Our Program

Breeding for the best

The cattle operation consists of nearly 300 head of Hereford cows that are rigidly culled each year. " A line breeding program can only succeed if you cull hard. You've got to keep moving with the best genetics. " says Jack. The first culling priority is individual performance or production; that translates into weaning and yearling ratios for heifer and bull calves, and fertility, structure, fleshing ability, and udder quality for mature cows and young animals. "Our cowherd is our pride and joy.  We want productive, functional, fertile females that will get the job done in any conditions and any environment".

"We expect a cow to have a calf every year, or she better have a darn good reason why she didn't," Jack said, explaining how pushing specific traits, such as, performance or milk can affect fertility. By culling open cows, Jack says fertility is maintained while other traits are increased. We use a short 50 day breeding season followed by a 30 day clean up. All cows that don't breed in the first 50 days are sold unless there is a very specific reason for them not breeding. This is one of our checks and balances to make sure we keep everything in order and don't push any traits too far. The ranch is also using an extensive embryo transfer program to add more of the best genetics back into the herd more rapidly. They usually only work with proven cows which have produced and raised at least two calves. "We like to see a cow in production and raise a great first calf or two and breed back on time and then move her into our donor program," he says and goes on, "I'm a firm believer that you can't have too many great cows stacked in a pedigree. Being able to put our best cows in our ET program has allowed us to really stack pedigrees for both predictability and quality."

the bull program

Stringent standards apply to bull calves as well. After weaning, bottom-end calves for performance, structure, EPD's, and phenotype are taken off , and Jack moves the remaining group, earmarked for sale, into a 140-day feed test through yearling. Bulls are then semen tested, and poor performers, injured, and any poor quality bulls are removed. We don't want anything in the sale that we don't think can do somebody some good. Each bull better have something to contribute and show individual performance, EPD's, soundness, and quality or the best thing for him to do is be a steer.  Generally only the top 70% of the bull calf crop makes it to the sale.  We pride ourselves on a high quality sale offering that are uniform and consistent in type and kind and where depth ofquality is strong all the way through the sale offering. 

Holden's retain one to three top bulls each year for their own use. Primary sources for outside genetics include Cooper Herefords and Miles City Research Station where the original Line One herd still resides. Though Jack likes to retain his top individual when possible, which calf he keeps is determined by how much of any particular pedigree is needed to maintain genetic progress. 

Bulls are generally only used for three seasons in order to prevent the herd from becoming too tightly bred. "We figure in three years a bull should raise a son better than himself. We want to turn the generations and keep the progress moving." says Jack. 

Though not necessarily his primary consideration, Jack said EPDs have developed into a very important tool in helping them to increase milk and performance while maintaining birth weight, especially on proven bulls that have developed some accuracy. "Most commercial cattlemen know figured out what a good tool EPDs are, so producing bulls with good EPDs makes our cattle easier to market," he says. We also want a bull that is well marked, easy doing, thick, sound structured, and most of all out of a great cow. Phenotype and cow family are as important to us as the EPD's.  Great individuals that have all of that in one package are the ones that will help you move your program forward.
Holden's have also begun testing 100% of the retained heifers and bulls after weaning using genomically enhanced EPD's (GE EPD's).  "This helps us have more accurate EPD's at a younger age on our cattle and in our bulls to the sale offering to help our customers make the best choices possible for genetic improvement in their herds.  The entire cowherd and all sires along with all sale cattle are also all DNA parentage verified and tested for all known genetic defects.

Jack uses semen marketing as a tool to help improve EPD accuracies. "People who buy semen are going to buy it, regardless, so you might as well get your market share, and selling semen allows a bull to work in different environments against other sires which helps his EPDs," he says. 

SELLING BULLS: For all the genetics Holden's supply to registered breeders, commercial customers are the cornerstone of their business, accounting for over 2/3 of annual sales. "Without the commercial buyers, it doesn't make any difference how many high selling bulls are sold, if the rest are left over, you didn't have a very good sale," Jack says.

carcass and performance

In order to keep themselves and their customers in the mainstream, the Holden's enhance ranch performance records with carcass data and utilize ultrasound measurements as a selection tool. Holden's were one of the first members of the Montana Beef Performance Association when organized in 1956 until it was dissolved and are also active participants in the Whole Herd TPR program of the American Hereford Association and are recognized as a Gold Breeder. These records have been important tools to aid in selecting and maintaining the performance and quality of their cattle.

Knowing how important end product results are has gotten the Holden's involved with the Certified Hereford Beef program, which is a subsidiary of the American Hereford Association. “It has been proven to be a great product and has helped the marketability of Hereford and Hereford cross cattle." says Jack

Jack says, "When beef was king so were Herefords. Hereford beef is the best in the world and we want to do our part to ensure that we keep carcass quality in our cattle along with the ability to gain and convert efficiently." We have ultrasounded every yearling bull on the ranch since 1995 along with almost all of our yearling heifers.  We feel this data is critical in developing an early database to tell how our sires are performing from a carcass standpoint.  Emphasis is placed on carcass EPD's and ultrasound data when selecting new herd sires for the ranch. 

Using these selection tools has definitely proven the carcass merit on Holden Herefords cattle.  Currently 67 sires raised by Holden Herefords are recognized by the AHA as Certified Hereford Beef Sires of Distinction. To be recognized as CHB SOD, a bull must have proven accuracy of at least 30% on REA and Marbling EPD's and also rank in the top 25% of the breed on the $CHB profit index.