Wooden Cross Cattle Company is home to five generations of Schlehuber family members west of Hillsboro, and it is a destination point for buyers from around the country looking for top quality Charolais cattle.
“Adversity can bring new opportunity,” said owner and operator Merle Schlehuber. “In the past we have sold a high percentage of our bulls to Texas customers but due to the extreme drought there, we have been challenged to open up new markets for our bulls.”
Currently, Wooden Cross bull customers hail from 19 different states, some as far away as upstate New York, Florida, and Idaho. On Monday, ranch personnel were preparing for the arrival of two first time bull buyers driving in from Iowa.
“This is what I enjoy the most about our operation,” Schlehuber said. “The opportunity to meet new people who are diverse and unique to their own environment, and to help them acquire genetics that are most suitable to fulfill their individual goals, is an intriguing aspect of this business.”
Schlehuber carries on an intensive breeding program which uses decades of records and data to perfect the science of breeding improved beef.
“What makes our cattle different from many other seed-stock Charolais producers is that we are a closed herd,” he said. “We have not brought in any outside genetics for years. We braid genetics from three different foundation based sire groups, working to match up desirable traits and values while keeping the three lines as distant from each other as possible.”
This type of breeding program allows cattlemen like Schlehuber to create a more consistent line of genetics that are more predictable in producing desirable traits when introduced into commercial herds.
Schlehuber said programs such as Expected Progeny Difference — made possible through the American International Charolais Association, as well as the science of DNA testing for inheritable traits, has made it possible for seed-stock producers to make rapid improvements in genetics.
“We have been using DNA for five years now,” he said. “Not only does it provide us with a tool to identify the parentage of calves in pastures where we use multiple herd sires, but it also enables us to use various trait markers that we can use to tie back in with actual performance and harvest data.”
Schlehuber said many Charolais buyers come to the ranch, each looking for a specific type of bull to enhance specific traits in their own herds. Performance history from years of stacked genetics helps him match the buyer up with a bull that best fits their overall production and marketing plan.
“This is why we like to private treaty most of our sales,” he said. “From the high-end commercial buyer looking for top weaning, mid range, or harvest weights, to the cow-calf producer wanting to increase longevity in his or her herd, we can match our top genetics with those different objectives.”
Just last Friday, two donor dams from the Wooden Cross herd were sold to a Charolais breeder in Iowa.
“They chose those cows with the plan to flush them for embryos in order to get our genetic base into their own herd,” Schlehuber said.
In addition to paying close attention to genetics, Schlehuber follows a management plan, formed to prepare his cattle for optimum performance when they leave the Hillsboro ranch.
“All of our cattle are bred, born, and developed in a ranch environment,” he said. “We raise them rough to be tough, winter them on hay, and summer them on grass. This develops vigor, strength, and enhances longevity.”
Helping Schlehuber with the cattle ranch work, are his wife, Marolyn, and daughter, Maci. Full-time employee Aimee Shavers is the ranch’s herdsman, and part-time employee Jessie Perry helps with all of the daily tasks. Schlehuber’s parents, Allen and Alma Schlehuber, who live just across the road, are always there to help as well, keeping watch for cattle out of place, or new calf arrivals.
“We do all of our calving in spring, during the months of April and May,” Merle Schlehuber said. “That, along with weaning time, is my favorite time of year. The wait is agonizing, but it is enjoyable for us to see the results of all our mating decisions at calving and weaning.”
Schlehuber said that while making a living raising cattle demands a lot of hours to be put in, he could not think of anything else he would rather be doing.
“I guess it is just a passion for the business that keeps me going,” he said. “If I were to pick a perfect retirement, it would be what I am doing now, only afford to be doing it.”