A split seedstock and commercial operation focuses on data and efficiency within the cow herd.
By Emme Troendle
“We do a little bit of everything,” says Grant Jones, speaking for the family’s Chundy Land and Cattle operation, located 26 miles north of Haigler (population 147), in the southwestern corner of Nebraska. “We are a diversified operation that runs registered and commercial cow-calf pairs, sells registered bulls and commercial heifers, backgrounds steers to 850 pounds, but also feeds out cattle and collects data from birth weights to carcass, to ensure that we are doing things right.”
Situated on Nebraska’s grass-rich, rolling hills, nicknamed the “Mini Sandhills,” irrigation water is pumped from the Ogallala Aquifer. The Jones family has learned to think outside the box to take advantage of natural and financial opportunities. “We graze on irrigated pasture to improve forage and increase herd size. Our region is really sandy. Irrigation is vital for growing grain and forage for our herd, but we work under water restrictions. Developing a good rotation that will work for us is important.”
The main ranch runs along the Chase and Dundy county line, where the ranch derives its name, Chundy, a combination of the two counties. Jones represents the sixth generation to grow up in southwest Nebraska and the fifth generation to manage the cattle enterprise. His great-great-grandparents, Arda and Grace, started the original 40-acre ranch as homesteaders in 1922.
Since then, each generation has had a hand in expanding and developing the cattle operation. Today, under the management of Grant and his father, Shawn, the cow herd has expanded to 150 registered, 700 commercial Simmental, Angus, and SimAngusTM cattle.
“Our family homesteaded just north of our main headquarters,” Jones says, describing the transition of the family’s cattle business. “We have always been a commercial operation, but in recent years, we have expanded to offer breeding stock.”
The original property was split between his great-grandfather, Vinton, and his brother, Irvin; but in 1988, Jones’ grandparents, Stan and Phyllis, expanded the operation after purchasing adjoining land to the south.
The herd was primarily commercial Herefords until Jones’ father and grandfather started utilizing AI in the early ’90s, and the operation shifted to black-hided cattle. “My dad saw what the Angus breed was doing for marketing and switched gears to black cattle,” Jones shares. “At the same time, we were making leaps and bounds genetically, and we really started pushing for quality cattle over quantity.”
In 2009, Chundy Land and Cattle became multipliers for Powerline Genetics and started breeding Simmental. As a part of Powerline Genetics, the group marketed 600 bulls annually, marketing the genetics of terminal sires for commercial customers. “At one point, the group was doing everything from pasture to plate,” he explains.
Jones remembers the ranch’s transition to Simmental. “I’ll be honest; I was nervous of the idea of us crossing our cows with Simmental. I grew up with my mom’s dad sharing how they got burned by the big calves, but after we got into breeding Simmental, I realized how much the breed has changed — this isn’t my grandfather’s breed anymore.”
The expansion to seedstock was slow. The first introduction to registered cattle was when Jones was in grade school exhibiting cattle in 4-H and FFA. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in animal science from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Jones returned to the family operation with the same passion for seedstock he had when he was younger. His passion was compounded when the ranch started struggling to purchase clean-up bulls that had longevity. Jones explains, “We were buying fat bulls that weren’t making it. They would work for one season, but we could never get them going again or they would get injured.”
To increase numbers of registered cattle, Jones purchased a local herd of registered Angus females and started breeding Simmental to develop a SimAngus cow herd base. “We kept our first group of SimAngus heifers in 2012, and by 2014 we could tell that the 50% Simmental 50% Angus cows were performing above our expectations. They were rock solid. My mind changed on what Simmental had to offer.”
“We are ‘cow first,’” Jones shares, “The bulls and steers we sell are a byproduct of our operation. If we raise cows that are getting it done — keeping body condition, raising a good calf, breeding back the first time, and doing that efficiently — not only will we be sustainable long term, but we will be developing good breeding stock for our customers and better beef for consumers.”
Jones focuses on data collection and efficiency on each individual cow. As a participant of ASA’s Total Herd Enrollment (THE) program, Chundy Land and Cattle records birth, weaning, and yearling weights on all cattle, and ultrasound data on bulls, in addition to all basic calf reporting requirements.
