Lancaster Simmental uses data collection and the strengths of the breed to produce cattle that excel for their commercial and seedstock customers. Located in Meningie East, South Australia, Simmental was a part of the commercial cow-calf operation, and later became the focus of the seedstock business. A timely opportunity to purchase semen and embryos from Gateway Simmental catapulted them into the seedstock business, and they have since tweaked their genetics to fit the Australian beef industry. The Cartledge family became a part of the American Simmental Association in the early 2000s, after searching for a more robust data system. They have since leveraged this data to create a consistent, reliable cow herd that produces bulls their industry can rely on.
Settling on Simmental
Tim Cartledge, his wife Lise, their son Henry, his wife Prue, and their kids, Harry, Elizabeth, and Duncan, make up the Lancaster Simmental crew. Tim studied agriculture at Roseworthy Agricultural College, and in 1976 traveled to Minnesota on an agricultural exchange, where he met Lise, who grew up on her family’s rose-growing business in Finland.
The station, named Menalpyn, is located around 20 miles from the Southern Ocean. The property was purchased by Herbert Henry Cartledge in 1946, and his son, Ralph, and his wife, Julie, moved there in 1949 to start developing it for agricultural use. This required clearing much of the brush, burning the waste, pulling up stumps, and eventually planting forage.
Due to the vicinity to the ocean, the groundwater at Menalpyn is quite salty, which made it unsuitable for cattle when Cartledge’s father first added livestock. The family was able to run sheep until a freshwater pipeline was run through the area, allowing cattle to be brought back. Maintaining the property today requires supplementing the sandy soil with trace elements like phosphorus, zinc, copper, molybdenum, and cobalt, which helps ensure the Lucerne and Veldt grasses are able to grow.
The operation evolved over time from running a commercial cow herd to fattening steers on grass. Eventually, Cartledge transitioned back to cows, and into a more precise breeding system, using a three-way cross of Simmental, Angus, and Shorthorn. Due to the landscape of the beef industry in Australia however, he was unsure if he would be able to continue this program. “My preferred breed was always Simmental, and we got to a stage where in Australia we were finding it hard to find Simmental with any data,” Cartledge explained.
In the mid-’90s, another path presented itself that would completely change the business at Menalpyn. Cartledge recalls, “I was really close to dropping Simmental out, and then a consultant we worked with at the time, Dick Whale, had been doing a number of trips to the US, mainly looking at Angus cattle, but he dropped in to see Jim Butcher at Gateway. He came back and we were talking about trying to buy another Simmental bull.”
Whale encouraged them to look at genetics in the US, which led to the purchase of several hundred straws of GW Lucky Dice 187H, which were used in the commercial cow herd. Cartledge continues, “Then Dick (Whale) was working with some other people who flushed heifers of Jim Butcher’s, and one of the people involved was in drought and couldn’t get any recipients, so they asked if we would be interested in buying the embryos. We bought them and set up a Simmental stud (seedstock business) in 2004, and we’ve been breeding black Simmental and percentages ever since.”
Backing up the Data
The US Simmental genetics quickly fit into the Australian operation, with Cartledge making small adjustments each year to fit the country’s beef system. One large challenge, and a major reason Angus is the prominent breed there, is the small window for fattening cattle. Leaving cattle on feed for 150 days is considered long in Australia, whereas in the US, that time on feed can be over 200 days and still be normal. Cartledge explains, “We actually select for fat in our Simmental cattle and for easier finishing cattle. If we try and use some of the high yielding cattle, they just don’t have enough fat to finish in the time they’re in the feedlot.”
With the use of EPDs, Cartledge has been able to make Simmental work in this system and excel for his commercial customers. “We have always believed that crossbreeding is the most efficient way of producing beef, and we’ve done that a fair bit and I thought that eventually, the commercial industry in Australia would head back toward crossbreeding,” he said. “Having this great big Angus herd, I thought Simmental sounded like a pretty smart idea. Plus, I like Simmental. I like their muscle, and efficiency in growth. They just cross really well with a lot of different breeds, so the opportunity came up and we just decided to have a crack at it.”
As they settled into the seedstock business, Cartledge was still looking for more data, and a better way to utilize all the information they were collecting. In 2005, they traveled to the US, visiting the National Western Stock Show, and the ASA Headquarters. Dr. Jerry Lipsey set up a lunch with current EVP, Dr. Wade Shafer, and together they discussed how to make the data work better for Lancaster Simmental. Cartledge recalls, "Our problem in Australia was that the breed was small so there was very little data."
