Viles Farm is working to produce high-quality Gelbvieh and Balancer bulls
BOLIVAR, MO. – When Jeff and Kristy Viles began to expand their farm, they wanted a way to make their newly-acquired land help pay for itself. After a little thought, they started a registered Gelbvieh and Balancer operation, focusing on producing high-quality seedstock.
“It’s nothing big, nothing fancy; it’s just kind of what we do,” Jeff said, who did not grow up on a farm but was always around cattle because his grandparents farmed.
The first registered Gelbvieh bulls came to the farm in 2014.
“Her dad (Terry Davis) had bought a couple of Gelbvieh bulls, and I really liked their disposition and performance. I thought I would raise a bull here and there and a few heifers because I enjoy doing it and seeing what they do,” Jeff said.
In 2019, the couple had the opportunity to purchase a neighboring farm and decided to get serious about the seedstock business. They bought their first group of registered females at a Heart of America Gelbvieh Sale that same year. Among those females purchased are three Dam of Merit in the American Gelbvieh Association. To be considered a Dam of Merit, females must raise three calves that achieve specific criteria set forth by the association.
“Most of what we bought were Balancers,” Jeff said. “We are breeding those Balancers to purebred bulls, and those cows are a high enough percentage Balancer that we are getting purebred calves from them. The Balancer demand is high so we are adjusting breeding to produce more Balancers.”
“People want quality bulls to get pounds on the ground. I want to produce a bull that is going to do that for them, and if I don’t have quality, I’m not doing anything. If you don’t have a bull that’s out there doing his job for several years, you don’t have anything. Gelbvieh isn’t something everyone has, yet people are in the market for Gelbvieh and Balancers to put in with their commercial herds. I think we have some bulls that will go well into a purebred herd and do the job too, but it just depends on what they need.”
And their bulls do sell. They recently sold the last of their 2020 spring bull crop and have 11 bulls in development. Bulls they feel not best represent their breeding program well are steered and marketed as feeders.
“If you want quality, you have to cull,” Jeff said. “He might be out of a good momma, but if he hasn’t got it, he has to go.”
Jeff admitted his first bull sale caused a little anxiety.
“I just thought, ‘Man, I hope he does good,’” he recalled. “I don’t want to sell something that isn’t going to perform like he is supposed to because without a good reputation, I don’t have anything. I could sell junk bulls and be out of business pretty quick. A year down the road, when I really know how my bulls performed, then I will be a little more at ease. I’m pleased with what we are doing, but a year down the road, I will be a little more seasoned at it.”
There is no specific target age or weight when the Viles begin marketing their bulls.
“They are all for sale right now,” Jeff said with a laugh of his 10-month-old bulls. “People want to get a bull when they are 15 months old. The last ones we sold were about 20 months old. All of our bulls must pass a breeding soundness exam, or they go to the feeder sale.”
The majority of the females are bred through AI for spring calving.
“That’s how we keep those new genetics coming in,” Jeff said. “As the calves grow and we see how they develop, we will see what path we want to take, and we can switch things up without going out and buying 16 different bulls. AI works well for us because we can select a bull for each female.”
When determining breeding pairings, Jeff said it was important not to focus on a single trait or EPD number to find a balancing point.
“Some people get focused on calving ease, others on milk, others just want growth,” he said. “It’s all about what your herd needs. Right now, I want to breed a well-balanced bull and in the future, we can do a little more of this or that, depending on what customers want.”
The family, which also includes daughter Jenna (19), and sons Justin (22) and Jarrett (17), closely monitors the calves and the dams after calving.
“I want Mother Nature to do her job,” Jeff said. “If it’s a calf that I have to doctor right off the bat, chances are that’s going to continue. I want Mother Nature to get it here and get it growing; then, we will vaccinate as we need. If they hit the ground healthy, and they are good and strong, and they stay that way; that’s just good genetics.”
Another aspect of those good genetics is raising calves on grass.
“if you want quality, you have to cull. he might be out of a good momma, but if he hasn’t got it, he has to go.”
— Jeff Viles
“My cows get a few cubes once in a while just to keep them smiling,” Jeff said. “I don’t do any creep feeding because that is money out of my pocket. If I have to feed my calves like that, my customers will have to feed their calves like that. If they grow on momma and grass, that’s a pretty low input.”
Jeff and Kristy keep the same philosophy as the bulls develop, offering only enough feed to help the animals grow, not get fat.
“I don’t want that reputation either, so if it takes a little longer for my bulls to get bigger and for someone to say he’s a good-looking bull, then I guess it does. I’m not going to sell a bull that goes out and falls apart; I don’t want that,” Jeff said. “We don’t push the bulls too hard, yet get enough gain on them that they are good-sized. So far, I think we are getting along with that.”
Calves are typically weaned at about 8 months of age, but there are times calves are closer to 9 months at weaning.
“We had some good weaning weights at 9 months,” he said. “We had one bull wean off at 930 pounds.”
At weaning, bulls get about 6 pounds a day of a locally-purchased beef ration and mineral sourced from Vita-Firm.
“Having a good mineral program is important,” Jeff said. “And having good quality hay. We bale our hay and try to do it right. Good grass is also big. You’re going to get better growth on your calves with good grass. My worst grass standing is still better than my best hay.”
To get that grass, the Viles’ have a rotational grazing system in place on 99-acres and are still offering stockpiled grass to their herd. Pastures and hay ground are primarily a grass/clover/orchard grass mix and whatever else might come up.
This year, the Vileses are offering replacement heifers for the first time. Like the bulls they sell, the couple is selective about the heifers they offer fellow producers.
“We want to let momma raise them, then supplement a little at weaning, but not overdo it, just like the bulls,” Jeff said. “I want to raise good heifers that do well. If she’s somewhere and doesn’t breed, that buyer isn’t going to come back.”
To be considered as a sale prospect or to be retained in the Viles’ herd, heifers must be visually appealing and have well-balanced EPDs.
“It’s a continual balancing act,” Jeff said. “Above all, I want her to be a good-quality mom and produce a good calf.”
Jeff and Kristy purchase females to build their herd and for fresh genetics.
“I want to keep new blood coming in,” he said. “We bought two last year and hope to buy a couple more this year. That helps keep new product coming in. When we find a good cow family, we try to keep a good heifer or two out of her. Right now, we have some that are 2020 (born heifers), and we are excited to see what they do because they look better than their moms do. I want to improve each generation.
“I don’t know when you get to the perfect spot, but you need to try and improve, or you won’t get anywhere; it’s a never-ending process. The same bull can go in with the same cow year after year, and the people who buy your bulls and heifers might say it’s not working for them and get them from someone else. I hope to stay on the front edge enough to keep people satisfied. If I don’t keep my customers satisfied, I might as well get out of the registered business and raise feeders.”
Jeff and Kristy hope to continue to grow their herd but do not sacrifice the quality they are working to achieve. Another goal is to make the seedstock operation profitable enough to be self-sufficient when Jeff eventually retires.
“My land can only handle so many head. I’m not sure what that number is yet, and I would like to add more cattle, but my goal will remain quality. I don’t want someone to go to the coffee shop and say, ‘Did you see that thing the Viles had out there?’ I don’t want that. I want them to say, ‘Let’s go out by the Viles’ because they got some pretty good cattle.’ That’s what I want. I guess we will find out in the future.”