Building Balance. . .
California’s Ray-Mar Ranches has focused on a balance of traits in developing their seedstock program.
By Kindra Gordon
Fifteen years ago, Ray-Mar Ranches in Oakdale, CA was just embarking into the seed stock business. Family patriarch Ray Alger has more than 50 years of diverse experience in agriculture, from beef to dairy to feedlot operations.

Of his entry into raising registered Angus, he says, “We have been raising commercial cattle from several breeds for a long time. We have always found Angus to be the most efficient users of native California winter hill grazing. Our goal was to produce our own bulls, so we began by buying some elite purebred cows and have grown from there.”

Today, Ray-Mar Ranches numbers about 1200 cow-calf pairs on their California ranch. The name Ray-Mar is a merger of Ray and his wife Mary’s names. Their son Brent and his wife RaeAnn, oversee and manage the purebred operation. Their other son Jeff Alger and son-in-law Trey Ozenbaugh work with the commercial calf and custom heifer raising operation called A&A Cattle Co. Ray’s diverse operation includes about 12,000 acres of leased and owned land in central California. His newest venture is 3000+ farm acres in Texas which is used primarily for a dairy.

A Balanced Focus
In their quest to develop a top-notch seed stock herd, Ray-Mar Ranches has acquired Angus genetics from over 200 herds in the U.S. In this quest they have managed to acquire the dam or full sister of 30+ of the top proven sires in the breed. Their program also includes extensive use of embryo transfer, averaging about 500 embryos in recip-females each year. The embryos are from their own donor cows as well as from other top progressive Angus herds in the U.S.

In building their herd, the Algers have adhered to strict culling and emphasizing a balance of traits when selecting seed stock animals. Ray outlines the traits that are important to him by describing a wagon wheel with eight spokes and each spoke as a trait. 1.Fertility 2 Maternal 3.Growth 4.Carcass 5.Disposition 6. Soundness 7.Repeatability (the ability to produce progeny as good or better as the cow herself) and 8.Longevity.

He says, “Those are my goals, and the genetic traits I’d like to see in our cattle. We are committed to balanced cattle, and I’m looking for an animal that ranks an 8 to 10 in all of those categories. A cow that has a few 10’s in some of those areas and 2-4’s in other areas represents a wheel with some weak spokes, and that wheel will eventually break.”
To further the analogy, he says a wagon wheel with weak spokes would have never gotten the pioneers across the country; just as a cow with weak traits will not do well in the long run for a seed stock producer.

Alger credits some of his cattle selection philosophy to his past experiences in raising dairy cattle. He says, “Through the dairy industry I’ve gained the experience in how to mate cattle. I’ve learned how to mate a cow that is weak in any one of those areas and try to correct her weakness.”

In developing their Angus herd, Alger has also tried to steer clear of trends. “I may follow some trends 10% of the time, but looking back on the Angus industry, it is evident that following trends too closely has gotten some herds into trouble,”
he says.
 
Other Important Criteria

Ray-Mar Ranches also believes that herd health is an important part of a successful cattle operation. To that end, they are focusing on herd health by testing and requiring the entire herd, including recips, to be free of BVD, Leucosis and Johne’s disease. Son Brent says that this is an effort to “stay one step ahead” of public and industry issues.

Ray adds “No matter how expensive the animal was, if they are compromising herd health, they should not be in the herd.”

They have also been testing genetic markers for tenderness among herd sires and dams as well as monitoring feed efficiency among their herd. These are two areas they believe will become increasingly important in the industry.

As their Angus operation has grown over the last decade, Ray-Mar Ranches initially sold bulls private treaty until 2004 when they held their first annual “Commitment to Performance” bull sale in September. Presently, they offer about 150-200 Registered Angus Bulls in California.

Of their sale offerings, Brent says, “Our goal is to develop better Angus genetics for the commercial cattlemen as well as the purebred industry.”

As part of that commitment to the commercial industry, all bulls are semen tested to the highest industry standards and are guaranteed. Ray-Mar Ranches also range test all bulls before they are put in the sale. Brent explains that they are run in the hill country to make sure that sound feet, conformation and hardness are all part of the total package. This was a tough decision to make sacrificing weight gain potential in the feedlot. He reports, “We have eliminated a couple bloodlines in the first year alone by range testing our bulls. After hearing our customers feedback on the ability of these bulls to cover rough country and get their job done while not falling apart, I am convinced that range testing may be one of our programs biggest assets if not the biggest. Hearing all the positive feedback on our program makes this job fun.
 


As they move into their second decade of raising Angus, Ray says they’ll continue to emphasize a balanced approach. He concludes, “The fun part of raising registered angus has been putting together a certain type of cattle and as new calves are born each year, you see the results of your efforts. They depict the goals you had for the enhancement of the Angus breed.”

A Family Man
In his 60+ years, Ray Alger has amassed a variety of experiences in agriculture. Influenced by his grandfather and father, Ray always remembers having a connection with livestock and farming. When he was just a young teenager, he began buying and selling an assortment of beef cattle and also started a baby calf nursery that evolved into a successful business to this day.

During the last 40 years, his involvement in agriculture has grown into several enterprises. Along with his wife Mary, the couple established the name Ray-Mar Farms which has included various entities over the years: farming, dairying, raising commercial beef cattle, developing Holstein replacement females, and feeding approximately 125,000 cattle annually in their own lot in California, and in partnership with yards in Arizona, Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska. The couple is also proud to have raised two sons and two daughters and now enjoy 13 grandchildren.
 
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