Jeff Simmons recalls riding horses on his grandfathers’ ranches when he was just a small child. Now, decades later, he owns and operates his own cow-calf operation, J&S Cattle near Bastrop, La., and takes great pride in the cattle he produces and the relationships he’s built with his customers.
“In the cattle business, the most important thing – probably the only thing you have is your reputation,” Simmons said on a recent episode of “The American Rancher” on RFD-TV. “Our customers are mostly repeat customers, whether it be replacement heifer customers or feedlots that buy from us, and we have a really good relationship with all those people. They are part of the family.”
Customer satisfaction and loyalty are important to Simmons, who runs more than 2,500 cows in the heart of the Mississippi Delta. The ranch is located across five parishes in Louisiana and overlaps into Arkansas and Mississippi. But along with that lush, wet region where it only takes 1.5-2 acres per cow, come plenty of other challenges like heat, humidity and insects.
“Our main goal is to provide our customers with a strong, hearty F1 heifer that we know when we sell her, you’re not going to have to baby her through this climate,” said Colby Daugherty, manager at J&S Cattle. “She’s pretty much got a high breed-back ratio, and she’ll also produce a high weaning weight on a calf at the end of the year.”
J&S markets about 1,000 head of high-quality F1 replacement heifers each year. They use a mixture of Brahman, Angus and Hereford to create Tiger Stripe and baldy females with some ear that adapt easily to the climate they are born into and marketed for.
“The cattle have to perform for us first. If they perform for us, they will perform anywhere in this part of the world,” Simmons said.
Daugherty adds the cows must be low maintenance. Due to the geographic size of their ranch, he might only see the cows once every 2-3 weeks. And in the hottest months of the year, May through August, they know that heat is a stressor these typically low-maintenance cows face.
“A health program to me is the most important thing you can do for your cattle. For a couple of years, I struggled with my cattle with all kinds of problems because we didn’t have a solid foundation on our health program. The mineral, the vaccinations – all those things are the foundation. If you don’t have a solid health program, you’re never going to make the cattle the best performing they actually could have been because they are going to be held back. When the cattle do without, in the end you’ll do without too,” Simmons said.
Part of the health program that J&S has implemented includes the VitaFerm® line of supplements from BioZyme® Inc. To combat heat stress, they feed VitaFerm HEAT® during the hottest months of the year, and they have seen a difference in their cattle grazing more during the day, not staying bunched up. Calves will follow the lead of the mama cow, and when the cows are out grazing more so are their calves, meaning the calves are growing more, achieving the goals at J&S.
VitaFerm HEAT is a vitamin and mineral supplement for beef cattle used to reduce heat stress during temperatures of 70 degrees and above, or anytime cattle are grazing fescue. HEAT contains Amaferm® and Capsaicin, both research-proven to maintain body temperature. Amaferm is a natural prebiotic designed to maximize the nutritional value of feed. It is also research-proven to maintain performance during heat stress and increase forage digestion, a common issue with fescue. HEAT also includes garlic, a natural insect repellent.
“When the VitaFerm HEAT mineral came out with the idea that you could lower the body temperature of the cow and possibly put that cow on the pasture grazing for more hours a day, that was a pretty big interest to me. I think the VitaFerm HEAT does remove some stress from the heat and humidity on the cattle. Therefore, if they graze more they gain more,” Simmons said.
His ranch manager agrees. And said that they do notice less bunching, causing less fly issues. They also see the cattle out grazing 2-3 hours more per day than they did prior to using the HEAT.
“The advantage I see by using the product is it does help with the heat stress. Here at J&S, we like to give them (the cows) as much as we possibly can to help them with this problem,” Daugherty said.
A combination of ideal genetics, good management and a sound nutrition program that includes VitaFerm products has led to the successful reputation of J&S Cattle. By continually producing a high-quality product that draws repeat customers, Simmons is hopeful that his grandchildren will carry on the legacy that he’s begun – raising high-quality cattle for customers that become family.