The Path to Improved Genetics
Rick and Susan Gurley met when Susan’s car broke down in Huntsville, Ark., as she was traveling home from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.
“Cupid shot me immediately. She was about the prettiest thing I’d ever seen and still is,” Rick said with a laugh.
Susan grew up a town girl but grasped her new life as a farmer’s wife knowing she had a lot to learn. Susan has been an educator for more than 21 years and is currently the Huntsville Intermediate School counselor. Rick, having struggled with back issues and arthritis, retired from the Post Office two years ago, a career he began in 1983.
Their family-owned farm consists of 600 acres. Their focus is refining their commercial cattle herd of 250 females. The quest to genetically improve their herd began with a back surgery in 2001 when he was house-bound for six weeks. A friend brought Rick Angus publications to help pass the time.
“That’s when I learned about the Gardiner Ranch and the advantages of superior genetics,” said Rick.
Not long thereafter, another friend sold Rick a Gardiner bull named Sleepy Easy. Known for low birth weight, Rick decided to use this bull on his heifers. The result was so exceptional that he and Susan went to their first Gardiner Angus bull sale. They watched the Lot 1 bull sell for $200,000. They simply looked at the floor very unsure of what they were doing because they never heard of such prices. Determined to improve their genetics, they stayed. Eventually, two cosmetically imperfect bulls, one with no ears the other without a tail, came through the ring and they knew those were the two for them. Regardless of appearance, the bulls made sense because their genetics were superior. After all, the Gurley’s wanted good breeding bulls, not show animals.
Upon seeing the improvement in his calves, Rick knew he wanted to pursue a genetics program that would get the end results he was looking for. “No Ears” and “No Tail” as they were fondly called, had done their job on Diamond G Farm.
In 2004, Rick purchased a set of full brothers that were a product of embryo transplanting from one of GAR’s leading bulls, Grid Maker. While his cows were of a wide variety of breeds and colors, one of his goals was to increase calf sale price through color, uniformity, consistency and better genetics, with a secondary goal of producing a set of quality replacement heifers.
Fifteen years of improved genetics led to the beginning of an AI program in 2012. By artificially inseminating, Rick was able to select semen from the Gardiner bull Prophet. Rick’s goal of producing half-sister heifers was underway. In 2013, Rick and Susan decided to AI the entire herd utilizing Select Sires. They achieved a 70 percent pregnancy rate. The remaining 30 percent were bred by their registered Gardiner bulls.
“My biggest challenge is getting a calf that performs well in the feedlot from a cow that thrives in the Northwest Arkansas environment,” Rick said. “Through the years, I’ve had the opportunity to feed a few calves. I’ve learned that sometimes calves I thought looked the best at weaning, didn’t feed out well, and the calves I thought were just OK, sometimes performed the best in the feed lot. Our goal this year is to retain ownership of the steers calves from semen tank to rail at National Beef.”
Health protocols are pretty much as expected with a couple exceptions. First, Rick routinely semen and trichinosis tests his bulls. Secondly, he vaccinates his cows for lepto, trich, blackleg and pink eye. He uses blackleg, pink eye and modified live vaccine on his calves. All bull calves are knife castrated. Fly spray is generally applied to his cattle in the pasture while feeding range cubes.
Though not a health protocol in the strictest sense, Rick’s calves thrive under his weaning procedure. Thirty days before weaning, he introduces a creep feeder with Super Start, a grass/hay pellet. Once weaned, the calves are bunk fed a commodity blend for 60 days. Consequently, last year Rick did not administer a single antibiotic shot to any of his 180 calves.
Rick and Susan have two grown children, Nicole and Heath. Through the years, they have all worked together to be good stewards of the cattle and land feeling blessed by God.
Susan and Nicole clearly remember three years ago when ice and cold hit the area and the temperature dropped to 5 degrees. They went out to check for babies and found a calf in the water, almost frozen to death. They brought the calf back to the house and began the usual protocol: gas stove, heating pads, dry towels. The calf wasn’t responding so Susan called Rick at work. Rick explained they had nothing to lose and suggested putting the calf in the bathtub full of hot water.
“I didn’t really understand what I was getting into when I married Rick,” Susan said. “After 30 minutes, they pulled the calf from the tub. The calf bawled and tried to stand. The ‘born-again’ calf thought Nicole was its mother and followed her around in the house until she was returned to her own momma later that day. That calf is now a 3-year-old momma named Jacuzzi.
Rick and Susan know that they could never have built their operation to what it is today without God, great partnerships on leases, help of good neighbors and friends, and the love and commitment of family.http://www.ozarksfn.com/2017/09/11/the-path-to-improved-genetics/http://www.ozarksfn.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Gurley-1024x683.jpghttp://www.ozarksfn.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Gurley-150x150.jpgArkansas NeighborsNeighborsArkansas,Cattle,Diamond G Farm,genetics,Gurley,Huntsville,Rick Gurley,Susan GurleyRick and Susan Gurley met when Susan’s car broke down in Huntsville, Ark., as she was traveling home from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. “Cupid shot me immediately. She was about the prettiest thing I’d ever seen and still is,” Rick said with a laugh. Susan grew up a...Terry RoppTerry Roppterrymerrill@hotmail.comAuthorOzarks Farm & Neighbor Newspaper