Tom Huls and Diane Balich feel the success of the Angus breed is because of the association’s data availability

Tom Huls and Diane Balich of Lincoln, Ark., met when Tom was competing in team roping and Diane, a veterinarian, informed him he was riding his gelding Limey far too much and creating a dangerous potential for sprained tendons. Needless to say, this was not a case of love at first sight.

Frequently early events in childhood influence major choices later in life. Such is the case with both Tom and Diane. Tom remembers going with his dad to sell hogs. He asked why they ran a dairy rather than raising Angus like their neighbor. His dad explained they had a dairy to get a paycheck and milked twice a day 365 days a year but every fourth year got an extra day of milking.

“That’s the day I fell in love with Angus, and I have never looked back,” Tom said with a laugh.

Diane’s experience was a little more generalized but just as powerful. Her first contact with livestock was riding a “rent-a-horse,” but her heart was captivated when she went to her Grandpa Christ’s farm when she was less than 10 and saw her first cattle which, ironically, also happened to be dairy cows. What impacted Diane was not the dairy cows in particular but the farm and the life it represented.

The couple owns 350 acres outside of Lincoln and lease another 20 for hay, though they also hay off their own land, harvesting two to three cuttings annually and transitioning to pasture during fall and winter.

During a drought in the late 1980s, Tom was reading about intensive cell grazing in New Zealand and decided to see if that would help him get through the drought. Not only did it help, but they had plenty of grass. Extension agents came to look at the rotational grazing system and were curious as to where Tom had learned about it. That was years before the practice became better known in the United States. Cells on their ranch range from 3 to 10 acres, depending upon the number of animals to be grazed and the condition of the grass.

The couple decided on the Angus breed and began with an Angus-influenced commercial herd. Tom feels they transitioned to registered stock in order to maximize income on their limited amount of land.

“I had a client who raised registered Angus with me performing their ET,” she said. “Through them we started making contacts within the Angus community and found them willing to share information and practices, regardless of herd size or income.”

Both believe one of the biggest advantages of the Angus breed is the Angus Association. Tom and Diane believe the success is mainly due to the huge amounts of data collected and disseminated by the Angus Association. More animals are registered in the Angus Association than all other breeds combined. According to Tom’s sources, that depth of data from both DNA analysis and kill data provides a significantly higher accuracy rate. Statistical analysis predicts rather than describes a specific animal’s performance and ability to pass on that performance to offspring.

Careful analysis and attention to detail characterize Sugar Springs Ranch, a breeding stock operation with 25 breeding bulls currently for sale and 100 registered Angus mommas bred through AI and ET. This year, they are using bloodlines from five bulls whose total purchase price would be more than $1 million. A specific bull’s success is determined not only by phenotype, but also by DNA supported traits like birth and weaning weights, carcass data and quality of their offspring. Sugar Springs Ranch sells bulls locally, as well as at the National Western Bull Sale in Denver. This sale has resulted in Sugar Springs Ranch genetics being used in bulls sold across North America, as well as semen to progressive breeders as far away as New Zealand and Australia. Another indicator of Sugar Springs Ranch’s success is the couple having been named the Arkansas Breeder of the Year several times.

The ranch offers bulls, cows, heifers and bred heifers. Clients frequently have the couple pick out the best animals for their needs. Recently, a customer wanted to increase the quality of his herd at the same time that he wanted show heifers for his children. Tom put together a grouping with each bred cow having a heifer at her side so that the buyer was in essence getting three registered animals.

“Our cattle are so uniform that it is difficult to tell them apart by appearance. The differences are beneath the hides in their genetics. We have well-rounded animals with different dominant characteristics that supply diverse customer needs,” explained Tom.

An important ranch practice to ensure customers get exactly what they’re paying for is pulling blood for DNA testing at a cost of $50 per animal. While this practice may not put more money in their pockets at each sale, Tom prefers to take a long-term view by ensuring customer satisfaction and maintaining their ranch’s reputation for integrity.

Another example of their long-term view was over seeding with reseeding Italian Ryegrass 25 years ago. Tom was skeptical when he was told the grass would last forever, but it’s been 25 years and it’s still going strong.

Health protocols are also expensive, but the couple believes producers can’t go cheap and get results. Calves are vaccinated within 24 hours of birth to prevent scours and two more times before weaning to combat respiratory diseases.

“We’ve had no illnesses when weaning and rarely need antibiotics because prevention makes that unnecessary. People need to use a good vet for prevention not just for fire engine work. Spending money saves money,” explained Diane.

Tom grinned at his wife and quipped, “It didn’t hurt to marry a vet and get free vet care.” RoppArkansas NeighborsNeighborsAngus,Arkansas,Cattle,Diane Balich,Lincoln,Tom HulsTom Huls and Diane Balich feel the success of the Angus breed is because of the association’s data availability Tom Huls and Diane Balich of Lincoln, Ark., met when Tom was competing in team roping and Diane, a veterinarian, informed him he was riding his gelding Limey far too much...The Ozarks' most read farm newspaper, reaching more than 58,000 readers in Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma