Tell your story: Lowline, a diamond in the rough

Mar 2, 2012
by WLJ

Recently, Kris Ringwall, North Dakota State University, Dickinson Extension Research Center (DREC), spoke at the American Lowline Annual Meeting during the National Western Stock Show. DREC has used Lowline cattle as a part of their crossbreeding system in their commercial cow herd. Here’s some of the things Ringwall had to say.

“There are a lot of great things going on in the beef business right now. I hope to stimulate some thought from everyone with the discussion and the story I have to tell.

“What is right in the beef business? That is a really big question. There are lots of things that are right in the beef business,” states Ringwall. “There are a lot of different environments and a lot of different production systems in today’s beef business.

“There are a couple of questions that get asked periodically in the beef business: How big? How small? How much muscle? We ask these because we have to raise them and they have to give us something to eat.” Ringwall is quick to point out, “I come at this from the commercial side of the business. Where do things fit from the commercial side of the business as it relates to beef production?” Ringwall gives more input on the commercial approach to the cattle business. “I look at things from a Beef Cattle Systems Evaluation. What kind of system works? Where do certain types of cattle fit within a system. In order to answer these questions, I like to establish usage—is there a use for the cattle, do the cattle have something to offer? Once we have established that there is a use for the cattle, I like to establish a use—where do they fit?” The carcass data from our commercial herd really points out that there is a use for the Lowline cattle. The research center used

Lowline cattle from 2004- 2007. “You’ve all been there, you have the Lowline cattle standing next to the larger, conventional cattle and someone asks—what are those?” And people begin to question if they are big enough. We used Lowline bulls on conventional commercial cattle to produce the F1, first cross cattle and followed them through the feedlot. The F1 progeny were frame 4-5 and had finished weights from 1,100-1,300 pounds. If someone says ‘they will never grow up,’ they are wrong; don’t believe them. With final weights of 1,100- 1,300 pounds they can definitely fit in the industry.” The cattle graded 69- 100 percent Choice so they met the quality grade requirements of the industry very well in addition to the market weight.

“So you can’t just walk away from cattle with this kind of data and say they don’t fit, that they don’t have a place in the industry. They will fit and they offer some options in the industry. If you look at the industry—we are in the cow business,” Ringwall continues.

“It is a forage-based business, a grass-based business. The cost of doing business probably triples when cattle go into the feedlot

with the cost of grain. So, we really have to look at the cows producing on grass.

“We, the research center, took a couple of years off from using Lowline. We went back to using calving ease bulls from some other breeds. We had some people looking at us funny—asking what are you doing?

People walked by your cattle and asked what is this?

Then we had something happen that really was one of the things that turned our heads.

“We were using these calving ease bulls and ended up pulling lots of calves.

A lot of them were hard pulls. So, after not using Lowline for two years, we got back in. We looked at those F1 Lowline females and they had grown up and were pretty productive cows.

“We had been using Red Angus on those F1 Lowline females. One of the things we were constantly watching was ribeye area. We had tried to moderate frame on the cows one time before and absolutely lost muscle. That is the easiest thing to do in the cattle business is to downsize frame and lose muscle. And we did not want to do that,” Ringwall concludes.

“So where do the Lowline influence females fit? We had established usage on the males and determined they had a place in the business. What about the females? We bred the F1 females to either Red Angus or Angus calving ease bulls and we were quite pleased with the resulting calves. What really impressed us was the average cow weight of the F1 relative to the weight of the calf they produced.

“The other thing that was impressive was the acres per pair that were required to run the F1 compared to the conventional pairs. You really have to look at the acres required to run a cow when you look at the differences in frame size.

“We have about 80 head of F1 Lowline females. We know the Lowline influence will reduce cow size. It will reduce calving issues. We produce more ribeye area/ hundred weight. We produce more gain per acre.

And the Lowline influence creates management options that we can implement. We have an opportunity to breed Lowline bulls to conventional heifers. The male progeny can be marketed through traditional channels. The F1 females from this cross—1/2 Lowline and 1/2 conventional heifers become your replacement females in a terminal Lowline herd where all offspring from these F1s are marketed. This beef cattle system results in shaving 300 pounds off your cow size while maintaining muscle and producing mainstream industry carcasses.”

Ringwall wraps up his discussion on the Lowline influence at the DREC. “The one-half blood Lowline is really a diamond in the rough, she is really somewhat undiscovered. Our story says the F1 Lowline female makes a terrific cow herd—they really do. Your challenge is to breed more heifers Lowline to make the F1s and let people try those F1s. You need to tell your story—they work, they really do.” — WLJ