Editor’s note: This is the second part in a two-part series about Wagyu beef. The first part about bringing Wagyu into the U.S. ran on Jan. 29.
Part of Jerry Reeves’ cattle business is BR2 Wagyu Genetics LLC, established in 2004, originally in partnership with Blue Rock Cattle Company, leasing bulls to ranchers and selling Wagyu semen and embryos.
Now BR2 Wagyu Genetics LLC. is the marketing arm for semen and embryos produced by Bar R Cattle Company. “One of our daughters, Arlie, designs and maintains our website and sire directory which features more than 50 of our bulls. Rather than joining one of the big AI studs and letting them sell our genetics, we do it ourselves online,” Reeves said.
“We don’t get as much publicity and notoriety as we would with ABS or one of the other AI studs, but all the profit is ours. Our cattle are well known anyway; we have repeat customers who continue to buy semen from us because we have extensive data on our bulls.”
Acquiring this much data is hard to do in the Wagyu business, compared with a large breed like Angus. “We have performance data and carcass data on most of our bulls, and we believe in selective breeding based on data.”
A lot of information can be gleaned from progeny carcass data from the leased bulls that go to large commercial Angus ranches to breed their heifers. The resulting calves are followed through to slaughter with carcass data collected. “This allows us to select elite sires with proven superior carcass genetics. We have 60 to 80 bulls on lease each year and from these we select the ones that produce progeny with the highest quality carcasses.”
For the last 8 years, all young sires and some groups of heifers have been selected using residual feed intake (RFI) and average daily gain (ADG). “We believe that RFI may be the best way to evaluate efficiency of cattle. We are committed to not only select for carcass quality, but also performance through increasing efficiency in our sires. We are one of very few Wagyu breeders that evaluate sires this extensively,” said Reeves.
“We will have our 3rd production sale in May 2021. We have a sale every other year, and sell 30 to 40 young bulls and 30 to 40 of our top females. The sale is always here at the ranch and is a video auction,” he said.
“When genetic defects in the Wagyu breed were determined by DNA technology, we were able to eliminate sires with these defects and replace them with sons that were free of the defects. We only sell semen on sires free of the genetic defects that can be tested for at this time,” Reeves said.
“We are currently developing a polled line, as well, with carcass quality as good or better than fullblood horned animals. This takes time—to take the best lines of fullblood horned animals and breed them to polled cows, and make sure we get the same carcass quality when we come up with homozygous polled bulls,” he says.
“We do a little bit of everything, which includes selling some meat. We currently have 24 steers on feed, and try to market two carcasses per month, to three different restaurants.
“We are just a mom and pop operation and run 120 cows on deeded land along the river and leased land in the summer. The cattle grow up in a variety of environments. Normally we hire summer help for fence building, haying, etc. but this past year we didn’t hire anybody because of COVID. My wife and I just did it all. Ranching is what we like to do, but we usually hire two or three college kids for summer help. With the COVID situation, we just did everything ourselves. We are behind, but do what we can. That’s the nice thing about ranching; COVID doesn’t interfere with our regular work! We feel lucky to be ranchers in the USA in a way of life that can’t be beat.”