Howard and Sandra Hart transformed their operation from commercial cattle to registered Gelbvieh
Howard Hart’s heart is in cattle production. Thankfully, he said with a laugh, his pension and his log home business help him keep his registered Gelbvieh herd float.
Raising cattle is nothing knew to Howard or his wife Sandra. Howard milked until the mid-1970s, before hitting the road for several years for his job, and Sandra also milked before they were married. After coming back to his family farm outside the tiny town of Iconium, Mo., near Osceola, upon his retirement as a boiler marker, Howard began a mixed commercial cattle herd, with some of the cows going back to his father’s dairy/beef cross cows.
Howard started his path to Gelbvieh after several years of buying bulls from his cousin Bob Hart, a registered Gelbvieh breeder in Kansas.
“I had originally bought a couple of red Limousin bulls, but it seemed like I kept making my fences a little taller and taller,” Howard recalled. “Bob said I should try a Gelbvieh because they are pretty mellow. Believe me, the older you get the more important that is.”
Howard retained many of the heifers from his herd, adding more and more Gelbvieh genetics until all of the females were a large percentage Gelbvieh.
Several years ago, Howard and Sandra decided to go to one of Bob’s registered sales. Sandra said she had a little money set aside, and she wanted to spend it on registered cattle.
Since that time, the couple has registered their calves either as fullbloods or as a “recorded” animal.
“You can record a cow,” Howard explained. “When you record a cow, then her offspring will be recorded as 50 percent percentage Gelbvieh. Once you breed that offspring to a purebred bull, then that calf will be 75 percent, and so on. A lot of my cows that are recorded are at least 50 percent Gelbvieh because I have been using a Gelbvieh bull for years, but I didn’t keep the breeding records at that time. We do keep some of our heifers to try and increase that Gelbvieh percentage in our cows. I’d like to keep more but with only 98 acres, we can’t keep as many as we would like.”
Along with the Gelbvieh, the Harts also have a few red Balancers in the herd.
“We just sold an outstanding bull that was 60 percent Gelbvieh and 40 percent Red Angus,” Howard said. “He topped the sale. We felt like he was our masterpiece at the time. We raised him and got some good calves out of him.”
The Harts currently have about 44 females, marketing bulls and replacement heifers.
“I try to keep back three to five bulls every year to sell,” Howard said. “I look at their records and their performance, and usually don’t sell a bull until he’s about 18 months old. The last few years, we have been able to sell all of our heifers and we have a long list of people wanting heifers.”
“With a first-calf heifer, sometimes the timing is bad for a calf,” Howard said.
Gelbvieh are an early-maturing breed, but Howard and Sandra carefully evaluate heifers prior to breeding.
“I look at their size and I usually don’t try to breed heifers until they are 14 or 16 months old,” Howard said. “We might push it a little with an individual or two, but we don’t want to have any future issues. We do give them a little grain when they are younger to help them get a little more size.”
Mature females are culled if they start missing calving cycles or fail to produce a quality calf.
“Cows are kind like people. As they age, they lose a little of their bloom,” Howard said with a laugh.
Bulls utilized in the Hart breeding program are all easy calving.
“A great big, dead calve isn’t worth as much as a smaller, live calf. We want those calves to be around 70 pounds,” Howard said.
Because they do retain females, the Harts rotate bulls every three years, which helps them introduce new genetics. They are able to sell those bulls has proven sires to other breeders.
“When I buy a bull, I want something totally unrelated to my females. I look at the EPDs and calving ease on both the dam and sire side, and those weaning and yearling weights,” Howard said. “I want at bull that will have some longevity.”
They purchase bulls that are acclimated to “common pastures,” and not what they consider as “pampered.” That’s also a marketing tool for bulls they offer for sale.
“I tell people they are raised on grass,” Howard said. “My bulls are use to fescue and common native grasses. If you take him and feed him alfalfa and brome, he will do great, but my bulls will survive and reproduce on common pasture. I give my young bulls about 8 to 10 pounds of grain a day, which some say isn’t enough. I could haul 300, 400 pounds of grain out a day and my cows would look a lot prettier, but my cattle are still doing well and raising good calves. The bottom line is that I raise grass, not grain. If you buy a big, fat bull, the first thing he’s going to do is lose about 300 pounds.”
Calves are typically born in the spring, starting in March.
“A lot of people want to start calving the first of February, but that didn’t work out too well this year,” Howard said. “It’s kind of the luck of the draw. Two years ago in March, we had three calves in the basement in one day trying to warm them up. We try to calve about two-thirds of our cows in March, April, but we do have some fall calves.”
The Harts calve in a specific pasture that is close to home and offers windbreaks to help battle any frigid weather.
Calves, which are weaned at about 500 to 600 pounds, receive some grain, including creep feed in the late summer prior to weaning, but the cows are mostly raised on mixed native grasses and fescue.
“I will give them some range cubes too, and about once a month they will get a couple bags of Tightwad mix just to keep them coming,” Sandra said.
Howard added that some grain might be offered to the mature cows in late summer, depending on pasture conditions.
Going from a commercial to a registered herd has required more paperwork and a little more time, but for the Harts it was the right move.
“I am kind of a records nut anyway,” Howard said. “I get a little satisfaction in knowing cattle I have bred and raised are going to other breeders. I like to get back with people we sell to and ask them to send me pictures, and they do. Our cows are like our kids, and with 28 grandkids between us and crowding 50 great-grandkids, we know our cows better than we do some of our grandkids.”
Howard and Sandra are a true partnership on the Hart farm. Sandra does all of the mowing, raking and tedding of hay, while Howard bales, and both spend a great deal of time with the herd.
“Some of our cows might not be the best looking cows in the field, but they throw some great calves,” Sandra said, adding that a couple of the older cows will not leave the farm for sentimental reasons. “I can sit in the pasture all day and just watch them.”
After a being away from the family farm and the cattle for a few years, Howard is glad to be doing what he loves, and is proud of the herd he has built.
“Coming back was always the plan,” he said. “When I had to sell my dairy in 1974, thought that was the end of my world. In some ways, if I hadn’t done it, I wouldn’t have my pension to take care of them.”