By Lilly Brogger
A family-run Colorado Simmental operation achieves quick progress through carefully made genetic decisions and a focus on quality over quantity.
Seven years typically isn’t enough time to build a respected seedstock operation. It takes 18 months to see whether or not a chosen cross was the right choice; years to know if customers are happy with their bulls; even longer to simply build a good reputation, even if cattle are performing alongside competitors. For Reed Parker and his father Brett, genetics have allowed them to build a respected operation worthy of taking note in this short period of time.
The ranch runs on around 2,000 acres of country representative of the dry but productive plains of eastern Colorado. The Parker family has been in the Stratton area for years, starting with a diversified cattle and farming operation. Years later when Brett took a job as an ABS representative, cattle came to the forefront. Add to this Reed’s preference for cattle, and they chose to relocate to a nearby area better suited for cattle production and begin their pursuit of raising top-quality Simmental breeding stock.
As Reed Parker explained, treating each female and every genetic decision carefully allowed them to make huge strides in a short period of time. They began by seeking out what they considered the best available genetics, investing in a small number of donor cows and enough recipient cows to get started. These donor cows came from breeders the Parkers respected for their experience and quality stock.
The Parkers also paid attention to the advice these veteran breeders had to offer. “I would attribute a lot of our beginning to them. They taught us a lot about what bloodlines work,” said Parker. John Christensen, Cam Fagerhaug, and the Dunsmore family, each from Wessington South Dakota, continue to be sources of advice and knowledge for Parker.
These initial decisions allowed them to quickly change their herd to fit their future vision. In the beginning, many of the females were unregistered Angus-cross, but through intense ET and AI work, the entire herd is now registered Simmental.
Using ET work is common practice; where Parker Cattle Company sets themselves apart is through their cleanup program. Because of an investment in two top-quality Simmental herd sires, any female that doesn’t settle is still bound to have an outstanding calf. Boulevard, a bull purchased from the Hook family, Tracy, Minnesota, and NLC Avenue, from the Christensen family, are critical to the program. Parker explained that that while convincing the banker that these AI quality sires were worth the investment, their operation is seeing even more return on them than expected, “We’ve seen that the biggest jump in our production has been the result of these two bulls.”
For Parker, it doesn’t make sense to allow a cow that doesn’t settle to be bred by a lower production bull, “I’m proud to say that the best bulls we have are the result of our cleanup program.” Letting a female pour her energy into a sub-par calf for an entire season doesn’t measure up to Parker’s standards for efficiency. “When you only have 200 head of cows, every calf counts,” he elaborated.
When asked why the family chose to run Simmental cows, Parker explained that the combined challenge and need for something new convinced them to do so. “In our area it is very Angus dominated and there was a need for a continental cross,” he said. In addition , he saw an opportunity to apply his knowledge and love for developing cattle, “I think creating out-cross, good-looking purebred cattle with awesome numbers is one of the most challenging things a person can do.”
Parker explained that adding maternal traits to the strong terminal traits of Simmental cattle can create an exciting overall package, “Making sure that the cattle are, from a purebred standpoint, big enough capacity and right in their four-rib, but sound with muscle shape, and still have enough calving ease and marbling so that your API is high, it’s fun to try to make that.”
As Parker Cattle Company has transitioned to more purebred animals, so have their customers. Parker remembers the high demand for half Angus bulls in the beginning, but says that due to the positive traits Simmentals brought to their customers, many are now asking for purebred bulls. “To me it’s been so cool to watch our market and our cattle change, our customers are making us produce more purebreds,” he said.
Tailoring their program to meet their customer’s needs is something Parker considers essential. In addition to the breed composition of their bulls, size and other factors are also given close attention. “We are in an area where low input, small frame cattle are the norm for economical reasons so we try to make sure we have bulls to cover those needs as well,” said Parker, “We try to run our seedstock herd like a commercial cattleman would.”
While relying heavily on performance numbers, when it comes to the number of animals they sell and keep, quality comes first. “First things first, we have to like them as they look in the pen,” explained Parker, “If they don’t meet that criteria we sell them.” Performance measures are just as important and around the bottom third of their calves every year don’t make the cut. This applies to the heifers they keep as well. Parker decided to keep just ten replacement heifers this year. “We try not to be number-driven, we try to be quality-driven. That’s just how we do it, we put more emphasis on quality than we do on our numbers,” he explained.
Others in the beef industry also take advantage of the Parker family’s reproductive knowledge. They own a portable AI barn and do custom reproductive work for many producers in the area, sometimes on-site in the pasture. The Parker family is also actively involved in helping youth at shows. Reed and his wife, Abi, attend the Fort Worth Stock Show, Hereford Junior Nationals and other shows every year in addition to helping local youth with their projects.
Parker and his wife both grew up showing cattle. He started college at Clarendon College in Texas and later transferred to Colorado State University, both on judging scholarships. He graduated with an Animal Science degree, but is most thankful for the hands on experience and interaction he received from elite breeders across the country he met through livestock judging. He continues to draw on the one-on-one advice these breeders gave him. Parker’s love for judging continues to be evident in his emphasis on evaluating the structure of the cattle he raises today.
During his time at CSU, and for a year after graduation, he also worked for a feedlot. Building on this experience, Parker’s decision to invest his time in the family ranch was easy despite many of the challenges facing young producers today. “There’s nothing like working on your own stuff and being able to take pride in your own work. At the end of the day that’s yours, that’s what you’ve built,” he said.
Like many operations, Parker Cattle Company is a family affair. Parker’s wife Abi shares his love for showing cattle and he finds great value in being able to share in the industry he loves with her. Alongside Parker’s father Brett, his mom Sally is involved with the ranch as is his sister, Robbie Rae, and her fiancé, Austin.
Parker’s passion for breeding cattle is obvious, but one area he finds challenging is marketing. Parker Cattle Company’s bulls carry a solid reputation but like all markets, it takes years to build a base of repeat customers. He believes in the program he and his father have built and is confident it will continue to grow, “I just believe that if you produce a good product and it works out well you will eventually have customers.”
Parker Cattle Company holds an annual bull sale the third week of March. Many of the 50 to 60 head of bulls they sell go to large cow-calf operations across the western US. “Our main goal is to produce bulls for our bull sale,” explained Parker, “Our goal is to produce the most outstanding, fault-free cattle possible at affordable prices that are profitable for commercial cattlemen and eventually for every chain of the beef industry. We want them to make money in the feedlot and grade well.”
Simply trying to be the best may sound like every other producer in the country and Parker understands this. Parker’s overall passion for Simmental cattle drives him to look at his program from a new angle and embrace the unknown, “I love running and breeding cows,” said Parker, “It’s really that challenge, that adventure that’s really kind of addicting.”