by Sally Colby
Travis Walton started in the beef cattle business like many young people: through 4-H. He purchased his first group of beef cows from a cattle farm near Linwood, NY, and from the start, his goal was to add high-quality females to improve herd genetics.
Although Travis’s wife Sarah was raised on a large dairy farm, she was interested in a variety of livestock species. As a youth, Sarah showed Jersey, Brown Swiss and Holstein cattle as well as Red Angus and Hereford beef cattle, sheep and dairy goats. She also participated in dairy and livestock judging.
“When we started dating, Travis had 30 head,” said Sarah, who received a BS in pre-veterinary medicine from SUNY Cobleskill 2013. “I was only familiar with Red Angus when I met Travis, but we wanted to expand the herd.” The Waltons had an opportunity to purchase a large herd with excellent genetics from Rally Farm, which started in the early 1900s. When they bought the entire herd last February, they expanded to 250 head.
Travis and Sarah were familiar with Rally genetics and were eager to continue the work that had been done to create a line of superior animals. “They’re big, strong cows with excellent maternal traits, and they have good feed efficiency on grass,” said Sarah. “They’re well known across the country.”
Females in the Rally herd were bred to calve between September and late November, with another group calving from January through March. Sarah said those calving times matched the schedule of their existing herd, so it was easy to incorporate new animals.
Breeding at Waltons Way Angus Farm is AI-based. Sarah uses sexed semen on heifers’ first breeding for a higher conception rate. “I use sexed semen on our high-end genetic females,” she said. “Heifers are always going to have the higher-value genetics because we’re always striving to get better animals. The replacements we keep will have better genetics because they came from the best animals. Middle animals are bred with embryos. The calves from any females that are bred by clean-up bulls go to a local custom feeder for finishing, and we retain ownership.”
Travis and Sarah work with their herd vet to use a CIDR synchronization program to bring cows into heat. “We normally wait until they’re 60 days post-calving before we rebreed,” said Sarah. “We purchase herd bulls from well-known farms across the country and put those bulls in when we turn the cows out for grazing at the end of April to catch the ones that didn’t settle with AI.” Bulls are removed from cow groups at the end of summer grazing.
The clean-up bull currently at work at Waltons Way is from Four Sons Farm in Kentucky. “We try to use clean-up bulls that are just as good as any AI bull,” said Sarah. “He’s in the top 1% for most EPD values.” Between the 2020 autumn calving and 2021 spring calving, the Waltons calved 108 cows.
Sarah and Travis use CattleMax software to manage herd records, then link the information to their American Angus Association data. They’re also enrolled in the Angus Herd Improvement Records. Sarah tracks data including weaning and yearling information, dam traits (udder at calving and after weaning) and feet scores. She said bull buyers appreciate information on bull’s dams.
Another important trait that’s tracked is female temperament. “If I have a cow that’s nervous at calving, I enter that information in CattleMax, then I know I have to be patient with her as she calves,” said Sarah. “By recording docility at calving, I know which ones are more temperamental at calving.”
Calves destined for feed-out are sent at around 600 pounds. “They go about 60 days after weaning,” said Sarah, adding that she waits two weeks after weaning to castrate to avoid excess stress on calves. “They’re healed from castration and vaccinated 30 days.” Any heifers that don’t make minimum weight at weaning and those with insufficient pelvic measurement are terminal and go on feed.
Travis and Sarah work with cattle consultant Zach Moffitt of North Carolina to help with their bull and heifer sales as well as scouting new genetics. Since Moffitt sees a lot of cattle on different farms, he’s able to assist the Waltons in selecting the best new genetics for customers.
The Waltons’ feeding program ensures cattle receive optimum nutrition via both pasture and a TMR throughout the year. Prior to winter feeding, Sarah sends forage samples for analysis to Dairy One, then uses the information to develop a custom mineral program. For summer mix, the ration is based on soil samples.
The feeding program measures each commodity that goes into the mixer, how much cows are fed and how much they leave behind. By tracking each feed component, the Waltons can determine exactly how much dry matter cows are consuming.
In addition to holding several cattle sales throughout the year, the Waltons also have a buy-back program that provides commercial cattlemen who purchase bulls an opportunity to sell their weaned feeders for finishing. “It gives our bull buyers an opportunity to have a different market for their calves,” said Sarah.
An upcoming female sale planned for Aug. 21 will feature heifers. Many will be halter-trained and suitable for 4-H’ers, with all paperwork necessary for upcoming fairs. “We can answer any questions on the animals they buy from us or help with clipping or showmanship,” said Sarah. “We’re here to help our customers grow with us.”
Sarah plans to prepare a group of select heifers and exhibit them at shows this summer prior to the August sale. “It helps us see how they place in a judged setting,” she said. “Then 4-H’ers can see what kind of animal they want after that animal has been shown.”
As they continue to focus on top genetics, Travis and Sarah have several goals. “We want to help the New York State Angus Association and get people excited about the Angus breed,” said Sarah. “We want to bring more genetics in from around the country. We also want to help others get into raising and showing beef cattle.”
The Waltons would also like to see producers do a better job with recordkeeping, and emphasize the importance of establishing a good working relationship with a vet. Another benefit of working with a vet is access to their expertise in making herd-based decisions and improving calving. “Make sure calves hitting the ground have the best start possible,” said Sarah.
Sarah recalled the benefits of receiving help from sellers during her early dairy cattle projects, and does the same for customers. “We want to see other people succeed in the industry,” she said. “The future of the industry can only continue if we help younger people. We want to see our customers succeed with our genetics.”