explains.
Generating Quality Genetics
A passion for the beef industry, belief in data, and progressive philosophy have combined to make the Hicks Beef program a trusted supplier of commercial bulls in Australia. Annually, they sell around 200 bulls. In Australia, a higher percentage of cattle are finished on grass compared to the US, which necessitates efficiency in Hicks’ cow herd. Females and bulls in development are never supplemented with creep feed. All calving takes place on pasture, and overall, the cattle have to take care of themselves. “That’s how our customers run them, so we want to run them in the same environment so they are tested in the same way,” Tom explains.
High labor costs in Australia are another factor Tom mentions, adding to the need for their cattle to be efficient. “We’re very focused on our cost of production. We really try to keep our costs as low as we possibly can.”
Efficiency is also a part of daily operations at Hicks Beef. Every animal has an EID tag, and chute side, these tags are scanned and automatically matched with the weight taken and additional data recorded. Tom explains that they simply have to transfer this data to the computer which eliminates human error. During preg-checking, females are scanned and by the estimated birth date, the program connects the correct sire by this date. All calves are also parentage tested, which is part of the genomic testing package Hicks Beef utilizes.
Hicks Beef measures their progress by the success of their customers. Andrew and Tom point to a feedlot owner who they have worked with for many years as an example of how they see progress outside their own herd. This customer has seen steady improvement, and his experience is especially important as he follows cattle through their lifetime. Andrew explains, “One of our clients is one of the few guys in Australia who breeds his cattle, feeds his cattle, markets his cattle, and sells them directly to the butcher shop, so he really knows what’s happening, and he’s one of our good clients. I think it shows that the cattle are performing in the feedlot and cutting up well.”
They have also been extremely successful in the Australian Beef Spectacular Feedback Trial. “We are in a steer feedback trial where people from all over southern Australia put their steers all together, they are fed the same at the feedlot, and measured for gain, assessed for their carcass, and we’ve been winners of that several times,” Andrew explains. This past year, Hicks Beef had the third and eighth place pens of composite steers.
The Simmental breed has been a major asset to the Hicks Beef program. Their decision to add Simmental to their program was based on the Meat and Animal Research Center (MARC) data they followed. They decided that Simmental would add value to all aspects of their program after observing the changes in the breed from their first introduction in the ’70s. Heterosis is at the center of the program, “We’re committed to a threeway cross, Angus, Gelbvieh, Simmental, to maintain a high level of heterosis,” Tom explains.
The majority of the Simmental sires used in their program are sourced in the US. Tom explains that also within their own herd and the replacements kept back, most of their Simmental genetics originated in the states. Proving the adaptability and versatility of the breed, Tom mentions several programs they buy semen from and also use management principles from, including Clear Springs, Hook, Gateway, Irvine, and Cow Camp, all of which are located in different areas of the US.