After a lifetime of raising Herefords, Dan Snyder knows what he likes. Although cattle styles have changed over the years, sometimes to the extreme, Snyder has always stuck with what he believes are true performers with style, function and longevity.
Snyder got started in the cattle business in the 1980s, primarily as a means for his kids to stay busy. He believed it was important that his kids learn all aspects of the cattle business, so the family bred and selected 4-H project animals for both market and breeding classes from within the herd. “We A.I.’d to numerous bulls, and we always maintained a good herd sire,” said Snyder, explaining the start of the Stone Ridge Manor herd in Gettysburg, PA. “Back in that day, there was a big push to have huge, big-framed cattle, but we opted not to go that route. We stuck with a middle-of-the-road philosophy. I’m glad, because a lot of those cattle didn’t perform, produce milk or have sensible sized calves.”
Today, The Stone Ridge Manor herd exceeds breed averages on all traits, an accomplishment that’s the result of careful mating selections by Snyder and his son Seth.
Seth acts as herd manager, and checks all the animals every day at each farm. He also handles hay-making and other cropping.
Stone Ridge Manor includes 460 owned acres and additional leased acreage for a total of 800 farmed acres. Cattle are on pasture both at the home farm and at four other locations within several miles of the main farm. The cowherd includes about 150 mature animals, about 30 to 40 bred heifers as well as young bulls being developed as future herd sires or sale. “We sell a lot of cattle, both at the sale and through private treaty,” said Snyder. “That’s why we do so much ET work. We handle a lot of feeders too.”
Snyder says breeding cattle for an ideal type involves a lot of decisions. “Sometimes you make the wrong decision as you go along, but you can make corrections too,” he said. “The calf that hits the ground today isn’t going to do anything for you for two years. If you go to one extreme or another, unless you’re extremely lucky, you’re going to have to play some serious catch-up.”
Every cow in the Stone Ridge Manor herd is expected to work, and Snyder believes that cows don’t have to be oversized to carry a calf and raise it to weaning. “If a cow can’t wean 50 percent of her weight in a calf and then get bred back so she calves again in a year, she’s not doing what she should be doing,” he said. “Unless a 1,600 pound cow can wean an 800 or 900 pound calf, which they can’t, there’s something wrong.”
Snyder says the cows in his herd average about 1,200 pounds, and can easily wean calves that are 50 percent of their body weight, but also has 1,100 pound cows that can easily wean a 600 pound calf.
The farm’s pasture based program includes overseeding pastures as necessary. Snyder tries to reduce the amount of established fescue in favor of New Zealand grazing species. “We overseed with clover to try to get 30 percent legume, which is enough to buffer the fescue,” he said.
The majority of the herd is bred for early spring calving, which starts in January and continues through the end of March. This allows potential sale calves to be weaned and prepared in time for the farm’s annual Breeder’s Classic Sale held the first weekend in October. Snyder says there are also some fall calves because of the farm’s flush program.
Snyder knows it takes a lot to maintain the large frame of a heavy cow, which is why he insists on keeping the cows fit and not fat. The farm’s forage-based program has worked consistently for efficient, working cattle; both cows and bulls. “Our cattle have to make a living around a hay rack,” said Snyder. “They don’t get grain supplement — they have to get it done eating good grass or high-moisture hay along with minerals.” First-calf heifers are supplemented with alfalfa hay in severely cold weather.
Because the herd consistently exceeds breed averages, Stone Ridge Manor has a reputation for producing outstanding herd bulls. “We sell a lot of bulls,” said Snyder, “and when they leave, they’ve been on grass and good minerals.”
Snyder would rather sell realistic cattle to buyers who can take them home and put them right in the pasture where they’ll get to work and maintain condition through the breeding season.
Snyder recently sold a group of Hereford bulls to an Angus farm to produce baldies. Snyder noted that baldies are proven to outgain purebreds by an average of about 50 pounds. Another benefit of the Hereford x Angus cross is that baldie heifers average 93 percent first calf conception rate compared to 85 percent for purebreds. “If you have 400 to 500 cows, that’s a lot of money,” said Snyder, “plus the additional weight gain can really be an economic boon.”
In addition to live animals sold at the farm’s annual sale and through private treaty, Stone Ridge Manor sells embryos and semen. “We have quite a few nationally ranked A.I. sires,” said Snyder. “We brought one in from Texas last week.” That bull, Red Power, is a three-year old with an outstanding temperament and already has progeny in the herd. With a minus birth weight, he’s ideal for heifers. “He’s smooth-shouldered, built like a wedge,” said Snyder. “We A.I.’d a lot to him last year and flushed a couple of cows to him.”
Although Snyder spends a lot of time looking at cattle and is continually assessing phenotype, he also looks at genomic information. He says genomic testing and DNA information available for cattle has helped identify traits much faster than in the past.
“I’ve seen and handled thousands of cattle over the years,” said Snyder. “Before all of this (genetic testing) there was a feeling that you could look at a bull and know what you were seeing. The first modern advent was ultrasound.”
Snyder says two very similar cattle can be ultrasounded yet appear quite different on the rail, and that trait can be determined and even predicted. “If we’re selling a herd bull to produce registered calves, it has to be DNA tested now,” said Snyder. “We always get the genomic testing done to see if they’re homozygous for the polled trait because that matters to people.”
Stone Ridge Manor has recently partnered with Mason-Dixon Distillery in nearby downtown Gettysburg in partnership that benefits both sides. The distillery delivers distiller’s grains to the farm where they are used to top-dress hay, and in turn, the distillery purchases lean ground beef from Stone Ridge Manor and features it on their menu.