Josh, LeAnna, Lauren and Paden Gilbert have a registered Angus operation near Oldfield, Mo. Photo by Julie Turner-Crawford.
Josh, LeAnna, Lauren and Paden Gilbert have a registered Angus operation near Oldfield, Mo. Photo by Julie Turner-Crawford

Gilbert Cattle Company has increased its herd with selective genetics

OLDFIELD, MO. – Raising cattle is nothing new for Josh and LeAnna Gilbert. 

LeAnna grew up on a dairy farm and Josh’s family has a tradition of Brahman and Brangus. There was a time, however, when no cattle roamed the Gilbert family-owned farm in Christian County, Mo.  

“In 2001, we sold all of our commercial cows to travel and work out of state,” Josh recalled. “We didn’t have anyone here to take care of them, so we sold what we had. We didn’t start buying cattle back until 2004 or 2005.” 

When they restarted their cattle operation, the Gilberts went back to the kind of cattle they knew. 

“I’ve always liked cattle with a little ear,” Josh said. “Those Brangus-based cross cattle were a popular thing to run down here because they do well here. We’ve even had some purebred Brahman.” 

The Gilbert family, which also includes daughter Lauren and son Paden, began to change their breed and breeding program in 2010 with the introduction of Angus genetics. The first registered Angus females were purchased the following year.  

“At first, the idea was to cross the Angus bulls onto the Brangus-cross cows,” Josh recalled. “The guy who we bought our bulls from is where we bought our first set of heifers. In 2012, we bought another set.”

The Gilberts admit the Angus breed was a “little different” than their Brangus-cross cattle, but they liked what they saw.

“It’s rough around here; it’s hilly and steep,” Josh said. “We had always gone with the commercial Brangus-cross cattle because they did well here. The Angus did just as well.”

The quality of the calves and the docile temperament of the breed, LeAnna said, prompted them to look closer at Angus. 

“The Brangus are flightier, faster, and a more nervous kind of animal,” Josh added. “They are good mothers and milk well and don’t need that much feed. With the Angus, they have a lot of the same characteristics; they are good mothers, they milk well, and the Angus calves at weaning were performing right there with our crossbred calves.”

Today, the Gilbert Cattle Company herd is predominantly registered Angus, built on a foundation of specific genetics. 

“We got serious about our Angus cows,” Josh said. “We started AI’ing our cows, and AI’d that first registered set, kept the daughter,  and AI’d the daughters. The herd started growing, then a few years later, we decided to take it to the next level and introduce embryo transfer.”

To take that next step, Josh said they needed a set of cows that was “special.”

“We figured out what was working here, so we found cows that would handle the hills, wean big calves and raise awesome daughters,” he explained. 

With the inclusion of ET, the Gilberts have quickly expanded their herd 

“We put embryos into really, really good cows,” Josh said. “We have about seven or eight main cows that we’re flushing, and we’re keeping every daughter out of them. Your best cows have the best bulls. You have to find cows that do what you want them to do, then flush them.”

“You can see the improvement in the herd from where we started,” LeAnna added. 

Thanks to the aggressive ET program, the Gilberts are not only using their registered herd as recips, but they also utilize cooperator herds.

Because there are no guarantees an embryo will take, the Gilberts allow two attempts. If there is no resulting pregnancy, females are bred by clean-up bulls, including two sons of the Angus sire Renovation. 

“It’s awesome to have the power on the cows, the embryo program, then follow up with powerful clean-up bulls,” Josh said. 

To aid in the continued advancement of their herd’s genetic profile, the Gilberts also invest in outside flushes for their breeding program, focusing on the same traits and goals they aim for in their herd. 

“We focus on the embryo program because you have to have that in place to get the best you can,” Josh said.  

ET and AI are not the only reproduction methods used by the Gilberts. They have also “pushed the needle” with IVF in virgin heifers.

“We know the genetics behind the heifer, and we’re confident she’s going to produce an awesome progeny,” Josh said. “We have recip cows that will have the virgin heifer’s calf before the virgin heifer has her calf.” 

Through their selective breeding program, the Gilberts have created the cattle they want — cattle that thrive in the Ozarks. 

“We aren’t a huge operator, but we have quality over quantity,” Josh said. “It’s a young herd, and we started with pretty good Angus cows. They were down in Arkansas and came from a landscape that was similar to ours. It’s a little tough in this Oldfield/Chadwick area, and I thought we’d give it a shot. We’ve been able to take it in the direction we wanted to go and put a little more power into those cattle.”

