Jerry Maltby is a seedstock producer who knows that crossbreeding cattle, especially with Charolais, pays. Jerry and his wife, Sherry, own Broken Box Ranch near Williams, CA, about 60 miles north of Sacramento. Their operation, located in Colusa County, includes purebred Charolais cattle, a feedlot and conventional and organic rice production. Both active in their industry, Jerry is Colusa County Cattlemen’s president and Sherry, who is involved in the ranch’s recordkeeping, has been twice recognized by the Glenn-Colusa Cattlewomen as Cattlewoman of the Year
Jerry’s father started Broken Box Ranch in the 1950s with purebred Herefords. He didn’t agree with that breed’s decision to follow the trend to smaller-framed cattle in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, though, so he and Jerry decided to pursue a different route – crossing Charolais on their purebreds. Their first exposure to Charolais was through a beef class Jerry took at the University of California-Chico. Soon after, in 1962, they located a Charolais bull in California and began using this breed.
“The following calf crops increased our weaning weights 150-plus pounds and we were sold!” Jerry recalls. In 1963, Jerry purchased his first purebred Charolais cows. He says his goal has always been to produce seedstock bulls for the commercial industry that are easy calving with rapid growth and sire top-quality carcasses.
Everything in moderation
Jerry believes in moderation and listens to his commercial customers. He’s not big on fads or certain criteria of EPDs. He prefers indexes instead. The trend to bigger cattle in the late ‘70s and ‘80s didn’t impress him. “They got too big for us,” he says. So he dispersed his Charolais and started an all-breeds bull test center in Oakdale in 1978. In the mid 1990s, he started building back into the Charolais business. He explains, “We use certain protocols when selecting our herd bulls. First, and foremost important, is ease of calving. Second is their offspring’s performance: weaning, yearling, and ultrasound data on rib-eye, back fat, and marbling while maintaining a moderate frame size and proper structure.”
Broken Box’s newest herd sire is GWM Texas Riviera. “He is the type of bull that we are looking for,” Jerry says. “His offspring have moderate birth weights, moderate frame, with great feet and legs, and abundant thickness with lots of style.” Jerry bills him as the “Full French calvingease outcross.” Riviera sons selling in the recent Black Gold Bull Sale averaged $2,833; this was $400 more over last year. “Obviously the bull customers were happy with him this year,” Jerry says. “And it’s a dry year in California.” He says that Riviera’s second calf crop has been weaned and they’re better than the first. “This Riviera bull, I don’t care if he was black or red and white, he’s as good a bull as I’ve used.” Jerry’s ultrasound technician is also impressed with Riviera. “The Riviera bull produces some of the best rib-eye attributes I’ve seen in the Charolais breed and any commercial program should benefit from his offspring,” says Brett Setter of Setter Ultrasound & Angus. Under Jerry’s management, bull calves have until one year of age to showcase their genetic potential, so he can make comparisons across contemporaries and within his herd. “If you cut your bulls as weaners, you’re really not finding out the true genetic potential of those calves,” he points out. At one year of age, he takes yearling weights and ultrasounds, and then decides. Bull calves that don’t make the cut are banded, fed and sold as 1,300-lb. market steers for their locker beef trade.
Broken Box sells a lot of bulls to repeat buyers and one of these is Jim Violini, manager of Violini Brothers at Salinas. He says the Broken Box Ranch bulls he’s purchased have worked well for their outfit. “These bulls produce moderate size calves at birth and have explosive growth. We retain ownership of our calves; the feed performance and carcass data has improved our bottom line. These traits have also increased the quality of our cow herd due to the high percentage of replacement females that we keep on a yearly basis.” Violini adds that Broken Box Charolais bulls have also held up on their mountain range conditions.
Jerry says one of the reasons his bulls won’t melt at turnout is because they’re not “pushed” during the growing and developing phase. “We don’t push our cattle – we build our ration so they gain three pounds a day for the whole test. I don’t agree with the philosophy that you have to fatten these bulls to tell their genetic differences.”
