Texas rancher Max Martin epitomizes the old adage you can’t manage what you don’t measure. And Martin measures everything possible on JX Ranch near Loving, Texas.
“From a revenue point of view,” he says, “I get about a quarter of a million dollars out of a bull.”
Martin uses Charolais bulls exclusively, and backs that statement with performance data on calves at the ranch and through the feedlot. “I try to produce a calf that will perform in the feedlot and perform on the grid.”
JX calves are the result of a terminal crossbreeding program, using Angus, Red Angus and Black Baldie cows in spring and fall calving herds described as 1,100-lb. to 1,120-lb., frame size 5 and 6. He purchases all replacements as bred heifers, which are range bred to Charolais bulls.
“Max is looking for a return on his efforts,” says Scott Anderson, feedlot manager at CRI Feeders, Guymon, Okla. “He measures all his inputs and outputs, and it pays off in quality when the cattle hang up.”
Martin recognizes there are two major value chains—the feedlot and the consumer—and he works to improve margins by aligning these chains to ensure profitability across the cattle cycle.
JX Ranch cattle excel at performance and high cutability, Anderson says. “They perform in the upper 20% of cattle from our feedyard for yield. Now Max is working to improve the quality grade.”
“I started on the yield side,” Martin says. “I’ve certainly achieved all the yield I need. Now I’m working on the marbling side to refine that carcass.”
To increase quality grades, EPDs are used to select Charolais bulls that score in the upper 20% of the breed for marbling.
While Martin says he prefers to sell his calves “right off the ranch,” his focus on genetics provides opportunities to be increasingly flexible with marketing. “We keep our cost side in check with forage options and cow efficiency.”
Weaning weights average 680 lb. to 690 lb., but if the market or forage conditions dictate, he can send those cattle to a feedyard. Accurate health and performance records make his cattle easier to sell.
“You gotta have integrity in your relationship with those feedlots,” Martins says. “I basically sell my cattle on the telephone now. It pays to have a good reputation backed by good data.”
“We’re willing partners,” Anderson says. “Max’s calves are preconditioned before they leave the ranch, and with past data we know what we can expect in the feedlot and on the grid.”
CRI sells cattle to U.S. Premium Beef, where JX Ranch cattle score well on yield and cutability, and are making gains on quality grade.
Overall, Martin said he is reasonably pleased with the carcasses he’s been selling.
“I have an objective to better align our calf quality with the overall value of the market,” he says. “I happen to believe we have good domestic demand for quality. I want to be better aligned so I can take advantage of Choice-Select spreads.”
How his cattle perform on the rail is important, but Martin knows the cattle must work in a ranch environment first. “Our cows live in large pastures, and calving ease is a must for our program,” he says. “We can’t watch them. They need to calve unassisted.”
He buys bred replacement heifers from reputable programs, but admits they come with a premium.
“I bid some up to $2,150 this year and didn’t get them,” he says. “When they get to that price, it’s hard to find any profit left in them.”
On newly purchased bulls, Martin anticipates having to spend $6,100
“I find the bulls with the EPDs I want at that price,” he says. “I principally look at yearling weight, ribeye and marbling.”
Martin believes his diligence in keeping performance data and a sharp eye on genetic selection are critical for attaining his ranch goals.