The Cartledge family was submitting data to the Australian system but realized that this wasn’t returning the kind of data that their customers could rely on. At the time, their data submission was making up a large portion of the overall system, which meant that their cattle easily sorted to the top. While this looked good on paper, Cartledge knew that to really utilize their data, their cattle needed to be a part of a much larger system.
“We just made the decision then to put all of our cattle on the ASA database. It was fantastic, it had multi-breed data, it had a carcass program to back up the information, at that point, it had 10 or 11 million cattle in it, and we only had a couple thousand back here, which was the difference. We decided to jump ship and go with the multi-breed database,” Cartledge recalls.
The development of International Genetic Solutions (IGS) was especially important for Lancaster Simmentals, in addition to genomic technology. Cartledge says, “Little did we know that they were going to set up IGS, or the way DNA would come in, and it’s just been fantastic for us because we have so much confidence in the figures. We know what they are backed by. We joined the CHR [Cow Herd Roundup] program so all our cows have been DNA tested, and we’re DNA testing our heifers. We DNA test all the bulls and parent-verify them back to dam and sire.”
Through the implementation of this change, their customers stayed with the business, but adopting a new system does require some time and education. “We really had to educate our clients because it’s different from what everyone else is doing. We are trying to get them to use $API, because we really live and die by $API, and think it’s a fantastic index. It’s one of the only indexes I know that really looks after the cow herd, feedlot, and processor, and we’ve seen examples in other breeds where they focus too much on one area to the detriment of the others,” Cartledge explains. “We select for them ourselves, and really preach to our clients the economically-relevant traits, which would include calving ease, stayability, marbling, growth, and the kind of traits that you just have to be pushing all of the time, because that is where your real profit is.”
Data is the lifeblood of the Cartledge operation; however, their cattle are required to meet a number of other requirements. When selecting which bulls and females will move into production, the first step is to make sure they will hold up physically. Cartledge explains, “First, we work with a structural assessor. If we have 220 bull calves, we will select the best 120 of them, and that will be done entirely on structure. That is done around weaning.”
He continues, “We’ll go through them again four or five months later, and anything that has developed a problem or hasn’t grown like we would like is removed. Then they are DNA tested, and we will start looking at figures.”
In Australia, there is also a good market for true purebred Simmental cattle, so after the bulls and females are sorted for structure, Cartledge will ensure that a portion fits within this category. At their annual sale, held in February, around one-third of the bulls will be purebred, around a third will be three-quarter Simmental and one-quarter Angus, and the remaining third will be half-bloods.
This balance of phenotype and numbers has made Lancaster Simmental a trusted source for genetics for both seedstock and commercial producers in Australia. Dedicating their time and efforts to collecting this data simply makes sense to Cartledge. “It gives us confidence that when our bulls go to our clients, they are going to perform and are going to improve and give them a valuable calf crop. It’s knowing that our cattle are going to produce how we would like them to,” he says.
Focused on the Future
“It’s a great industry to be in, and I think we’re very lucky at this stage with the new technologies that are available, and what science is allowing us to understand about the industry,” Cartledge says, “I think it’s pretty exciting.”
Embracing and implementing new technologies is at the core of the operation, and something that Cartledge looks forward to being a part of. “If you go back ten to fifteen years, there was nowhere near the amount of excitement about new technologies, new techniques, and understanding more about the genetics and things you can’t see. For many years people have been good at evaluating what is good about an animal from the outside, but now we have insight into what is good on the inside.”
He continues, “IGS is absolutely groundbreaking in their attitude of being all-inclusive, being open, and being focused on their own program, rather than the competition. They’re actually saying that if something is wrong we will fix it. I think that’s a magic attitude to have.”
Cartledge also sees a lot of promise and opportunity for young people in the industry. His son, Henry, is raising his family on the station, and his kids are starting to become involved with cattle. They are currently getting ready for some summer shows, and Cartledge is excited to see this interest fostered in his grandchildren. “For young people, it’s a very interesting and exciting industry to get into.”
In addition to the family involvement, Cartledge also values the relationships he and his family have developed over the years. “It’s the people and clients we’ve met and worked with. That’s been a great motivation as well. The future in cattle breeding is wide open, with new technologies giving us more opportunities all the time. Creating a sustainable industry, breeding efficient cattle that make the most of their environment and give the customer a great eating experience, that’s our real goal.”