Keeping Faith in the Face of Drought

Management : Cow & Calf

Management : Replacement

Nutrition : Minerals

Nutrition : Supplements

Nutrition : Forage

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Purina Animal Nutrition

Vest Ranch has dealt with the unforgiving Texas weather since 1887, but nothing prepared the fourth-generation ranch for 2011, when the Lone Star state was hit with one of the worst droughts in more than a century.

Drought conditions forced Texas cattle ranches to make changes, and Vest Ranch was no exception as they turned an eye to cattle nutrition. 

Samann Vest-Watkins is the fourth generation on the West Texas cattle ranch and maintains the ranch legacy with her husband, Ty Watkins. He remembers that 2011 was when Vest Ranch was seriously introduced to Purina® Accuration® Range Liquid, a liquid protein supplement for cattle.

Before the drought, their cow herd was on a 4% fat range cube supplement. As the drought got serious, Ty wanted to give the cows the best chance for success.

“We were apprehensive at first when we tried Purina® Accuration® Range Liquid,” Ty says. “We discussed the ways that it would and wouldn’t work. But, once we made the transition, we were very thankful we did.”

Cattle Nutrition to Get Cows BredVest Ranch sign on a fence with beautiful orange and pink sunset behind

Vest Ranch didn’t expect glowing breeding results coming out of the drought. In fact, Ty wouldn’t have been surprised with lower than average breeding rates.

“The benefits we saw from using Purina® Accuration® were overwhelming,” Ty says. “Even in drought conditions, we were able to get cows bred.”

Although the drought was challenging, switching to Purina® Accuration® Range Liquid was a silver lining for Vest Ranch.

It’s been years since Vest Ranch switched, and Ty’s never been more confident in his cattle nutrition program because the numbers back it up.

Proof in the Numbers

Ty knows breeding success is key to keep any cattle operation profitable.

“Fertility, I believe, is the most important factor on any cattle operation. It's how you get paid,” Ty says. “It’s simple math: more bred cows and heifers mean more live calves on the ground. That means more weaned calves to sell, which leads to increased revenue for ranches.”

Currently, cows at Vest Ranch have access to Purina® Accuration® Range Liquid with 28% protein and 10% fat year-round. Replacement heifers receive Purina® Accuration® Range Liquid with 20% protein and 12% fat.

“It’s common knowledge that fat is one of the major drivers of reproduction,” Ty says. “I believe fat has been very instrumental in achieving a high conception rate and seeing more bred cows early in the breeding season.”

Ty also makes sure cows have access to high-quality cattle mineral year-round, using different Purina® Wind and Rain® Mineral formulas based on the season. Providing both a high-quality cattle mineral and protein supplement all year sets cows up for breeding success. There’s proof in Vest Ranch’s results.

“For fall of 2018, our overall cow conception rate was 97 percent, with 76 percent of cattle bred in the first cycle. For replacement heifers, 72 percent were bred in the first cycle,” Ty says.

Getting first-calf replacement heifers bred on the first cycle gives them a chance to conceive sooner when they're breeding back with their second calf.

“I think most ranchers would agree first-calf heifers are the hardest animal to get bred. She's shedding teeth, she's lactating, nursing a calf, and then you're asking her to continue growing and breed back,” Ty says. “We saw 95 percent conception rates on our first-calf heifers with 70 percent bred the first cycle.”

Proof in the Cattle Pasture

Vest Ranch features large cattle pastures where the stocking rate is around 1 cow per 30 acres, and it can be challenging to accurately read pasture quality and forage conditions. However, Ty has been able to learn about Vest Ranch’s cattle pasture quality by monitoring consumption of cattle supplements.

Like supplement consumption, mineral consumption teaches Ty about his cows’ needs.

“Mother Nature doesn't work on a perfect clock and forages are constantly changing,” Ty says. “Watching the variation in consumption from month-to-month is a great way to learn how cattle nutrition requirements are met based on cattle pasture quality and quantity.”

Plus, cattle supplements and mineral help cows get the most out of every acre.

“Strategic supplementation has helped us improve grazing distribution and allowed us to make the most of our native forages,” Ty says.

Making Room for Opportunity

At its core, Vest Ranch’s nutrition program complements the unique Texas cattle ranch environment, which supports cattle pasture utilization and breeding success. That ultimately creates more time and opportunities for the ranch.

“Vest Ranch continues to invest in range management and improving our genetics,” Ty said. “We believe a good cattle nutrition program allows our cows to express the genetics that we're investing in and working to improve each year.”

Sustainable success is important to Ty and Samann, because in the long run, they hope to pass the Texas cattle ranch down to the Vest family’s fifth generation.

Continuing the Vest Ranch Legacy

“We have achieved many of our goals, but as we pass each milestone, we are always looking to set new goals” Ty says.
Nine Vest Ranch team members standing in front of a cattle pen
Vest Ranch has a keen focus on genetic improvement. They’re striving to improve cowherd quality and produce a calf crop that will have superior value relative to traditional “commodity” calves. Ty selects bulls from Bradley 3 Ranch that have genetic merit along with production traits and carcass characteristics. Ultimately, Vest Ranch trusts progressive breeding will allow them to garner additional premiums in both the fed cattle and replacement heifer markets.

But none of those goals and results would be possible without teamwork.

“Every job on the ranch is important and we’ve got a great team to get the job done,” Ty says. “We trust that the next generation will continue to build upon our success through technology improvements, unique breeding opportunities and more.”

At the end of the day, the Vest Ranch team is passionate about producing beef for the consumer. That goal remains the same through the generations.

“We’re always striving for perfection: to achieve 100 percent conception with 100 percent prime, Yield Grade 1 carcasses. Although we haven’t achieved that yet, we're working towards it every day,” Ty says. “As long as we have that goal, then we've got something to work for.”

Does your cattle nutrition program stack up? Find out with a Proof Pays feeding trial.