Going full throttle, forward-thinking cattle breeder Heath Allen is having the time of his life running a total 800 cows and calves, doing embryo transfer and artificial insemination and preparing for his spring bull sale.
Allen, who ranches with his dad Bob Allen at their Flat Iron Angus Ranch near Haddam in north central Kansas is also glad that his two sons are poised to join the business. Son Tristan is a senior in high school and Traven and his twin sister Triniti are freshmen.
Allen conducts AI, focuses on carcass traits and how they’ll grid, and is also on track with embryo transfer calves out of top-named bulls.
Flat Iron Angus was established in 1997 but they have been raising purebred Angus since 1995. Allen’s wife Stacey and their daughter help work cattle. The family runs 350-400 momma cows, and as many calves. There are 250 are in the spring calving herd, and the remainder calve in the fall calving herd.
“It’s economically cheaper to run a spring herd, although it’s more labor-intensive, especially with a purebred herd,” Allen said.
Flat Iron hosts its annual bull sale on the second Wednesday in March at the ranch. A majority of their customers have spring herds so they like to purchase yearling bulls. That fits having a spring calving herd for the Allens.
The special part of Heath Allen’s family cattle operation, is that their cow herd has been a closed cow herd since 1995. They bought 50 head of registered Angus cows and have kept all their own replacements ever since.
“We were looking for maternal traits to produce good mommas. Now, that our herd is at the size we want, we’re going for carcass traits,” Allen said.
They finish out the steer mates, and all those calves grade at 100% choice or higher, Allen said. The value added is huge, he added. Their goal is to produce cattle that will pay back on the grid.
Any sire he picks, whether A.I. or natural, Allen considers its carcass. Robust animals can bring a $100 premium at the sale barn. For Allen, it’s getting as much money out of his crop as possible.
Flat Iron Angus sells the top 10-15% of its bull calf crop.
“You’re getting the best calves out of our herd that we sell in our March production sale,” Allen said.
Flat Iron has started doing some embryo work, and will have some embryo transfer calves in March 2024 out of some top-notch bulls and cows. Embryo transfer allows producers to get calves out of a higher quality sire and dam and improve their genetics faster and cheaper than owning a half-million-dollar bull.
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“That’s the purpose of embryo transfer and AI … to get those expensive genetics,” Allen said
For every purchase that Allen makes, he works toward his goals.
“I’m going down the right path, but there’s always room for improvement and things change fast,” he said.
In three years, for example, sires used for AI are typically passed up with better EPD profiles (expected progeny difference) from the newer generations of bulls. The rule of thumb is a yearling bull can breed 12-15 cows, a 2-year-old bull can breed 24 cows, and a 3-year-old can breed 30-40 cows. Cows reach their prime at 7 years, and bulls reach theirs at 6. After that, bulls can’t typically cover as many cows.
He keeps 40 replacement heifers every year with improved pedigrees and EPD profiles to better his herd, as he goes along.
This coming March will be the Allen’s eighth annual bull sale. A lot of work goes into preparing. The Allens hired a sale manager to keep everything in line.
The genetic background of Allen’s bulls include a Deer Valley Growth Fund bull, from which they have quite a few bulls out of for the 2023 sale. Their other Angus sired bulls are E & B Plus One, and Wilks Regiment. Simmental sires will be TJ Main Event and Hanels’ Big Timber. In 2024, that list will include LAR Main in Black, BAR Dynamic, Sitz Resilient and EXAR Stock Fund.
The Allens raise most of their feed themselves and do some custom work where they help others bale hay and receive some hay in return. They also grow corn and rye grass, but hire out that work.
Flat Iron Angus’s name comes from the flat iron steak.
Learning the cattle breeding business began with wisdom from Allen’s dad.
“It was dad and me together learning the cattle world and doing the bull sale. Now that we’ve been at it seven years, after growing pains through the bull sale, it’s all starting to show rewards,” Allen said.
They have been selling 100% of their bulls, which is a good feeling, Allen said.
His favorite part of it all is calving season, which runs January through May 1 at Flat Iron Angus. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a reward when you get to see what all your hard work has brought you, he said.
In January, he calves heifers, and the cows start calving in February. Almost all their spring herd gets AI-bred starting April 15 through May 15. Then they’re put out to pasture with clean-up bulls until the end of July.
As far as the easiest time of year, that’s when cows are out to grass.
“When I come to work, I don’t come to work for myself,” Allen said. “I come for my kids, if they want to come back and farm.”
Reporter Amy Hadachek is a two-time Emmy Award winning meteorologist and a storm chaser who earned her NWA and AMS Broadcast Meteorology Seals of Approval. She and her husband live on a diversified farm in Kansas. Reach her at email@example.com.