Blake Biswell believes his breeding system produces cattle that do well in the summer months
Blake Biswell’s family has been in the Greasy Valley Road area of Prairie Grove for more than 100 years.
Blake and his wife Debra, along with seven children, have a commercial cattle herd on 140 acres, lease another 200 and custom bale on shares on an additional 60 acres. The land belongs to Blake’s father Emmett, with both having cattle and sharing the work.
The Biswell herd is comprised of 150 cows, which are bred by five bulls. Blake is a firm believer in hybrid vigor but avoids black because he finds fescue is harder on them and the black cattle seem to spend too much time in the shade and water during the summer months. Consequently, his females are mostly a mix of Red Angus and Charolais. They are bred by five bulls: three Charolais, one Hereford and one black Simmental.
“I like my Simmental bull for heifers because he is an easy calving bull and because I don’t plan on keeping any of the heifers’ calves as replacements,” explained Blake.
The cows are divided into five herds according to their breeding; one group for each bull. Blake likes crossing the heavily Red Angus-influenced cows with Charolais bulls because the combination produces a brown creamy color that is desirable in the marketplace. Blake also crosses mostly Charolais females with a Hereford bull to get a yellow, white-faced calf which also sells well. Calves are weaned at 9 months, at 650 pounds, and sold directly off the cow.
Blake has a strong preference for medium-framed females and believes in breeding heifers as soon as they look capable of having a calf helps limit the heifers’ growth. Because of their smaller size, they eat less and Blake can raise more calves on his limited acreage, which will probably remain the same size because he is landlocked by other farmers and many houses on small acreages.
When it comes to selecting bulls, Blake prefers balanced EPDs. Nonetheless, he double checks calving ease, milkability and weaning weight.
The Biswell land is comprised of fescue, Bermuda and Johnsongrass, with some white clover. He has over seeded with ryegrass in the fall several times, especially on bare spots. He has noticed that if the weather cooperates, the annual ryegrass will reseed itself. Land health is maintained through fertilizing, which is now 70 percent litter and 30 percent commercial. He broadcast sprays in the spring but not always in the fall because he observes his cattle usually eating cool season weeds. Finally, he hand sprays for thistle, which he believes is easy to get rid of as long as neighbors do the same. The hand sprayer is always with him when he checks cows, which makes the process continual and easy.
Around 10 years ago, a hurricane came up from the Gulf of Mexico and into Arkansas for two days, followed later by an ice storm. Both severely damaged wooded areas. In addition to dead trees and limbs, newly opened areas exploded with weeds that were often head high. Consequently, perilla mint is now a problem.
Blake has taken advantage of two government programs. The first was to develop a spring-fed watering system using gravity flow and pumps in addition to freeze proof faucets from buried water lines. The second program helped pay for cross fencing used in rotational grazing.
Blake readily admits his management is not as good as he would like. Currently he is building a new home with him doing all of the labor, therefore putting off his plan to build a barn with bullpens and an adjacent pasture.
“I simply can’t find a place to put my bulls in the off-season and sometimes bulls don’t get along well which makes the pens necessary. However, often after they are around each other for a while, they get along better and can be released to pasture. The new facilities would greatly improve my ability to manage my herd the way I want,” Blake said.