Michaelis Ranch

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Michaelis Ranch is one of the oldest seed stock producers in North America. M. G. Michaelis Sr. performance-tested purebred Hereford and Shorthorn cattle in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and, for many years, was the largest jack and jennet breeder in Texas. He sold mules throughout the world and raised buggy, saddle and racehorses as well. Importantly, purebred and commercial were synonymous terms to the Michaelis family as they ran over 12,000 good Hereford cows in northern Mexico and west Texas and it was all done on grass and browse. M. G. Jr’s wife, Helen Hall Michaelis, was one of the founders of the American Quarter Horse Association and raised quarter horses for breeding and racing, as well as keeping detailed records of origins and production of all the breeds of animals on the ranches.


In 1934, Michaelis Ranch opened a new era of
purebred and commercial production when Blanco and Nero, Charolais bull calves given to M. G. Jr. by General Miguel Acosta of Mexico, were brought to the ranch headquarters in Kyle, Texas from the ranch operation in Coahuila, Mexico. This first importation laid the foundation for the oldest Charolais herd in continual production, to this day, in the United States. In 1955, M. G. Michaelis Jr., H. M. Kimball Sr., and Henderson Coquat purchased the Pugibet herd of Charolais, one of the two foundation herds in Mexico, and moved the herd to the Michaelis El Fortín Ranch in Coahuila. The story of this herd, its purchase, movement, questionable dispersion of offspring, and near demise, is the stuff of legend and not a version of the tale exists that is entirely accurate. But Michaelis Ranch recognized the potential of this breed, and despite attempted intervention from many entities and individuals, held fast to its goal to use these great cattle to improve the commercial cattle industry in North America.


Michaelis seed stock played a major role in the establishment of many U.S. and Canadian Charolais herds in the early years.  In 1961, Michaelis gave the bull, Rondo, to the Canadian Charolais Association and his semen was available to all members. In the second half of the 50s and throughout the 1960s, Michaelis Charolais dominated the show circuit and awards included the first National Grand Champion Female in 1970.


Showing cattle became an important way for Michaelis Ranch to advertise what it had for sale. Michaelis Ranch had been progressive by daring to experiment with and promote Charolais.  In 1979, however, Michaelis Ranch stopped showing, believing the current and growing trend at that time toward long legs and extreme size was an unsound fad and not beneficial to the commercial beef producer. It refused to select for traits that would eventually prove the downfall of the breed for a period of time. Also, Michaelis refused to infuse other breeds into its herd in order to accelerate body growth and remain competitive in the show arena. Michaelis Ranch was called unprogressive but remained committed to its breeding philosophy:


The only valid reason for producing and improving purebred cattle is to improve the quality and economic efficiency of commercial cattle. 

 

Soon after the extreme trend took hold, EPDs were introduced. Michaelis Ranch believes in numbers and has, since 1902, calculated its own performance data using the ranch scales. This data along with visual appraisal, or “eyeballing”, are the vital tools Michaelis Ranch has always used for its selection and culling processes. However, Michaelis Ranch felt, and still does, that EPDs are sometimes used as a marketing tool to make cattle that don’t measure up in the pasture look better on paper. Numbers can be manipulated. Because the ranch never submitted performance data with its registration applications, there was no cumulative data on which to base accurate calculations. Early on, because EPDs were optional, Michaelis Ranch requested the registry not print these calculations on its registration papers. With the eventual cessation of options, Michaelis had to “apologize”, for example, for its best milkers making such a poor showing on paper. Practically all of our EPDs showed up in the “negative (-)” range. Of course, seeing calves in the pasture is the best proof of what a cowherd can do. And that’s where we thought up our own important “number”…the GTU, or GROUND TO UDDER.  How long does it take for that newborn calf to get up after birth and begin nursing? All the factors necessary for a practical, functional and economic herd are evidenced by a short GTU time. A short GTU means that calf was not too big, the birth was easier, the milk will come in well, and the cow will accept the calf readily and be ready to breed back in short order.

