By Emme Troendle |
Well-known for Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills, South Dakota is also commonly referred to by locals as “the blizzard state.” Ranchers face into the frost-biting wind and work through deadly snowstorms to provide high-quality protein to consumers.
For Tim and Sandy Naasz, TSN Simmentals, home is 1,800 acres outside of the little town of Platte where they run their 300-head seedstock Simmental and SimAngus cows, providing high-quality genetics for America’s cattle ranchers.
Located 15 miles east of the Missouri River, the operation is characterized by the flat terrain of the plains. It is here, standing the tests of Mother Nature, where SimAngus bulls are developed for their commercial buyers. By selecting for the top genetics of both Simmental and Angus, the Naasz family develops adaptable, well-structured cattle that perform long-term for their buyers.
“Buyers really like the Simmental-Angus cross, whether it’s red or black Angus. SimAngus calves perform really well in the feedlot, grade well, and grill well. The two breeds compliment each other,” shares Tim Naasz.
Sandy continues, “We can select traits out of the other breeds that we want to bring into our herd. The two breeds add genetic diversity that we pass onto our customers.”
Simmental From the Beginning
In 1969, the first Simmental calf was born where TSN ranch operates today. Sandy’s father, Joe Mika, had a close friend, a semen distributor for Curtiss, who talked him into using Simmental. Sandy shares, “The operation was Mika’s Simmental back then. My dad really liked the breed and went all-in with Simmental after that. He tried Limousin and a few other breeds before choosing Simmental.”
Using the American Simmental Association’s breed-up program, Joe gradually developed a purebred herd. When Tim and Sandy took
over the family operation, they worked with Leachman Cattle Company as cooperators and were introduced to SimAngus. Even after the partnership concluded, TSN Simmentals continued to develop SimAngus bulls. Sandy says, “Leachman’s had us using Angus on our purebreds to get half-bloods. We’ve really liked the hybrid vigor and being able to target traits that we want from each breed.” Being an early Simmental.
Being an early Simmental breeder, her father was one of the first members of the South Dakota Simmental Association — a group
that Sandy and Tim stay involved with today. Their two daughters, Rebecca, 29, and Sawyer, 20, have been involved in the South Dakota Junior Simmental Association and the American Junior Simmental Association (AJSA). Sandy smiles, “SDSA has always had great contests at the state level. Sawyer grew up with those and just loves them. Her first Regional Classic was in 2012, and we’ve tried to hit the close ones every chance we get. She’s very competitive and just really interested in learning more about breeding and feeding.”
When making breeding decisions, EPDs are heavily used. Tim says, “I believe EPDs are a really important tool. We really study them when we’re selecting which bulls to breed.”
Heifers calve in the middle of February, followed by cows in the middle of March. Data collection is a large focus for TSN Simmentals. At calving time, calves are tagged, weighed, and vaccinated. Their goal is to start collecting udder scores on all cows. As a part of ASA’s Cow Herd DNA Roundup project (CHR), all cows and replacement females were genomically DNA tested and parent verified. The family found, in addition to the data they were collecting, the genomics provided more EPD information but parent verification added more dependability to their herd and reputation.
Tim shares about his experience working on this project, “Our customers know we have high reliability in the genetics we are selling. We had four cows come back to a different sire we were using that year. We found out our favorite cow was half-Simmental, half-Angus, which just speaks to what a SimAngus cow can do for people.”
Last year, the breeding season was split between the heifers and cows to fit traveling to Fargo, for Sawyer to participate in the North Central Regional.
In between the calving heifers and cows, TSN Simmentals host an annual bull sale offering 45-60 Simmental and SimAngus yearling bulls. Around the first of the year, they sell a few bred heifers private treaty.
Depending on the weather and the grass, the cows get turned out between mid-May and June first. When the calves are turned out on pasture, they receive a round of shots. Tim explains, “Pneumonia is a problem here in the summer, and we have found that by being proactive, we have fewer complications.”
For the last ten years, TSN has been using CIDRs and AI to increase genetic progress. Heifers are the first group bred in May through two heat cycles before being put out with high-quality clean-up bulls. With the larger herd size, second-calf heifers and cows are bred in three groups of 100, ten days apart.
Going into summer, rotational grazing is used to better manage pasture health and to grow more native grasses. Each year, in addition to raising cattle, 500 acres of crop ground and then 300 acres of hay ground are farmed.
Naasz is a part of the South Dakota Grassland Coalition, “In the ’30s through the ’70s there was a lot of brome planted. It’s great in the spring, but it’s not like a native species grass. If you get a good mix of native species of grass and legumes both in the pasture, the pasture health is so much better. In combination with rotational grazing native species will come back but it’s a slow process.”
Selecting for Profit
“We’ve been decreasing the size of our cows a little bit. We don’t want big cattle, but we want growth too,” Tim Naasz explains what they do to develop quality bulls for their buyers while still maintaining the desired female mature size. “There’s some pushback in the industry because there are people that don’t believe that you can get calving ease and growth at the same time. But I believe that you can.”
While making keep and cull decisions, Naasz goes through multiple culls before making final decisions on sale, replacement, and feeder animals. Bulls remain intact until weaning when the first-round of culls are made. Tim explains, “We look at a couple of things when selecting bulls for the sale including structure, gains, but also the numbers.”
When making breeding and selecting decisions, indexes are used in conjunction with EPDs and phenotype. “One of the first numbers we look at is the $API. Some breeders and commercial cattlemen select for birth weight, growth, maternal traits, and carcass — we like $API because it ties everything in.”
The bottom heifers and steers are sold to the feed yard, and in January, another weight is taken on the bulls. The bottom five to ten percent of this group are culled.
When developing bulls for sale, Naasz points out that to meet the needs of his commercial customers he doesn’t push and feed his bulls as hard as others, “The bulls are more sound. If you get too much weight on a bull, it will affect their joints, feet, and legs. It’s just all-around better for a bull not to be pushed so hard.”
New buyers who are used to fat bulls might not understand the distinction in the numbers, Tim explains, “When we figure the gains for the bulls, we go from weaning to their latest weight. We see a three to four pounds-a-day gain. A few go above four pounds. When someone looks at the other sales and the bulls are all averaging four or better. Maybe not, but they’re not set as hard either. Their condition lasts longer, and they perform longer.
Since TSN Simmentals started offering SimAngus bulls and bred heifers alongside their purebred Simmental, they have experienced the shift in perspective of what the breed can provide. Naasz explains, “When we first started cross-breeding, we had people coming in and looking at our cattle that wouldn’t even look at a Simmental, but because they were half Angus, they’d come in and look at them and buy. Now the same people, the same ones who have Angus-based cows, want a purebred Simmental bull to maximum heterosis in their herd. It’s really swung the other way in the last 20 years.”
Sandy concludes, “SimAngus has given us and our customers more genetic diversity. Overall, we have more stayablity in our herd and our buyers do too.”