“We are big on data,” he says. “Whether it is registered or commercial, I like to know how each cow is doing to see if she performing how she needs to.”
In THE, registered and commercial replacement females have EPDs returned to assist in selection decisions. “In our part of the world, we need easy flushing, moderate milking cows that raise a good calf. I emphasize moderate milking because we need her to carry enough milk to optimize weaning weights on good years, but on harder years, she is still going to raise a calf that performs.”
When selecting replacement heifers, yearling pelvic measurements are utilized to ensure that females will be able to calve a 60-pound or heavier calf. Phenotypic and genetic data are used to make final decisions. For Jones, stayability in the herd is a priority. He says, “She needs to look like a brood cow that has the structure and the EPDs behind her to make it.”
All cows are bred AI. Chundy Land and Cattle breeds 700 spring cows, 150 fall cows, and manages a cooperator herd of 225 cows. The spring cow herd, primarily registered, starts calving the first of January and the fall herd starts calving in August for 60 days. Clean-up bulls are utilized to catch any cows that may come back into heat.
Looking for ways to improve the herd, Jones is working on cutting down each calving season by retaining heifers and cows that breed in a 45-day window. “We want to keep cows that breed earlier, that will perform, and stay in the herd longer. Our goal is increased reproductivity for the customer who buys our bulls and heifers.”
When making AI sire selection decisions, Jones buys in groups of 50 to 100 semen straws. He leans toward bulls that are proven for best predictability on how the sire will perform in both the registered and commercial herd. “I don’t want the newest, shiniest thing. I want to see that the bull has progeny. I like to see that the bull has placed high in feed efficiency too,” he adds referring to the feed efficiency data ABS Global collects on AI sires.
Spring calves are weaned in August, and fall calves are weaned in March. The majority of the fall herd are commercial females, and calves are backgrounded through the summer to 850 pounds and sold in August. This year, the ranch retained ownership on a set of steers to collect carcass data. “We wanted to start getting carcass data back on our commercial herd to help us improve breeding decisions. They are all siblings to the bulls that we sell in February.”
Chundy Land and Cattle’s annual production sale is the first week of February. Up to 60 yearling and two-year-old bulls and 60 replacement females are consigned each year. Jones explains his philosophy behind developing quality bulls. “We develop bulls the same way we got into the seedstock, low and slow. We don’t creep feed, because we want to know how the cow and her bull calf are actually performing.”
Jones shares that his customers are looking for quality genetics in a bull that will keep good condition and perform for multiple breeding seasons. “We are providing genetics that can perform and do what needs done. We don’t push our bulls. They might not have the highest weaning weights, but they are true weights. Our customers can rely on knowing what they are getting.”
Rooted in Agriculture
In the last year, Grant and Shawn took over the management of the operation, while Stan started taking a silent role in the operation. Grant says, “My grandparents still own cattle in the operation, and they own the land we rent.”
Grant’s mother, Julie, is actively involved with the record and bookkeeping in the operation.
In addition to the cattle and farming operation, Jones’s great-grandfather (Vinton) started an agriculture aviation business to spray crops and pasture land in the early ’50s, which grew into fertilizer and chemical sales under the following generations. Jones remembers spending his childhood summers loading airplanes and delivering fertilizer and chemicals.
Even though today the agriculture aviation and fertilizer businesses have been sold, the family still has close ties to agricultural aviation and fertilizer and chemical sales. Stan owns and leases crop-spraying airplanes.
In 2007, the sales side of the operation was sold to Helena Chemical Company where Shawn works full-time today. Grant’s oldest sister, Morgan, works for Helena Chemical Company in Petersburg, Nebraska, and his youngest sister, Emily, is a sophomore at Concordia University where she plays basketball.
“My great-grandfather was the one who left the ranch, but I am the crazy one that decided to come back to it.” Grant laughs as he summarizes his great-grandfather’s decision to start the airplane spraying business to his decision to run the cattle operation.
He concludes, “The Simmental breed is female-oriented. It’s not that this cow had one good bull and that is all she did. It is how the cow has been doing over her lifetime, and I think that helps keep a productive and successful operation.”