              

Linebreeding

Uniformity is something we, as humans, despise for ourselves. Most of us cherish our individuality and non-conformity. However, in the cattle business, the commercial men and packers are whom we need to please, and uniformity is the name of the game. They want uniform calves that make uniform carcasses.  Michaelis Ranch has developed it’s uniform herd of Charolais in the United States and Mexico using the old, time-tested method developed over hundreds of years by the British and Continental master livestock breeders called linebreeding.  Linebreeding is, essentially, inbreeding that concentrates on particular family lines within a cattle group. It is probably the most misunderstood and ignored practice in the cattle business. Misunderstood because not many breeders practice it or even know its benefits, and ignored because it takes time and patience.  But when the average lifespan of a purebred business is probably 5-10 years or so, it’s apparent most people aren’t entering the cattle business to make it their life’s work.


Dr. Robert A. (Bob) Long, Professor Emeritus and former Chairman of the Animal Science Department at Texas Tech University, best explains the particulars of inbreeding, linebreeding, outbreeding, and crossbreeding in his book, BEEF LOGIC…Practical Advice for Today’s Cattle Producer (Published by Breakthrough Business Solutions, LLC, HC 63 Box 2055, Grass Range, Montana 59032). In his chapter on mating systems, first, he describes random mating as “the mating of individuals without consideration of either pedigree or performance”. “Unfortunately”, he continues, “this is essentially what results in many purebred herds which use several unrelated bulls each season and base the selection of those sires on their show ring record at Denver or Louisville or the prediction of a livestock magazine representative as to which bulls will be ‘hot’ next year”. After a brief explanation of gene pairings and why “inbred animals are more uniform than outbred individuals”, he goes on to caution ”‘random inbreeding’ is almost always negative. However, ‘inbreeding with selection’ can be a powerful tool for herd and/or breed improvement. Inbreeding with accurate selection for reproductive efficiency, growth rate and carcass excellence can yield superior breeding stock. Outstanding inbred individuals are productive, predictable, prepotent and the most valuable breeding animals of all.”  Michaelis Ranch linebreeds in order to enable its commercial customers to expect uniform calf crops. And because Michaelis Ranch has been a closed, linebred herd for several decades, it is able to offer a very unique outcross to its purebred friends.


Red Charolais

Shortly after discussing “red factor” cattle in annual AICA meetings in Houston a number of years ago, a breeder’s wife shook her finger in our faces and spewed that we had “crossed those cattle with something else” to get the red color. Yes, it is possible to change animal color and body type very quickly by crossing with another breed…it will yield some changed individuals overnight but the road to uniformity is a long road to travel.  The red Michaelis Charolais line was the result of an intensive breeding-up program begun in 1934. 


In the earliest days of our breed’s history in the United States, purebred Charolais resulted from long and tedious breeding-up programs whereby some imported purebreds were crossed with other recognized beef breeds like Brahma, Hereford and Shorthorn. To explain the dedication of these early breeders, we offer a basic math lesson in genetics: If 100 Brahman cows are bred to a purebred Charolais bull yielding a 100% calf crop with half being females, it will take 12 years to get only 3(three!) 31/32 purebred Charolais animals from that original breeding.  Most of the purebred Charolais in the United States are descendants of these bred-up animals or a cross of these animals and other imported purebreds. That’s why the early breeders were truly pioneers!


In 1934, M. G. Michaelis Sr. began his breeding-up program using foundation bulls Blanco, Nero and then Slip, on Shorthorn, Hereford, and Shorthorn/Hereford crosses. (Dairy breeds were not permitted in breeding-up programs of beef cattle in those days.) Blanco and Nero were sons of the French bull, Iroquois, and had been originally imported into Mexico from France. His goal was to ultimately have a herd of purebred white Charolais. In the process, however, one particular line that had descended from a wonderful half Shorthorn/half Hereford cow simply wouldn’t turn white. They were always described in his production records as very, very good…but dark cream.


When MGM Dorie 3rd/M 11 was born on February 18, 1964 by the outstanding fullblood Mexican bull MGM Dario A183 and was, as usual, a dark cream of outstanding quality, we finally said why not just start a family of darker-colored Charolais---they are outstanding in every respect and the color is actually a very good, practical color. Dorie’s dam, Yellow Sash 298M, by El Rey, also dark cream and outstanding, was sold to Don Pochylko in Canada, and, later, dark-colored Charolais became popular there. At first, we used only white fullblood (the term used for purebred in Mexico) bulls on the cream cows, but later we began using cream bulls descended from MGM Dorie 3rd/M 11, and by breeding cream to cream to cream, concentrating the blood of M 11, the cattle began turning red. That is how Michaelis Charolais turned red---not overnight, but over a period of 40 years of trait selection and because of one little stubborn gene combination that wouldn’t go away.