Broken Box bulls are sold at 18 months old. “At the bull test I ran, we sold mainly 12-15-month old bulls. As a breeder it’s nice to get rid of them (at that age). But I feel as though a 1 ½-year-old bull is a little older.” He adds that their Charolais cattle are run like commercials. They don’t creep and require females to breed within 80 days in order to remain in the herd
Rising demand for Charolais bulls
Broken Box Ranch has always been proponents of performance testing, and they’ve entered several different bull tests in the West throughout the years. They annually market 50 Charolais bulls off the ranch and through four different sales – the Black Gold Sale in Colusa, the Turlock and Shasta bull sales, and at Red Bluff. Jerry has marketed bulls at Red Bluff since the early 1970s. Jerry sees the demand for Charolais bulls “starting to really pick up.” He believes one reason is because crossbred Charolais calves are selling as good as straight blacks.
Charolais Advantage, the breed’s genetic, age and source-verified program was recently launched by the American-International Charolais Association, and there are premium programs that demand non-black-hided calves. More producers are also saving the smokies – Charolais x Angus – for replacements. Jerry knows they make “tremendous” cows but his “absolute favorites” are the cows that result from British based-Charolais cows bred back to a Charolais bull. “I’ve had some great commercial cows that way. We feel that when you do that, you’re maximizing your hybrid vigor and it returns you the most dollars.”
A cross that fits the time
Jerry’s first experience with Charolais genetics taught him the value of hybrid vigor, and he’s an advocate of it through this day. “We just feel as though the Charolais are a cross that really fits the time. It’s all about pounds and meat and how much you can get in that box. Charolais bulls crossed with any of the Angus, black baldies or other breeds will significantly improve what a straight-bred animal will do. Science has proven that. That’s reality. You can’t compete against a hybrid calf.”
Jerry says Charolais offer the commercial industry higher weaning and yearling weights, lots of 1 and 2 yield grades and they can marble with less external fat cover. The feed efficiency in the feedlot is also well proven. “When you’re selling meat, you’re selling pounds,” he says, “no matter if it’s the cow-calf operator selling weaned calves, the feedlot selling to the packer, or the packer selling red meat in the box.” Broken Box also includes a feedlot division and, from a feeder’s perspective, Jerry says, “I don’t like straight-bred cattle. I like them crossed up. They’re healthier, they gain better, make me more money and my customers more money. They don’t have the sickness or death loss.”
Jerry points out that once the hide is off an animal, color doesn’t make any difference – it’s the meat that counts. “That’s what’s going to make or lose you money,” he says. “Really, the only color that makes any difference in our cattle industry is green.”
Finding Niches, Filling Needs
With his bull test center background, Jerry built a backgrounding lot when he and Sherry returned to the Williams area. “I just felt there was a need for a backgrounding lot to get these cattle ready to go onto the major lots,” he says. Cattle aren’t finished in this area – or most of California for that matter – because of the very few packers within the state. But there are lots of byproducts for Broken Box to feed, from rice straw to almond hulls and from apple or tomato pumice to rice bran and corn stover. “We have programs for feeding young and mature animals, as well as breeding bulls, heifers and cows,” Jerry explains. He says producers will oftentimes background their calves for 60-90 days in the feedlot and then sell them on video.
Several of his commercial bull customers grow cattle at the feedlot, and they also utilize the heifer development and breeding service Broken Box offers. Davin Lower, who managers the feedlot, does all the A.I. work. He is a California State University- Chico graduate who did his internship at Deseret Cattle.
Broken Box also Fills a need with their conventional and organic rice straw. Colusa County is the no. 1 rice county in the U.S. as far as production, Jerry says, and California will raise between nearly 600,000 acres of rice, making it the third largest state in rice production. Broken Box raises rice and also custom bales rice straw. The straw is baled into 3 x 4 x 8 bales. Broken Box uses it as the forage base for the feedlot and Jerry feeds it to his purebreds while on both dryland and irrigated pastures. “It has decent TDN but no protein,” he says, so he supplements for the protein with a special mix. On irrigated pasture, he can increase carrying capacity by 20%.The value of rice straw is not unknown because Broken Box sells a couple thousand tons of fresh straw a year to beef and dairy producers, and also markets it for erosion control, bedding and construction uses.
Article written by: By Kim Kanzler Holt
Published in the Cascade Cattlemen November 2007 Edition.