The Gilberts say what sets them apart from some breeders is they do not breed for one trait over another. 

“We like to keep things down the middle,” Josh said. “There are extreme EPDs, but the main things we like to focus on are weaning weights and efficiency, but you also have to have some frame on your cattle. You see these big spread bulls or bulls that have really high calving easy, then this crazy yearling or weaning weight. He’s in the top 5 percent for height, which is like a 7 frame, and in my opinion, is a big, tall, hard-doing animal that doesn’t work here. 

“You have to stay away from extremes. Just because he’s in the top 1 or 5 percent doesn’t mean it’s a score. We don’t have the feed base in Southwest Missouri those big cattle would require.

“If you breed right down the middle, you’re going to have more consistent calves and get the best replacement heifers possible; it’s been a lot of trial and error. We don’t want the top 1 percent in the breed. We’re going to make cattle the way we want them, and what drives that is what works here. It’s easy to get caught up in extremes, but after you get caught up in them, I think you start seeing the light.”

Animals bred for the terminal market, LeAnna added, do not produce heifers that will perform well as cows, and those producers who focus on EPD extremes can also have issues with conception rates. 

In addition to genetics, the Gilberts also closely monitor the growth of bulls, which are sold between 14 and 18 months of age. Photo by Julie Turner-Crawford.
Photo by Julie Turner-Crawford

In addition to genetics, the Gilberts also closely monitor the growth of bulls, which are sold between 14 and 18 months of age. Bulls are sent to Rolla, Mo., to Networth Feed and Feeding at weaning, where they are developed for a few months without excessive feed before returning to the Gilbert farm. Once the bulls are back in Oldfield, they receive fescue hay and a specialized ration at a rate of about 2 percent of their body weight. As the calf grows, feed is slowly increased. 

“We want customers to have confidence that they aren’t going to fall apart. It’s the genetics and getting them ready,” Josh said. “We watch them like a hawk.”

The right bull is only part of the Gilbert breeding program equation. The Gilberts are also selective about the females in their herd and want animals with no calving issues and are good mothers.

“You watch them calve and take care of their calves, and so many little boxes get checked. You know this cow is going to make females you want,” Josh said. “They are also going to make bulls like you want, which will make those heifers you want. For us, what’s done us more good than anything is realizing how important maternal traits are. When we started focusing on maternal, we noticed the cows are better cows, the calves are bigger, they wean bigger and make better cattle.”

Females, like the bulls, are bred to create an overall balanced animal, following those middle-of-the-road EPDs. The Gilberts also want their females to be efficient. 

“Being efficient, for me, is holding flesh at the end of February when you’re rolling out those last bales that you’ve been avoiding all winter,” Josh said. “An efficient cow breeds back and has a good calf on the ground. Efficient cows just shine and don’t need more than hay and some mineral; it’s a very visual thing and you can see it. That middle-of-the-road genomic profile is going to be the driver. A cow with a moderate frame, just the right amount of milk, and the right amount of carcass traits is a more efficient breeder. We use EPDs as a secondary tool because they have to look right.”

Gilbert Cattle Company has also found success in the show ring, with Lauren and Paden on the halters. Show cattle have slightly different criteria than the main Gilbert herd, but the show ring has provided opportunities to network with other breeders, which opens up additional markets for both show cattle and production animals. “We are serious about our show cattle, just like our performance herd,” Josh said. 

While the Gilberts are developing show prospects, it’s not the focus of the operation. 

“Show cows are their own entity,” Lauren said. 

“That is Lauren and Paden’s baby,” Josh said, adding they have “a lot” of show embryo calves on the way.

“We have too many good females, just to stop,” LeAnna said of the show side. “We need to have either a dispersal sale or raise show females.” 

In 2022, Gilbert Cattle Company held its inaugural production sale, offering more than a dozen bulls, as well as a few show animals. Their second sale is slated for next month. 

“We’re a little fish, but it’s exciting to have cattle just as good as anyone and we want to promote them,” Josh said. “We’ve sold private treaty for seven or eight years, but we thought it would be a little easier if we focused on getting them ready at once and doing it at one time.”

As the Gilberts advance their Angus operation, they plan to continue to base their herd on maternal traits, grow their production sale, and offer more females.

“We are planning out to 2025,” Josh said. “We have the mating put together and embryos in the tank that far out; we are always planning. There will be a sweet spot; we just have to find it. You have to work hard and keep pushing.”


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