There’s no telling how far Justin and Tawnie Morrison’s passion for quality cattle will take them.
This year it took them right to the top at Canadian Western Agribition where they captured the championship banner in the inaugural President’s Classic jackpot event with their 2015 bull calf, Brooking Silver Lining 5012. The calf earned top honours in the Black Angus show’s bull calf division to advance to the President’s Classic where he came up against the best of the best from the Horned Hereford, Simmental, Charolais and Red Angus shows.
On the female side, Mich Envious Blackbird 1440 is this year’s First Lady Classic reserve champion. Brooking Queen 5067 took the intermediate division calf championship and Mich Envious Blackbird 1449 is the reserve champion senior female. This came on the heels of a string of wins in the female divisions the previous two years.
The icing on the cake at the 2015 show was earning the Black Angus premier exhibitor and premier breeder banners.
What is telling is behind the banners and bustle of show week in the couple’s year-round commitment to quality and cattle comfort.
The Morrisons started Brooking Angus Ranch from scratch in fall 2011 after buying Tawnie’s mom’s place, a former PMU operation, near Radville, Sask.
There was never any question that their ranch would be a purebred operation.
“Raising quality purebred cattle has always intrigued me,” says Morrison, who was influenced by the best in seedstock circles at Agribition. He didn’t grow up on a farm but spent a good part of his youth helping out and learning the cattle business on relatives’ farms. The year 1996 is a standout because that was the first of many years to follow helping his aunt and uncle, Levi and Carmen Jackson of Sedley, Sask., with their show string at Agribition.
He did some professional cattle fitting for a while before taking on the management of Soo Line Cattle Company near Midale, Sask., from 2007 to 2012. They’ve built the foundation of their herd with Soo Line genetics complemented with quality females from reputation-herd production and dispersal sales.
Their overarching principle and what they feel backs their success has been to never allow compromise. “It’s always been quality over quantity,” Morrison says.
They won’t compromise on eye appeal, structure, udder perfection, hoof quality, fleshing ability and the ability to wean a heavy calf each year. These are priorities when selecting females for their own herd and they won’t have it otherwise for their customers.
On the bull side, they strive to raise a better set of bull calves than the year before, to offer the best bull for each customer’s dollar, and produce bulls whose offspring will make more money for their customers.
Bull selection for their own herd is a year-round endeavour when it comes to researching potential herd sires and the cow families behind them, studying genetics and deciding on proper matings. All females are bred AI to select sires on the first cycle and then turned out with bulls for two cycles.
Another important element of their breeding program is understanding what the industry and customers want and having it available when they want it, he adds. It’s a lot easier said than done because a person’s mind works a lot quicker than the gestation schedule, so an idea today could take generations to make work.
“Currently, customers are looking for bulls that offer high weaning weights that will be herd improvers. They want low birth weights and near-zero calving assists. They want to see the bulls produced from a cow herd that is big bodied, quality phenotype, good uddered and perfect footed. Most importantly, from a program they trust,” Morrison sums up.
Expected progeny differences and performance data play a role, too. “We try to be aggressive because we want a bit of everything, not more of one or two traits at the expense of others. EPDs help give us the big picture,” Morrison explains.
When it comes right down to it on both the female and bull sides, what they see — phenotype and quality — is trump.
EPDs predict the genetic potential of the animal’s offspring but whether or not they reach their full potential depends on proper nutrition, good health and an environment conducive to growth and development.
“I’m a big believer that if everything is nice and easy for the cattle they will do well. We try to make it so that they never have a bad day,” Morrison says.
That starts at birth by providing lots of bedding and protection from the cold to get them off to a good start. Calving begins in late January, at which time the cows are moved from swath-grazing fields to the yard where they have the advantage of a couple of large barns built for the former PMU operation.
Managing the grass and land properly comes into play as well because they want to have pastures ready for turnout as early as possible. Depending on growing conditions that can be by late April on crested wheatgrass and then bromegrass pastures. The native-grass pastures carry them through late summer and fall leading into swath grazing barley/oats to end the year.
The main comfort consideration on pasture is protection from the elements, whether it’s fly control and access to shade in the heat of summer or shelter from wind and cold as winter rolls around.
He also includes the use of QuietWean nose flaps because this two-stage weaning process they implemented in 2008 has reduced sickness at weaning to nearly zero. Part of the reason is that the calves are so much calmer after separation that they hold them in corrals only a short time to make sure there are no escapees before turning them out on fresh grass. This all but eliminates dust problems that contribute to respiratory disease and the calves are back on familiar feed in no time at all.
About a week before weaning, the calves are given their booster vaccinations according to their veterinarian’s recommendation and the flaps are secured in their nostrils to prevent them from suckling while they continue grazing with their mothers. A half-dozen or so calves might lose their flaps, but the loss rate can be higher if there are trees to rub against. A week later, the calves are hauled home and the cows stay on pasture, usually far enough away that the pairs can’t hear or see one another, although there’s not much bawling at all.
Out of curiosity, they’ve weighed calves before and after the nose flaps and found that many calves don’t lose weight and even maintain their daily gain through weaning.
The bull calves are weaned the first week of September to go into the development program for spring sale. The heifer calves for Agribition are weaned at the same time to begin preparations and the rest come off pasture at the end of the month.
This year, they’ll be calving out 170 females, up from 130 last year, which in itself speaks to their confidence in the Canadian beef industry and desire to be part of the rebuilding by providing quality genetics to seedstock and commercial cattle operators.
March 28, 2016, will mark their second bull sale live from the ranch. The bulls are displayed for viewing before the sale and videos of each bull are shown as the sale progresses instead of putting the bulls through the ring. The sale catalogues and videos are posted on their website and Internet bidding is available on sale day.
Their November Open-Book Invitational female sales, with guest consignors also contributing some of the best genetics from their herds, have proven to work well for them and their customers over the past three years. Sale catalogues are printed two months in advance of the sale, which runs online day and night for 48 hours at Anguslive.com. Videos of each animal are posted to the website at least a week ahead of the sale and customers are welcome to view the animals at the ranch at their own convenience.
“The beauty of this kind of auction is that there is no sale order. Customers can bid on any animal at any time,” Morrison explains. There’s no need to make split-second decisions or to be at the computer at a certain time. A buyer can place a bid, go on with his day and check in periodically to up the ante as needed. If bids on an animal of interest go higher than the budget allows, the customer has time to consider and bid on other animals that fit the bill. A computerized proxy option allows a buyer to confidentially place a maximum bid on an animal(s) of interest and the computer program automatically takes care of bidding as the sale progresses.
The ending time is set and all animals are declared sold to the highest bidder at closing time as long as there hasn’t been any bidding activity within the five minutes leading up to the close. If, for instance, the sale is set to end at 7 p.m. and a bid comes in at 6:58, the closing time for bids on all sale animals extends to 7:03. If there is no activity, the sale ends at 7:03, but if someone bids within the five-minute period, the sale continues for another five minutes from the time of the last bid.
This year’s sale continued in this manner for a full hour past the original closing time, Morrison adds. The idea behind the extended bidding feature is to prevent someone from coming in with the highest bid at the last second to buy an animal.
The Morrisons offer a couple of perks for their buyers. Progeny from females are eligible to sell in future Brooking Angus production sales, and juniors who purchase heifers to show are welcome to visit the ranch with their families to learn about feeding, daily hair care, grooming, clipping and showmanship.
For more information contact the Morrisons at 306-536-4590 or visit brookingangusranch.com.