Vernon Suhn – Suhn Cattle Co. Eureka, KS
From the 2013 GT at Suhn Cattle Co. Bull Sale Catalog
Written by Jared & Jessica (Suhn) White
How does one go from growing up on a 10,000 head commercial operation on the plains of South Dakota to raising some of the most sought after Brangus genetics in the world today?
This year, my entire family will celebrate their 20th Anniversary Bull Sale on March 26th at our family ranch just outside Eureka, Kansas. The footprint my parent’s legacy has left on the Brangus breed has been vast and will endure for generations. But their genuine love for the cattle industry and favorite breed of cattle was shaped by a diverse and storied background that weaves together multiple facets of today’s modern day cattle industry.
Dad’s unique outlook was shaped initially from his background of being raised on a 10,000 head Angus commercial cattle operation in central South Dakota to ultimately prepare him to be one of the great visionaries of the Brangus breed. Growing up he had a tremendous role model in his father, “Junior” Suhn, who managed that ranch and was a pioneer of using Artificial Insemination. His Dad began employing AI, what was then a totally new concept, on this large commercial operation and had fresh semen flown into Pierre, South Dakota used to inseminate the cowherd. One beef cattle magazine headline of 1966 read “4000 Market Toppers from 4 Bulls” and described the benefits of AI’ing on the Hyland Angus Ranch, Highmore, SD.
With the base herd being Angus and with the utilization of AI quickly expanding within the beef industry, the stage was set for other breeds to come to America. In the span of a few short years, Dad had first-hand knowledge of a variety of purebred breeds’ first steps in the United States. The first generation of Limousin, Simmental, Blonde A’quantane, Chianina, and Murray Grey produced as a result of artificial insemination were soon being born at Hyland Angus Ranch.
Another highlight of his days running so many cattle was that many show steer enthusiasts would trek to the large ranch to select steers from the operation to ultimately sell as show steers. As his young bride with a background in horses, my mom, Vicki, was always amazed at how the “steer jocks” would come in and try to sort through 700 steers. Often Dad would smile at their confusion and let them wander around in them for awhile but being short on time and even shorter on patience, would eventually point out 3 or 4 that they ultimately were tickled with. Looking back now, it’s easy to understand how today, Dad can so quickly make his way through large sets of cattle and easily sort them for quality.
Following their time at the home ranch in South Dakota they left to manage registered Angus ranches in California and Nebraska; along with logging a great numbers of miles behind the wheel, showing cattle.
In early 1980, Dad was approached to become operations manager for a large Brangus operation based near Sisterdale, Texas. At that point in his life, having lived in predominately northern environments permeated with non-Brahman influenced cattle – everything about this job was new to Dad, especially the breed of cattle.
However, the visionary concepts Glenn and Lloyd Brinkman had for Brinks Brangus instantly appealed to Dad’s desire to push the envelope and try something new. Dad wanted to challenge the conventional wisdom inside the Brangus breed that it was possible for ranches to only sell two year old bulls. With his background in developing yearling bulls, he worked within the Brinks breeding program to select earlier maturing Brangus that could be sold sooner and get to work in the pasture rather than adding to the feed bill. Brinks Brangus also employed the use of a breeding up program, to mate Angus to three quarter blood Brahmans to produce first generation Brangus.
Dad joined Brinks in the hey-day of the Texas oil boom during the early 1980s. Two short years after joining the team, a Brinks sale became the first purebred sale of any breed to gross over $1 million. The next year, in 1983 they smashed that record and became the first ranch to gross over $2 million and averaged over $25,000 per head. Selling in that sale were breed greats that many of today’s Brangus cattle trace their ancestry back to – bulls like Nugget, Extra and Bravo. Then in 1984 those previous records went by the wayside as the $4 million dollar mark was exceeded in Brinks’ January Bull sale—many remember that exciting day as Pride, Exacto, Tiny, Bob, Tremor, Caesar, King and Granada were sold.
My mom was a driving force behind my dad always being willing to lend a hand whether it be sorting cattle, breaking ice or managing all of the bookeeping. Never one to stay idle she quickly mastered the art of photography and was recognized as one of the best livestock photographers in the country.
Dad has always concentrated on breeding Brangus cattle that would be uniform in their kind while maintaining the great natural bred-in positives found in the Brangus Breed. Those positives of great mothering ability, vigorous calves, heat tolerance, bred-in insect resistance, resistance to fescue toxicity and natural heterosis. When Brinks expanded north, first to Colorado, before finding a ranch in the Flint Hills of Eureka, Kansas in the mid ‘80’s, Mom, Dad and our entire family followed the herd of black Brangus cows.
Once in Kansas, Glenn started researching the newest cutting-edge technology of the day—ultrasound. In an effort to “see beneath the hide” Glenn was instrumental in purchasing one of the first ultrasound machines and put it to use to begin measuring, recording and utilizing ultrasound information for carcass merit. Glenn truly paved the way and led a new generation of purebred producers to begin employing ultrasound data, yet even today few recognize that the Brangus breed was one of the first to apply this technology to evaluate carcass merit.
