Breeding Philosophy

The Eagle Pass Ranch breeding program began in 1987 when we stocked our 45,000 acre ranch on the prairies of central South Dakota with a foundation herd of 4,500 commercial Angus cows. These foundation cows were already carrying an assortment of English and Continental calves that were all sold at weaning in 1988. We knew we wanted calves with more hybrid vigor, uniformity and quality than that first calf crop so we embarked on the largest “breed up” program ever undertaken in the U.S.

Beginning in 1988, we artificially inseminated all 4,500 cows to Gelbvieh sires. Gelbvieh were relatively unknown at the time, but had impressed us with the data from the Meat Animal Research Center (MARC) in Clay Center, NE. This MARC data showed Gelbvieh having the most pounds of calf weaned per cow exposed than any other English or Continental breed. This was the best indicator of cow efficiency at the time and the Gelbvieh/Angus cross fit well with our desire for hybrid vigor. The first calf crop was awe inspiring. The cross that would one day be known as Balancers were heavier, more uniform and more eye appealing than any cattle we had seen before.

Our initial matings were based on our desire for maximum performance, structural correctness, and the polled factor.  We began feeding out our own calves in 1990 and gathering their carcass data for future selection. We provided the first large scale carcass data set to the American Gelbvieh Association, which they used as the base for their carcass EPD’s later in the decade. To us quality was not just eye appeal, but also carcass merit and gainability, both of which we measured religiously. We continued to use this same breeding philosophy through much of the 1990’s and replaced those initial foundation cows with our new cowherd base of Balancer females. We also added registered Angus females to the program in 1992 and incorporated an aggressive embryo transfer program to complement our ongoing AI program.

We felt some of our females were getting too large as we continued to breed for maximum growth so we incorporated a revised philosophy of moderating frame size while maintaining growth. From 1997 until 2007 we were able to lower our overall frame scores by one full score, while still increasing yearling weights by 50 pounds. This moderate size and muscular, structurally correct appearance that we had bred into our entire herd was well accepted by judges at major shows. From 2000 until present we have bred and shown the National Champion Balancer or Gelbvieh 13 times.

We continued our selection for growth, carcass quality and uniformity, but saw the opportunity for adding feed efficiency to our selection process. In 2007 after numerous consultations with animal scientists at several research institutions, we purchased and installed a GrowSafe feed intake system that weighed each mouthful of feed on a 24/7 basis. The data from this testing allowed us to establish a data set that would allow us to determine which of our sires and dams were producing the most feed efficient progeny. This process is ongoing and we have now proven 40 sire lines and all of our cow families. Our herd average feed to gain ratio is nearly two pounds below the industry average and after stacking several generations of feed efficient genetics we are now producing cattle with less than a 3:1 feed to gain ratio.

The next decade of genetic selection will see us push the envelope on feed efficiency, growth and carcass quality. Our progeny testing program has proven that calves sired by our bulls average over 95% choice and higher with 30% grading prime. Our carcass weights have also averaged over 900 lbs. making them very desirable to cattle feeders and packers alike.

The basis for our success from the beginning has been performance testing, carcass testing, feed intake testing and progeny testing. Without this huge bank of data, our breeding program would just be a game of darts. “You Can’t Improve What You Don’t Measure”.