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Cattle proficiency

Randall Robbins has built a high-quality Angus herd by combining sound genetics with practical management
Story and photos by Chris Villines 11/17/2017

 

A group of registered Angus replacement heifers eagerly await morning feeding time at one of Randall Robbins’ leased farms near McMinnville. Randall, who has spent more than 40 years in the AI industry, entered the cattle business in 1993 with three heifers and has since built his herd to 130 females with superior genetic makeup.
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Carefully guiding his dually truck past a group of replacement heifers on a foggy fall morning at one of his leased farms near McMinnville, Randall Robbins smiles as he observes these perfectly conditioned animals that are part of his registered Angus cattle herd.

With more than just a hint of irony in his voice, Randall tells the two other passengers in the truck that “you can see how these heifers have been mistreated all their lives.”

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. With a herd of 130 females — set to calve by spring 2018 — that includes N-Bar, Jorgensen, and Dale Davis genetics that came through the acclaimed Sinclair Cattle Company, one of the most influential operations in the cattle industry, Randall has staked his own claim as a respected cattleman.

The females in his herd are marketed through consignment sales and private treaty sales as open heifers, bred heifers, cow/calf pairs, or bred cows.

“I started out in 1993 with three heifers I purchased from H.P. Roberts in Farmersville, Louisiana,” says Randall, who runs his cattle on two separate 160-acre leased farms in Warren and Rutherford counties and another 28 acres at his home in Cannon County. “About 40 percent of my herd has come from those three cows and I’ve since added the N-Bar, Jorgensen, and Dale Davis cattle. They slick off early and have highly inheritable traits. Plus, they’re line-bred Emulation cattle; if I bring those cattle down here and cross them with these other lines of cattle, [the calves are] just winners.

“If you go out and buy non-descript stuff, you have no idea what it is or where it’s from.”

Randall’s roots of working with cattle go back much further than his own herd, however. Long before he entered the cattle business, Randall had already solidified his career in the AI industry.

After graduating from Tennessee Tech University in 1969 with a degree in Dairy Science and in 1973 from Virginia Tech University with a Master’s in Reproductive Physiology, he has since served in a variety of roles in the AI business including research, district and regional sales management, international sales, and most recently as a beef sales representative for Accelerated Genetics/Select Sires in Tennessee.

“I turned 50 years old in Cairo, Egypt — even rode a camel there,” says Randall, 70, whose son, Ed, is a product manager in Tennessee Farmers Cooperative’s Tires Batteries Accessories Department. “I’ve been in Australia, New Zealand, Tunisia, Morocco, and throughout Northern Africa doing AI work. For a poor ole kid growing up in Fentress County, Tennessee, I’ve really had a blessed life to have done what I’ve done.”

In his current role, he focuses on semen sales, LN tank fills, and breeding cows for customers across the state.

“You quickly learn that one size does not fit all when it comes to the customers I breed for,” says Randall, who is a 20-year member of the American Angus Association. “Folks have different goals and objectives, and it’s my job to help them realize their wants and desires. When they ask me for recommendations, I tell them to fit their genetics to the environment. Don’t put Maserati engines in Volkswagen bodies. If customers select for high yearling weights and a high-dollar beef index, they’re selecting terminal traits.

“Instead, we suggest they select moderate birth weight EPDs, good weaning weight EPDs, and a high-dollar weaning index. Estrus synchronization and selection tools have made breeding beef cattle [more efficient] when proper attention is paid to the details.”

Given his proficiency, it’s no surprise that Randall incorporates AI as part of his cattle breeding program. While at Virginia Tech, he was on the leading edge of research on warm water thawing of semen, which is the gold standard today.

“I’ll breed AI first service and then come back and put a cleanup bull in with them,” he explains. “Now, I’ve got some cows that have never seen a bull. They were all bred AI, and I breed the repeats as they come back into heat. Between the bull and AI, we get close to 100-percent conception.”

Another aspect of Randall’s operation is a bull calf program in which he cooperates with brother Don, retired manager of Warren Farmers Cooperative, and four other local producers. There are currently 23 bull calves on test. Most of the bull calves will be castrated early and sold in feeder calf sales. The top bull calves are developed and sold private treaty to commercial cattlemen.

“We sell them at 15 to 18 months of age weighing 1,200 to 1,400 pounds each,” says Don, who keeps them on his farm in McMinnville. “We don’t tolerate temperament issues with them. If they want to be ugly, they can go somewhere else.”

“The bulls and replacement heifers are developed on a grass-based system,” adds Randall. “We don’t creep feed our calves. We feel the cows have to work for us, and it’s hard to sort genetics when you confound it with creep feeding. At the end of the day, our business is not about how much the calves weigh at weaning or how much money we take to the bank, it’s about how much profit we make on our business. We strive to optimize rather than maximize — the law of diminishing returns will get you every time if you try to maximize weaning weights.”

While forage is the foundation of the herd’s nutritional program, Randall also believes in supplementing with premium feed and mineral where needed. For that, he turns to Warren Farmers Co-op, where he purchases Co-op 14% Pelleted Beef Developer-RUM (#94176) in bulk and Co-op Supreme Mineral (#678). During fly season, he will use Co-op Supreme IGR Cattle Mineral-RUM (#96622).

“Bulls and replacement heifers are given the 94176 at the rate of 1-to-1 1/2-percent of their body weight depending on the climate and grass available,” reports Randall, who also trusts Co-op for animal health products and purchases on the Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program. “Grass hay is fed in winter or as needed. The Co-op mineral is offered free choice to all of the animals year-round. We like the Co-op feed and mineral because of the research that goes into the products for our region. I prefer a pelleted feed because there’s less waste when hand feeding as compared to coarse textured feeds.”

With Randall’s confidence in these Co-op products, he’s become a staunch advocate in promoting them to his breeding customers, according to TFC Feed Specialist Rick Syler.

“He’s converted several folks over to Co-op feed and mineral,” Rick says. “He’s seen firsthand how using premium Co-op products as part of an overall nutritional program have helped his cattle develop to their full potential. We appreciate his trust.”

It’s this trust — in the right products, the right genetics — that have helped make Randall successful.

“My father used to say that half of making a profit is getting it bought right,” he says. “If you buy it right, you can always resell it and make money on it.”

For more information on    Co-op feed and mineral products, visit with your local Co-op feed specialist or online at ourcoop.com. To contact Randall Robbins, call 615-828-5577.

 
 
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