In 1990, following the dispersal of the Brinks Brangus herd, Mom and Dad purchased their own ranch outside of Eureka. Their new challenge was quite simple – doing it their way, on their own. And most importantly, now dad could spend a larger portion of his time doing what he does best—daily management. With the total responsibility of the daily work of heat detection, AI, calving and analysis of development of both bulls and heifers he was able to more fully be our herd’s most ardent critic. Dad was never one to be “barn blind” always making each mating with a purpose and culling stricter than almost anyone. Starting with only fifteen cows, it was a slow, methodical and planned building process. Just two years after the ranch’s inception, they incorporated an embryo transfer program. But typical of Dad’s approach his whole life, he wasn’t content to just worry about his own program. Since they had such a small herd to begin with, they worked to solidify relations with other small Brangus breeders throughout the Midwest and started developing and merchandising bulls together. He also did consulting work for several breeders and still worked with the Brinks—Camp Cooley program assisting with their sales.
The coop model Mom and Dad began employing in the early ‘90s is now a part of many large scale purebred operations in America today. But Dad’s philosophy and approach was to help these small breeders advance. He knew they were the lifeblood of a growing breed and without their success it would deal a crippling blow to the breed as a whole. He was always one to encourage the broad use of AI. It was a win-win situation, as other breeders were able to compare genetics and watch the development of their bulls alongside others, thus aiding in further bull selection.
In April of 1993, we held our first bull sale at the sale barn in Eureka, Kansas. That first sale is easy to remember not just because of it being the start of a now 20 year tradition, but the morning of the sale, the entire southeast Kansas region was hit with a huge ice storm. Despite the treacherous road conditions that morning, the parking lot was full and the initial sale was a strong success. Since that first sale, we have weathered many types of natural phenomena – including a huge grass fire, a rain storm deluge, snow and even tornado watches.
Being located in Kansas, far from the epicenter of the Brangus world in the south; Dad’s main difficulty was being recognized within the Brangus breed as producing the quality of Brangus necessary to impact the breed. The breed first began to notice Mom and Dad’s operation when the two flush mates, Affirmed and Alydar, sold in 2005. We were grateful to Texas breeders Joe Cavender and Jack Moore, respectively, who became their new owners.
Only a few years later, many were captivated by a young bull bred in Dad’s herd called Next Step. When the gavel fell at $28,500 for half- interest in the bull, no one would have imagined the impact this young sire would have on the Brangus breed. Today Affirmed, Alydar and Next Step combined have nearly 3,000 off-spring recorded at the International Brangus Breeders Association. From a herd of less than 200 mama cows, the impact of Suhn Cattle Company genetics has been wide-spread and left an indelible mark on the future of the Brangus breed.
Less than a month after Next Step sold, Dad took the unprecedented step to sell one of the young donor females straight out of the heart of his herd. Suhn’s Miss Cadence 331L2 was one of his prepotent female factory producers. Right in the prime of her productive life, Dad decided to sell her. From the moment she arrived at the Camp Cooley facility in Texas the high marbling trait leader captivated the cattleman in attendance. She ultimately sold for $60,000 – and for years was the highest selling full interest female to sell in the 21st century in the Brangus breed. 331L2’s mark on Dad’s herd is now on her new owners’ herds – Chimney Rock Cattle Company and Iron Farms Cattle Company. It was also in this time frame that Dad started to cross known Angus genetics on some of their Brangus females. While at Brinks he had seen the pitfalls of the breeding up through the use of ¾ blood Brahman genetics—mainly the high inconsistency and thus cull rates of these crosses. With his background in Angus he knew this cross could be an asset to the Brangus breed—infusing new genetics plus adding consistency. In addition, a less Brahman influenced animal for the northern climate would be more palatable to breeders in this area. This program continues to this day.
In the spring of 2009, Dad continued paving a new path forward. Following the Camp Cooley Ranch dispersal, Dad, along with nine other Brangus breeders, stepped out on a new path to create a unique genetic alliance; called GENETRUST. Unlike other ranching coops which caused smaller breeders to lose their own individual identity, GENETRUST was fashioned as a genetic factory designed to allow the ten founding partners to maintain their own identity but with basically integrated programs and goals. By uniting these breeders under one banner of opportunity, they created a unique alliance that brought together cattle from different regions and expanded GENETRUST’s reach into new areas and broader markets.
Less than four years after its founding, GENETRUST has emerged as the Brangus breed’s genetic powerhouse. It was built around the philosophy of earning and building trust with a loyal customer base while focusing more on quality than simply a huge show of numbers. With four sales a year that, combined, sell more than 2,000 head of cattle per cycle, the reach of the GENETRUST genetics is vast. That reach has expanded even beyond America’s borders as GT semen is in widespread demand from cattlemen in Argentina, Mexico, Brazil and Australia. The collaborative efforts of the entire GENETRUST team, including all of the partners and staff, has solidified a truly ground breaking effort that will stand the test of time.
My Mom and Dad have devoted their lives to the Brangus breed and the cattle they love. It’s tough not to be proud of everything they have built and accomplished. But the values of faith in God, honesty, integrity and a strong work ethic that they helped instill in me and my sister are what I will always be the most thankful for.
Dad never sought only to have the next great one or to have the highest performance sire or the biggest ribeye producer. His goal was, honestly, “that they all just look the same.” Predictable. Consistent. Today, the proof of his planning, foresight and practical cattle sense is in the end-product. Everyone knows that if you want to see one of the strongest sets of Brangus cattle from top to bottom, they will be found in a small herd grazing peacefully in the Kansas Flint Hills.
– Jared Suhn and Jessica White