An emphasis on moderation and multi-trait selection helped earn the North American Limousin Foundation (NALF) Commercial Producer of the Year award for John Raftopoulos of Craig, Colo. He topped a field of five nominees that also included Broken Arrow S Ranch, McLaughlin, S.D.; J Eisenbath Cattle Farms, Bowling Green, Mo.; Leonard and Theresa Leier, Tappen, N.D.; and Wiesen Cattle Farm, Hendricks, Minn.
Bo Sexson, NALF director of commercial programs, presented the award in the form of a commemorative mantel clock Jan. 10 during the Limousin pen and carload shows at the National Western Stock Show (NWSS) in Denver, Colo.
Citing Raftopoulos's involvement in the Limousin Visions Symposium, the Visions Quest cattle-feeding and carcass-discovery project, and the Limousin segment of The
Cattle Show on RFD-TV, Sexson said, “All of his involvement with NALF and his dedication to using Limousin and Lim Flex® seedstock in his commercial operation make him very deserving of this award.”
After starting with 25 cows when he graduated from veterinary school about 25 years ago, Raftopoulos has built his herd to include 3,000 head. He has tried several breeds in the dry, mountainous environment of northwest Colorado.
“Since we're producing for the bottom line, we want the most profitable cattle for our environmental situation,” he said.
He started with mainly British-bred cows then introduced crossbreeding with Continental cattle. Although he opted not to use the Limousin breed in his sire rotation for a while, he rediscovered it was the best cross for his British-based cow herd.
“Like most of the herds in the United States, we became too straightbred,” Raftopoulos explained – noting crossbred cattle and composite seedstock, such as the Lim Flex hybrid, are increasingly important to the cattle industry due to the longevity and production efficiencies from heterosis (hybrid vigor).
He especially likes Limousin genetics for the leanness, yield, feed conversion and moderate size they bring to a crossbreeding system.
“Now that we have more depth of body and capacity in them,” he said, “I think those areas are where Limousin and Lim Flex are going to offer a big boost.”
Raftopoulos uses artificial insemination (AI) extensively. He evaluates the AI-sired heifers phenotypically to select his replacement females, and those that do not make the cut are finished in a feedyard. He sorts the bulls at weaning time and sends the herd-sire prospects to the Front Range of Colorado for development.
Because he keeps his own replacement females, he avoids single-trait selection. He prefers to balance weaning weight and maternal traits against yearling weight and carcass traits.
“We want to keep moderate sizes; we don't want the extremes on one end or the other. We also need milk, but not too much,” Raftopoulos said. “And we look for above-average ribeye area and marbling.”
Feeding some of his calves for himself and selling them directly to the packer also allows him to collect valuable feed-intake, health and carcass data.
“If we see something we don't like, we can implement changes the next year,” he said.
Raftopoulos likes a relationship with his seedstock supplier that includes frequent contact and a guarantee on his purchases. Ideally, he said, his supplier should know which bulls he needs better than he does.
The North American Limousin Foundation (www.nalf.org), headquartered
in Englewood, Colo., provides programs and services – including genetic evaluation of 5,000 active sires – to
nearly 4,000 members and their commercial customers. The Limousin breed and its
Lim-Flex hybrid lead the beef industry in muscle-growth efficiency and ideally
complement British breeds.