by: Belinda Ary

Most cattle producers would agree that “Profit Driven Genetics” would be the ultimate goal for their herds. There is no question, that should be the main priority for producers, to fill their pastures with efficient, fertile, sound cattle that make money for their owners.

But for Chris Hardee, that phrase represents a lifelong journey that has led him further than he could have imagined, working through the years to produce a composite that perfectly fits the climate he ranches in and the marketing goals he has for his operation. That composite, trademarked by Hardee Farms, is called the Baseliner.

“Efficiency is our number one goal,” Hardee explains. We don't care about the biases that don't relate to economics, like color and performance in the show ring. We are looking for genetics that can perform well in this environment and make money.”

A native of Chiefland, Fla., Chris Hardee has been in the cattle business for just about his entire life. Not long after he was born in 1957, Chris' dad gifted a Angus cow to his son, beginning a lifetime passion for the only job he has ever known. The love of the cattle business runs deep for this fifth generation rancher, who has lived and worked on Hardee Farms his entire life.

Hardee's father began building the family's Angus herd in 1956. Seeing a need to produce animals that could acclimate to the harsh conditions of Florida, the Hardees made the decision to add Brangus genetics to the herd in 1972.

As a young boy and teenager, Chris worked alongside his dad in every aspect of the operation. As an adult he continued that work and became extremely active in the International Brangus Breeders Association, serving as president from 1997-98. His children were also active in showing Brangus cattle for many years.

But in 2001, Hardee attended a meeting that changed his perspective on raising cattle forever.

“In 2001 I attended a stakeholders meeting hosted by USDA,” he remembers. “We were there to suggest research projects to USDA, but ultimately I came away from there with a whole new opinion on production.”

What he realized was that the poultry industry was doing things in a much more efficient way, selecting genetics that produced much more meat in less time and with much more profit.

Hardee's first priority was to find some efficient Charolais cattle to add to his Angus and Brangus herd. Then he began the breeding process to ultimately produce what Hardee believes are the perfect cattle to make the economic strides Hardee was looking for.

The resulting composite, the Baseliner, is 3/16 Brahman, 9/16 Angus and ¼ Charolais. “We started out with 3/8 Brahman, 3/8 Angus and ¼ Charolais,” Hardee explains. “I thought that would be the perfect combination, but we tweaked it a little more to come up with the 3/16, 9/16, ¼ mix and that is perfect. We get better reproduction and hardiness in this climate, while not giving up any performance, and the cattle grade well.”

Along the way he has also developed what he calls a Baseliner Max that is 50 percent Charolais.

“We were looking for an animal that could be used as a replacement or could be put on feed, that would optimize heterosis and efficiency,” he said. “We found that and more with these composites.”

Through a study conducted by the Meat Animal Research Center (MARC) in Nebraska, Hardee discovered that he can maintain 74 percent heterosis by breeding Baseliner to Baseliner.

“We found out that these animals are good for 30 percent more production in their lifetimes than straight bred or single cross cattle,” he said. “So the advantage in terms of reproduction, performance and profitability is phenomenal.” Hardee adds that they have seen an increase in fertility and semen quality in their Baseliner sires and a higher conception rate among yearling heifers bred to Baseliner bulls. They also continue to adapt to the hot temperatures of Florida.

“When it gets hot down here, the Baseliner bulls are still aggressively breeding cows,” Hardee explains.

According to Hardee, longevity has also been enhanced through the composite breed.

“Our own data and records indicate that our composite animals stay in the herd longer than our straight bred animals. Another area of improvement is efficiency, the Baseliners are far better in converting feed to meat.”

Hardee maintains a large herd, which numbers over 550 brood cows. They still maintain a purebred Angus and Brangus herd that he uses to breed Ultrablacks. He has a herd of Charolais as well. The program to breed up to the Baseliner composite is still in full force using the Hardee genetics raised right there on the ranch. He also is always on the lookout for the best genetics to add to the herd to improve his Baseliner cattle.

“We are always looking for the best genetics and ways to continue to improve our Baseliner composite,” he says.

It is an ongoing process for Hardee to insure only the best genetics are used in the herd and marketed to customers across the country. The top end of the females are sent back into the herd as replacements. The rest are fed out and used to gather more important data on the herd.

The bulls are all tested through the Grow-Safe program, a sophisticated test where transmitters are put in their ears and data is collected to determine when the bulls eat and how much they ingest. Each year Hardee sends about 180 bulls to the University of Florida Bull Test facility in Marianna to collect the important feed-efficiency data needed on the bulls. These bulls are then marketed through the Hardee Farms “Profit Driven Genetics Bull Sale” the first Friday in November. Hardee Farms began hosting their bull sale in 1991 and continued that annual sale until 2004. Ultimately, the popularity of the Baseliner composites prompted Hardee to revive the annual sale again in 2016. This year's edition will be held Friday, November 2 at the farm in Chiefland, where they will offer 180 performance tested bulls (100 Baseliner/Baseliner Max, 40 Ultrablack /Brangus and 40 Angus).

Hardee says they have been blessed with a great customer base that continues to come back each year for their bull buying needs. Producers from Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, and as far away as Colorado are all utilizing the Hardee genetics in their herds.

“We have been blessed with good customers who come back year after year,” Hardee says. “We have one family in South Florida who has bought 20 bulls per year for 20 plus years. They tell us that by using our Baseliner bulls they are able to wean more calves and put more pounds on the truck.”

For Hardee, improving the efficiency of his herd and producing cattle that exceed his expectations in the harsh Florida climate are all goals he set almost 20 years ago, and now with the help and support of his family and employees, he is enjoying the fruits of his labor and hard work. “Much of our success is due to a committed family and faithful employees,” he says.

Nevertheless, he does worry about what the future holds for the industry that he has made his life-long work.

“I am somewhat of a dinosaur,” Hardee laughs. “I worry that we are losing the ability to work cattle and handle cattle in the next generation. But I have been fortunate to do this for a living my entire life. I am blessed for sure.”

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