Total Herd Enrollment Works Hard for the EDR Simmental Program
By Hannah Wine
Just an hour west of Savannah, Georgia, is the city of Statesboro, home to Bermuda grasses, aerated pastures, winter rye and EDR Simmental.
The EDR prefix stands for the Elynor Davis Ranch. The namesake was one of the first women to receive a Ph.D. from Texas A&M.
Shortly after Elynor received her doctorate 30 years ago, the family moved east to Statesboro, where Elynor taught economics at Georgia Southern.
Elynor’s son Andrew was 21 at the time, and he was excited about farming and raising livestock. The grandson of Texas ranchers, Andrew and his mother went into the cattle business, raising Santa Gertrudis. It was a short-lived stint.
“They were a little too rough,” Andrew commented. After a few years of just bailing hay, the Davis family gave Simmental genetics a try.
“We needed heat-tolerant, red cattle. We got Simmentals because of their docility. The gentle animals were much better to work with,” Andrew said.
“When we started with Fullbloods, they were too big. Eighteen-hundred-pound cows weren’t the answer. I knew we needed to raise what was best suited to our environment,” Andrew stated. “Here, if she can’t make it on grass, she can’t stay.” EDR is a fall calving operation designed to utilize higher quality forages throughout the fall and winter by limit-grazing cows on rye all winter.
The 1,800-pound cows at EDR Simmental are now a thing of the past. “I weighed cows the other day, and we average a 1,300-pound mature cow size,” commented Andrew.
The Davis’s cattle have changed not only on the scales, but also on papers. “I got into using Total Herd Enrollment (THE) because it was another tool available to me. It’s a tool everyone can use to see where you stand in the breed and get to know your weaknesses. ASA does the work, I just have to fix my cattle,” Andrew said.
“When I started enrolling my cows, they had an All Purpose Index (API) in the 60s and a Terminal Index (TI) in the 50s. Using THE to fix the problem area with each generation for 15 years, I now have a cowherd with average APIs at 180 and TIs at 89. If I can manage to do this, anyone can,” Andrew said.
In the EDR breeding program, Andrew works to balance EPDs with a careful choice in herd sire along with other personally important traits like structure, disposition and frame scores, to achieve an end goal of cattle that are moderately framed, moderate milking, easy fleshing and work on grass.
Andrew’s passion for the cattle industry and the science behind it is obvious as he talks about his 54-head operation. “I want to raise the best ones I can. Raising cattle is hard work. So why do a bad job at it? I want to build the bulls I’d want to buy. Instead of making decisions for the buyers, I want to raise cattle with high APIs and high TIs so the buyers have their options. It’s important to me to focus on good EPD averages across the board to help more cows in the pasture.”
Marketing 15 bulls a year, Andrew aims to help Georgians build better breeding stock. “It’s hard to find Simmentals in this part of the world,” he said. “When I started, you couldn’t find Simmental cattle within 500 miles of here. You had to raise your own.”
“I didn’t always have a strong focus on EPDs. I was on the 15-year-plan to get my EPDs up and grow my API from 6o to 180. But that’s too slow,” Andrew commented.
Andrew’s emphasis on genotypic data came much later in the EDR breeding program, after THE and the ASA online animal search technology became available. “Once I had access to the information and data, I knew what I needed to do to fix and build my cows,” Andrew said.
In the 2012 ASA ranking of the top 50 cowherds by API average, EDR took the No. 10 spot. “We were proud, but I have always been the behind-the-scenes part of EDR. It was an honor for my mother’s name to appear in the list. I’ve always thought women aren’t getting enough fanfare in the Simmental industry. There are a lot of hardworking cattle women out there. I’m trying to elevate and recognize my mother in this business by breeding the best.”
Now 81, Elynor still helps with the cattle processing. “My mother came out and helped worm cows last week in the rain. She’s a pretty good hand,” Andrew said with a chuckle, before thoughtfully adding, “She is wonderful to have as help.”