by Karl H. Kazaks
CLAREMONT, NC — Randy Sipe’s career as a cattleman has seen many twists and turns — even an upheaval or two. But Sipe has finally settled on an approach to creating cattle which looks to be his crowning achievement as a breeder.
For the past 15 years he’s been using the line-bred, moderate-framed, flat-patterned Wye Angus cattle as a basis for a registered herd he’s building in North Carolina’s piedmont. He trying to build the same types of cattle found in the classic Wye line, with one exception: he is also selecting for cattle which perform on fescue.
“In the Southeast we’re always going to have fescue,” Sipe said, “and our goal is to improve cattle to adapt to fescue.”
When Sipe was six years old his maternal grandfather gave him a bottle calf. By the time he was 18 he had a herd of 21 cows, which he used as collateral for a loan to purchase a 50 acre farm which serves as the heart of his operation today. Currently he owns about 86 acres in Catawba County and rents another 300 in Gaston County.
In 1979 Sipe bought his first purebred bull. When he saw how the quality of the calves from that bull were an improvement over the calves he had been getting, he considered moving to purebred cattle and soon bought his first purebred cow. By 1984 he had entirely switched from commercial cattle to registered Angus.
Sipe fully embraced the challenge of developing outstanding registered cattle. He learned how to AI. He scoured the stud services for the next up-and-coming great bull. “I would literally stay up all night to heat check,” he said. “I was determined to AI every cow and would keep on until I got to 100 percent AI.”
He sold his bulls through test stations and did well. The trend then (influenced by the introduction of exotic breeds) was for bigger, larger-framed animals. Sipe participated in that trend. In 1989 he sold a bull at test with a 9.2 frame score. That wasn’t the kind of animal he wanted to be producing, though. “We were using supposedly the greatest bulls in America and the cattle were all to pieces,” he said. “They had to be babysat.”
Acknowledging that larger-framed animals needed more maintenance, he increased his feeding. “If that was what it took to make them function, I would do it.” But at the same time he thought the quality of animals was “going backward. Their skeletal size was beginning to look more dairy.”
So he began moving to more moderate-framed animals. In order to market those cattle, he banded together with other breeders who were making like cattle for a sale in Union Grove, NC. Those sales — held from 1992-1994 — were a big success. A cow sold for $10,000, a heifer for $11,000. At the last sale, cattle sold to 24 states.
Still, Sipe wasn’t happy. He had been able to scale back from the large-framed animals but was still using outcrossing, which in his mind had too many weaknesses. With them, he said, “You can disguise weaknesses with a bucket.”
He didn’t want to mask flaws with a bucket — in fact, he eventually decided he didn’t want to use a bucket at all. He wanted to develop a line of cattle which would perform on grass. Not only that, he wanted to develop easy-handling, long-living cattle that had consistent offspring.
So in 1998 Sipe had a dispersal sale. He recalled, “People said, ‘Randy’s lost his mind. He’s got good cows in place, selling some of the best bulls in the test stations.’”
What Sipe wanted was a herd with more homogenous animals derived from Wye genetics. Using line breeding, he figured, he could have more consistent and uniform offspring and more easily eliminate flaws while maintaining desired traits.
To him, the disadvantage of outcrossing is that while it provided hybrid vigor, it could also introduce undesirable traits and minimize the desired genetics you already had in place. What’s more, even though outcrossing could produce champion, high-scoring outliers it could also produce outliers in the other direction — ‘train wrecks’. Outcrossing also introduced the possibility of heterosis.
The day after his dispersal sale Sipe bought a Wye animal and he hasn’t looked back. He has grown to as large as 150 cows, but today has 100 registered Angus cows, all from the Wye line.
Sipe was able to build his herd by buying from Wye sales. When he bought a cow-calf pair, he’d ask that the cow be bred back before he took possession of the pair. He also bought from other cattleman who had purchased from Wye — sometimes from breeders who, like Sipe, were continuing a Wye line breeding strategy themselves. In other cases, when the Wye cow was being outcrossed, he’d raise the outcross calf and then breed the cow back to Wye genetics.
Today Sipe uses both AI and natural service, and breeds year-round. He is 100 percent grazing, and has used ryegrass for winter grazing and interseeded Sudex and millet for summer grazing.
Sipe likes the Wye breed for a variety of reasons. He believes their type most closely resembles the Angus cattle originally imported from the British Isles. He likes them for their maternal characteristics, calving ease, disposition and milk. He thinks they have “a genetic base that can produce marbling on just forage,” according to his research into ultrasound data.
Sipe acknowledges that Wye cattle still have “a lot of work to be done,” such as selecting for fescue, but it’s a task he embraces. “I love genetics,” he said. “I love creating animals.”
Sipe has had to create a market for his new herd. Deciding to tap into the farm to table movement, he built a mobile food trailer called the Rawhide Ranger which he uses to cook his beef at festivals and events within about a 100 mile radius of his home. This past year he built a second, larger food trailer to be able to sell at more events. The Sipes also have an on-farm retail store where they sell their beef by the cut.
In 2011, Sipe had his first large sale of his Wye-line cattle. His sold 38 cows, 10 bred heifers, 10 bulls, and some embryos. Cattle sold to 17 states, with most of the bulls going to grass-fed beef operations. Buyers are already waiting for Sipe’s next sale, but he’s in no hurry, both because he has the Rawhide Rangers and because he wants to evaluate how his heifers perform.
“There’s a shortage of wonderful genetics,” he said.
For more information about Sipe Angus, visit www.sipeangus.com.
by Karl H. Kazaks