August Web Exclusive! The Beauty of Angus Cattle


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Photo courtesy of Cheryl FairbairnThe Beauty
of Angus Cattle

Low maintenance,
adaptable and gentle

by Wendy Komancheck

        What makes Angus cattle an ideal breed to own? Eric Grant from the American Angus Association (AAA) cites the breed's return on investment with its calving ease, growth and carcass value.

        "Angus cattle are low maintenance, adaptable, and their docile nature makes them a valuable addition to any cow herd," Grant said.

        William and Cheryl Fairbairn own Lisnageer Farm in Coatesville, Pa., where they specialize in breeding Angus cows due to the breed's adaptability to grazing and their mothering ability. For the Fairbairns, it wasn't practical to specialize in a feedlot since they didn't have the needed grain-producing equipment or feedlot area for steers, but they did have ample acreage for grazing and growing hay.

        The Fairbairns started their farm in 1982 when they purchased two cows from Devereux Soleil Farms in Downingtown, Pa. Currently, the Fairbairns are raising 100 registered Angus brood cows on their 55-acre farm and an additional 400 acres that they rent.

        "We thoroughly enjoy breeding cows and watching the calves grow and develop," Cheryl Fairbairn said. "It is very rewarding to watch how your breeding decisions work based on scientific research and the use of the genetic information on sires available through the Angus Association."

Lisnageer cattle grazing in the field in Coatesville, Pa.

The genetic link
        Genetics play a key role in successful Angus breeding at Lisnageer Farm.

        "Angus bulls are genetic leaders in the beef industry, and their high-performing calves function well as breeding or feeding stock. In fact, the Angus breed accounts for about 70 percent of the genetics in the nation's commercial beef production systems. Those numbers prove that Angus genetics work," Grant noted.

        There are about 2,000 registered, purebred Angus cattle found in the northeastern U.S., and there are 922 members from that region who belong to the AAA. According to Grant, the AAA holds the largest database and genetic-evaluation program in the world.

        "This is a powerful tool for cattle producers to use in their efforts to improve the production and quality of their cattle," Grant said.

        The Fairbairns use this database in conjunction with their breeding decisions.

        "The Angus Association provides us with so much data on the cattle enrolled in the AHIR [Angus Herd Improvement Records] that when you use the data, they are very predictable. Because of this, you can breed for the characteristics important to a successful operation and industry," Fairbairn said.

        That information aids the Fairbairns when it comes time to artificially inseminate their cows. Through the AHIR program, they can select bulls that produce calves that birth easily. Additionally, they have knowledge about the cows' genetic background for calving ease and growth among that particular herd's mothers. Thus, the Fairbairns rarely have to deal with any calving difficulty.

        Additionally, the Angus industry is constantly evolving and improving their genetics and record keeping data because breeders, like the Fairbairns, faithfully send calving and genetic information in to be added to the AAA database.

        "Continuing to make that data understandable for the average breeder will be a challenge for the association as we get more information from DNA testing, etc. If they [the AAA] can continue to make it understandable for everyone so they can use the information wisely, it will go a long way," Fairbairn stated.

Cow and calf at Lisnageer Farm in Coatesville, Pa.

Marketing the herd

        For an Angus breeder, the next step after calving is determining where the calves will be marketed at weaning time. The Fairbairns have to decide which calves will be sent to feedlots, which will be kept as replacement animals, and which will be sold to other cattle owners. The decision to cull mature cows is made in the fall at weaning time and is based on reproductive issues, such as a cow that doesn't breed back or a cow with problematic feet or leg soundness. 

        "Our feeder steers are sold to a feedlot in Lancaster [Pa.] and our feeder heifers-those not kept for replacements-are sold to a feedlot in Lebanon [Pa.]. We sell about 15 steer (sic) as freezer beef to customers obtained mainly through word of mouth; we also sell registered cows and heifers to other purebred breeders," Fairbairn explained. She added that the bulls are sold to various commercial and purebred operations in the Midwest.

Fairbairns' cows grazing on grass during the spring.

Grazing conditions
        What do Angus cattle eat? The answer depends on what the cattle will be used for, such as brood cows or bulls for use in a herd or as cattle for a feedlot.

        "Our cow herd is raised on grass strictly for economic reasons," Fairbairn said. "[We] cannot afford to keep a cow herd unless they can utilize grass in a very efficient manner. When the calves are weaned, they are preconditioned and placed on grain. Those going to feedlots are moved 45 days after weaning, so the calves are generally around six to seven months of age before going on a silage and grain ration at the feedlot.

        "Our replacement heifers are fed mainly hay and about 4 to 5 pounds of a corn-soybean mix per head per day for about three to four months. They are AI'd [artificially inseminated] in the spring, and then turned out on grass for the rest of the grazing season. At the end of the grazing season, they are fed round bale hay until they calve in the spring, and the grass cycle begins again for them to graze in the fields. The heifers grow and reach puberty at an earlier age when fed this small amount of grain. They are then ready to breed, will calve as two year olds and fit nicely into the herd breeding program," Fairbairn explained.

        Although many big Angus operations are located in the western part of the U.S., northeastern Angus owners, like the Fairbairns, can still successfully raise their own Angus cattle by specializing in a cow-calf or a feedlot operation to meet specific market needs.

        For more information, visit the AAA online at:

Wendy Komancheck writes about agriculture, businesses and the green industry from her home near Ephrata, Pa. You can contact her at

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