by IBBA Communications Coordinator Peyton Waldrip
Ray Westall bought the land that is Brinks Brangus at Westall Ranches in Arabela, New Mexico, about 10 years ago. In 2011, he added registered cattle to the operation. Today, Tate and Kelli Pruett help with everyday operations on the ranch.
“When Ray [Westall] bought this place 10 years ago, it was overgrown with cedar and cactus, and we didn’t have a whole lot of grass or natural forage for the cattle,” Tate Pruett explains. “We’ve probably worn out two dozers and two excavators, and now we pay someone to [continue clearing].” Kelli says a front-end loader is used on a daily basis to move and load feed into feed truck to feed cattle. From the time the ranch was bought until now, Tate says, they have increased carrying capacity by 30 percent in the past seven years. Heavy equipment has helped the operation, especially in bulls’ development stage, because cattle can be turned out to get the best grass possible. Kelli says, too, that the use of heavy equipment has “led to many more acres of grassland for cattle to feed on and an increase in water supply for cattle and other wildlife.”
Ultrasound for carcass evaluation and pregnancy checking, embryo transfer (ET), artificial insemination (AI), DNA testing, heavy equipment, computer software, drones, videography, and social media are just some of the tools that help to ensure success at Westall Ranch. Tate and wife, Kelli, agree that each of these technologies adds value to the overall operation, its efficiency, and its functionality.
“Our carcass merit has shot through the roof,” exclaimed Tate, as he explained the benefits of ultrasound for carcass. “We can select certain sires for marbling or ribeye size.” Kelli says ultrasound for carcass analysis gives the team “a true picture” of each animal’s carcass merit. Because they utilize ultrasounding, she says they are able to better decide which genetics to continue using and which genetics to cull. These decisions are important, because Kelli says they aim to “develop marketable cattle for the beef industry.” The more one knows about the cattle for sale, the better one may market the cattle. “We’re able to tell our buyers the size of the steak they’re getting and the quality,” Tate says. “We utilize the carcass merit ultrasound on an individual basis.” Furthermore, he says because the cattle at Westall aren’t on a fancy feeding program – that when they utilize ultrasound technology – they get a more true evaluation of the animal and its progeny.
By utilizing ultrasound technology to diagnose pregnancies, the Westall team has been able to diagnose pregnancies earlier and identify cattle that are bred by AI more quickly. “Ultrasounding for pregnancy checking is one thing we have implemented that has helped us tremendously,” says Tate. At one point in the interview, Pruett said ultrasound was one the most beneficial technologies he is using. Kelli echoed those claims, “Ultrasounding for pregnancy allows us the ability to determine pregnancy early on so if they are open, we have time to AI again or turn out with bulls to be sure they get bred back year after year.” Additionally, Kelli said ultrasound helps them to know if a cow has undesirable reproductive qualities or other health issues, which may make calving difficult and may even make her unfit for breeding. When those animals have been identified, they can be treated or even culled to optimize breeding efficiency within the herd.
Kelli says AI is a large part of the breeding program for Brinks Brangus at Westall Ranches. She says AI helps them to better plan for calving season. Tate says AI is used much more frequently than ET now on the Westall Ranch. “Although we are not using ET as much now, this technology allowed us the ability to produce some very uniform groups of cattle,” says Kelli. “A lot of the calves out of our embryo transfer program are still in production at the ranch. We still have a large inventory of frozen embryos that we can use in the future to bring back some of the older genetics in our herd if we feel it is necessary.”
On the subject of DNA testing, Kelli says they primarily utilize parent verification. “I don’t know how anyone could not DNA their cattle,” says Tate. On Westall Ranch, Tate says they have 700 cows on 35,000-40,000 acres. With parent verification as a tool, they can confidently turn out multiple sires. When calving comes around, they can utilize a parentage test to know who the sire is of each calf. Tate says, in his opinion, that’s the only way for them to operate. “There’s too much country for us to AI everything,” he adds. Kelli says in addition to parentage, their herd’s top producers have genomic-enhanced expected progeny differences.
“Maintaining an accurate database for our cattle is a must,” Kelli says. “While we do utilize [IBBA’s online member portal], we, also, have several other breeds of cattle. The use of an additional software program gives us the ability to track breeding, calving, and performance information effectively, and helps us maintain a customer mailing database, as well as track sales, rainfall, income and expenses.”
First and foremost, an effective and efficient cattle operation is important. Furthermore, effective and efficient communication and marketing efforts are of second-most importance. Tate and Kelli utilize several tools in this area. Drones, Tate says, are mostly used for commercial purpose; drone coverage conveys what the ranch is really like at high elevation. “Drones allow us to take aerial videos to show the rough, rocky country our cattle are raised on,” Kelli adds. “A picture sometimes, isn’t able to convey that.” The cattle raised on Westall ranches, Tate says, travel a mile or more to water every day. Drones and videography are useful tools in showing people what the country is really like.
“We use video photography a lot,” says Kelli. “It allows us to show our cattle to more people, via social media, email, website, online sales, etc.” Tate says social media has presented huge opportunity to Westall in delivering messages to potential buyers. With Westall Ranches being in remote areas, buyers are not finding the Brangus breeders from seeing them on Main Street. The Westall team has to be proactive and intentional in its marketing efforts. “[Social media is a] valuable tool in marketing our cattle. Being in a remote area somewhat limits the number of people who see our cattle,” Kelli says. “Using videos and photos of cattle on our Facebook page has opened up many doors to potential customers, both in the U.S. and Mexico.” Tate says the team has made an effort to post multiple times a week. They even post digital versions of print advertisements before printed publications are released. Social media has alleviated the need for an in-town farm location to be able to show cattle in person. Customers are able to view cattle online.
“The availability of being able to video and put stuff out there,” Tate says, “is something we can’t do without.” Once a video is recorded, it can be Facebook-ready within hours, depending on how much editing is necessary. Tate admits that the more technical tools, such as ultrasound and DNA, are vital to an operation. However, he says video and online marketing are the most valuable to them right now.
“It would be difficult to do without any of [these] technological advances,” Kelli says. “The use of each one increases the usefulness of the others and vice versa.” Tate and Kelli agree that these new technologies improve the bottom line of the operation. “Don’t be so scared of technology that you keep yourself from using a valuable tool,” says Kelli. “Culling a non-producing animal early on helps with feed costs. Identifying an animal who is short-bred rather than culling what appears to be an open cow keeps your animals in production. Use of social media increases customers and the sale of cattle.”
Even though different machinery and technology is implemented on the ranch, traditional ranching still exists within the everyday life on Westall Ranches. “We still gather cattle with horses and work at being good stewards of the land,” says Kelli. “We still turn bulls out in pastures with cows.” Tate’s way of saying this is, “We let them be cows.” By this, the implication is that he means not utilizing AI in all instances and not always putting embryos in – letting Mother Nature run her course. “No matter what we do,” Tate says, “they’re still cattle.”