What makes “good” cattle is a matter of opinion. Great cattle, on the other hand, are a matter of fact.

“You could jump up on a stump and holler that you've got a good one all day,” Richard McClung says. “And Nick would say, ‘Prove it.' You had better be able to substantiate it. Of course, I felt that same way.”

There wasn't much in the way of business philosophy that the New Market, Va., cattleman and the late Nick Wehrmann didn't agree on. In 1975, they set out together to develop a herd of cattle that excelled in traits of economic importance. In the year after Wehrmann's death, the registered Angus ranch of his namesake holds to that fundamental with McClung in his 35th year as manager.

Brothers Nick Jr. and Robert Wehrmann accepted the Certified Angus Beef ® (CAB®) brand's Seedstock Commitment to Excellence Award on behalf of the ranch this month, an honor that recognized the years of dedication to building genetics that meet cattleman and consumer demands.

Wehrmann Angus started in Cairo, Ga., in the mid-1970s, selling thick northern cattle through southern bull markets. They moved the ranch to its current Virginia home in 1986, maintaining southern ties but gaining a broader reach.

“The cattle got better every year, and we got a lot of opportunities as we were building this place. We found that if there's something you can do, you don't want to not do it. You want to take advantage of it, so we just kept expanding,” McClung recalls.

After a couple of decades with that mindset, they've found one thing they know they can do: sell good-doing cattle to a variety of markets. There's the March bull sale at the Virginia ranch, two sales a year with Texas partner Tommy Donnell, additional by private treaty, and then the ranch's annual female sale in October. Growing a business to that size can be a balancing act, as is growing the right genetics.

“Cattle need to be complete,” McClung says. The American Angus Association's recent establishment of $Value indexing simplified the multi-trait selection he has focused on from the start. The numbers tell of the strategy that goes into finding the right composition in Wehrmann genetics. It's the combination of calving ease that turns to quick growth and pounds of solid ribeye and abundant marbling that hits his mark.

“To come up with a beef value ($B) that's worth something, you have to have an animal that excels in every trait,” he says. “Cattle that can do these things, and do them well, are what those commercial breeders are going to have to have in order to survive.”

Chad Mathias is one of them. He feeds about 150 calves locally and utilizes grid marketing to catch the carcass premiums on the $B he finds in the Wehrmann sale book.

“Whether I'm selling right off the cow or retaining ownership in the feedlot, that's what pays the bills,” Mathias says. “Even though we are selling by the pound, we're still getting paid back for the good carcass quality.”

The cash lining in his pocket is just the silver lining of a solid cow herd.

“Obviously, the cows have to work first. We're not sacrificing cow quality to go after carcass. If you didn't have a cow that would perform, all the carcass in the world wouldn't matter to a commercial guy like me,” he says.

Those necessities for success come together thanks to McClung's expert eye on new technologies and progressive data.

They started utilizing ultrasound technology in 1989, six years before ultrasound-based ribeye and backfat merit numbers were included in the Association database. Then they led the way in collecting ultrasound data for intramuscular fat and are now doing the same with DNA profile data. It's all an effort to make sure there is success down the line for their customers and the ultimate beef customer.

“When you start getting phone calls from people you've sold bulls to,” McClung relates, “and they're sending you closeout sheets that show the difference in their bottom line, then you know they can go on and produce the next piece of beef – that great, center-of-the-plate kind of beef. That's incentive.”

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