Pasco County, Florida Rancher Uses Genetic Data To Perfect His Herd.

Registered Black Angus cow and calf on the Shiloh South ranch in Lacoochee, Florida.

Lacoochee, FL —  When Ronnie L. Deese, owner of Shiloh South Black Angus, looks at his East Pasco registered herd he sees numbers and percentages related to qualities like calving ease and meat marbling and yearling weight.  How does he know such unseen attributes?  He looks at the genetics behind each and every cow, calf and bull in incredible detail.

Neither born or raised a rancher, Deese had cattle ranching on his bucket list for decades.

He grew up in a military family and also served during Vietman before returning home to get his degree in finance, becoming a Certified Public Accountant, and ultimately Manager of Accounting for Withlacoochee River Electric Co-Op.  About 10 years ago, he decided to check cattle ranching off his list, and purchased 105 acres in East Pasco to begin raising registered Black Angus.  Today, he has 40 cows, 20 calves, and 10 bulls. Nine are young or mature breeding age bulls for sale.

Without the benefit of generations of hind sight and experience into raising crossbred herds like many in East Pasco do, he chose to raise registered Black Angus because of the vast amount of genetic data available with them – not surprising for someone who utilizes numbers for his career. In addition to looking at the animal for appearance, calving history, hooves, and other things cattlemen have examined for centuries, he uses genetic data and a more scientific approach as additional tools.

These methods have helped him raise his herd to be among the top one percent in many categories of what’s known as the Expected Progeny Difference (EPD), which is a prediction of how the future progeny of each animal is expected to perform relative to the progeny of other animals within the same breed.  The indicators provided by the EPDs of his herd allowed him to leverage methods like artificial insemination and embryo transfer to improve the genetics of his herd.

“I was new to this industry a decade ago,” said Deese.  “So, I had to rely on data, on information from scientists at the University of Florida and other local ranchers to get up-to-speed pretty quickly if I was going to make a business go of this.”

The EPD rankings that are most important to Deese in his herd are docility, heifer pregnancy rates, marbling, the weaning dollar value, and most of all the beef value, also known as the $B ranking.  These are the traits he identified that would give his herd the highest production, most reliable outcomes in breeding, and top dollar at sale. It was a strategy that paid off.

In just four generations, Deese has been able to eliminate the genetics in calves born from cows that had a high rate of potential offspring defects.

He has been able to genetically alter his herd to make them flourish on nothing but grass, minerals, twice yearly worming, and vaccinations.  They are completely organic, grass fed and hormone free and are exceptional examples of the breed.  Marbling, an important indication of meat quality, has improved overall as well.  Equally important, the dollar value (or $B) of his herd has risen in some cases from $107 to over $200 more than similar progeny bred and raised here in Pasco County.

Even his clean up bull (the bull that’s put out with the herd once the artificial inseminations and embryo transfers are complete) is one among the top in many EPD percentages in his breed.  Known as Oz Jr, he is in the top one percent in seven traits including marbling, yearling weight, grid value, quality grade, and beef value, or $B and in the top two or three percent in five other traits.  The $B is expressed in dollars per head, and is the expected average difference in future progeny performance from post weaning and carcass value when compared to progeny from other sires.  Oz Jr.’s beef value is $204.38 higher than Black Angus bulls with similar breeding and characteristics.

“A lot of ranchers crossbreed their herds to capitalize on the genetic differences between different breeds,” said Deese.  “That is definitely one way to go.  But I wanted empirical evidence to know I was heading in the right direction since I didn’t have generations of ranching know-how behind me to instinctually improve upon the genetics of my herd.”

Genetic evaluations such as the ones underway at Shiloh South in Dade City and Lacoochee, Cigar City Cattle Company in Tampa, Florida and Big Timber Cattle Company in Lithia, Florida are becoming more and more accurate due to advancements in overall DNA science. 

In the 1980s, performance data was generated by pedigree and the overall look of the animal.  In the ‘90s, cattle breeders like those mentioned above began leveraging DNA and evolving statistical methodology and computational strategies to make a quantum leap in prediction accuracy, according to Wade Shafer, Ph.D. and executive secretary of the American Simmental Association.

Deese believes he has one of the best small herds of registered Angus not only locally, but in the nation.  His hopes for the future are to continue to refine the genetics of his herd and contribute to the refinement of the Black Angus breed.  He also hopes to provide quality calves and bulls to local ranchers to help boost their overall meat production and quality.