Delighted With Devons
Growing up on farms in the Northwest Missouri community of Standberry, Garland and Alice Pierce knew they wanted to have “a few” cows once they retired.
However, properties in California and Arizona, where their forklift and material handling businesses are located, didn’t offer what they were looking for.
The couple set their sights on returning to Missouri and purchased 350 acres in the Bradleyville, Mo., area and an additional 860 acres in the Bruner, Mo., area.
After investigating various breeds of cattle, the Pierces settled on Devons, and about six years ago, Cross Creek Red Devons was born. The Cross Creek bull battery is housed at the Bradleyville farm, while the cowherd roams the Bruner farm. Garland travels to the two farms almost daily from his home in Branson West.
“I really started this just to have a few cows, maybe 25, as a hobby,” Garland said. “I really wanted to play golf and just have a few cows. Most people here in Southwest Missouri don’t even know what Devons are, but I wanted to do something different to be different. I don’t play much golf now, but I really enjoy being outside, working with the cattle. We do all of our own AI work, we do 95 percent of our vet work and we do all of our own haying.”
According to information from Oklahoma State University, Devon cattle are one of the oldest beef breeds in existence. The Devon breed is from southwestern England, primarily in the counties of Devon, Somerset, Cornwall and Dorset. Devons are the largest of the British breeds and was one of the earliest breeds exported to North American colonies.
Garland explained most Devon breeders only have a few registered animals, but Cross Creek Red Devons is home to about 160 head. The Pierce herd is only one of two registered Red Devon herds in the state, and Cross Creek is perhaps one of the largest breeders in the nation.
The Pierces appreciated the attributes of the breed, including its hardiness, calving ease and the low inputs required to maintain the moderate- to large-framed breed on grass alone, as well as its longevity.
“They have a really thick hide and they are pretty much disease resistant,” Garland said. “They really don’t seem to get sick. They also tolerate fescue really well, as well as the weather in Missouri.”
The breed is also very docile and heavy milking. Alice added that cows are also very good mothers, not only to their own calves but to all calves the herd, often acting like babysitters for calves while other mothers graze.
Because of the rarity of Devons in the region and because the Pierces’ unwilling to line breed their herd, finding new, unrelated genetics can be difficult. In 2016 they expanded their breeding program to include AI, followed by a clean up bull.
“I had two or three really nice bulls, and now I have ended up with a lot of their heifers, so this year we had to go outside of the herd and used 10 different bulls,” Garland explained. “When I come back this time, I’ve got six or seven bulls I can use. There was this famous bull from Australia named 688, so we are going to use some of his semen, and we also have some Tapuwae 635 (a New Zealand bull) semen. There’s not much Red Devon available; there’s not many people in the Missouri, Kansas or anywhere around who are looking for a Devon.”
In addition to the implementation of AI, Garland plans to do a limited amount of embryo transplanting this year.
“It’s pretty expensive,” he said. “You have to have two really good parents to start with and I think we are going to use the 688 semen I bought this year and try to pick a really, really nice, special cow. My intention is to try it, but I am probably only going to do it with three cows initially and see how it goes. We might only get six or eight eggs, and it’s recommended that you use three straws, so that can get kind of pricey.”
The breeding program includes both spring and fall calving schedules, with about 60 percent of their cows calving in the spring. The Pierces are adamant about not breeding heifers until they are at least 2 years old, wanting to give the animal as much as time possible to grow and mature before she calves for the first time. While they have had few calving issues, Garland said special care is given to selecting the right bull for all first-calf heifers.
“If you want a cow to have a long, productive life, I think it’s better to wait to breed them,” he said. “This is my hobby; we’re not in for big production. Most people will breed their heifers when they are just over a year old, but we don’t. Depending on their pelvic measurement, we try to pair up with a bull that will throw smaller calves. We almost never have to pull and calf. I think waiting and paying attention to what bull you use helps with that. Once they get past that first calf, it’s a little easier.”
While the color of a Devon can range from deep red to a light orange, Garland retains only the deepest red animals for his herd.
“I want that ruby red, so if they are light orange, brown or anything other than that ruby red, I cull them. Also, by the time they are a year old, they need to have that white ball on their tail (white in the switch of the tail). We are very specific about the breed characteristics of the animals we register,” he said.
Originally a horned breed, American cattle producers have developed a polled strain of Devons. The original polled bull, was born in 1915 in Concordia, Mo.
The Pierces prefer polled cattle, but there have been cases of horned calves being born to their herd. Those calves are debudded as young calves and sold after weaning.
“I just don’t want to deal with horns,” he said, adding that he has implemented homozygous polled bulls into the breeding program to eliminate horns.
Cattle at Cross Creek are never offered grain, but they do receive vaccinations and long-range wormers, and ill animals are treated with antibiotics when necessary.
“We don’t claim to be organic or anything like that because if an animal gets sick, we’re going to treat it,” Garland said. “In everything in life, there should be a medium; not so far left or right, or one way or the other. “
Cattle are offered a specially mixed supplement from Vit A Zine in Butler, Mo.
The grass-finished beef market has continued to grow over the years, but Garland said he isn’t in the business of offering beef.
“For us, we want to focus on selling replacement heifers and bulls,” he said. “We have a guy who really likes our steers and we sell them, pretty much all of them, to him. We don’t even market our beef.”
Garland and a full-time employee handle most of the management of the cattle operation, and a part-time employee also helps out.
“We have tried to set everything up so that one or two people can do everything,” Garland said. “We have set up alleyways so that they can be moved pretty easy, and these grass-fed Devons pretty much tell you when they are done in a pasture and are ready to move; they will just go stand by the gate.”
In the winter months, cattle are provided with alfalfa, which is raised in a 25-acre field at the Bruner farm. Garland said he prefers to offer the cattle the additional forage in the winter because grasses are dormant, offering very little nutation.
The first cutting of the alfalfa is put up in square bales, with the following cuttings generally being put into large round bales. Garland said he wasn’t sure how many bales the field produced last season, saying it was more than enough to feed his cowherd, allowing him to sell some of the excess.
Garland and Alice are in the process of improving their pastures at the Bruner property, replacing fescue, with a mixture of hulled orchard grass, fungus free Kentucky 31 fescue, perennial rye grass and Timothy.
Other improvements they have made to their farm include the installation of freeze-proof waters and fencing off all ponds, which Garland says helps reduce internal parasites because cattle can not defecate in the ponds and are not allowed to drink the water that could harbor parasites. External parasites and flies are battled through rubs and face strips located at the waters.
In September, Cross Creek Red Devon will host the National Red Devon USA Convention and Sale, which will be held at the Springfield Livestock Marketing Center in Springfield, Mo. It will be the first time the sale and convention are held in Missouri.