Holiday Ranch
Breeder of South Poll Grass Cattle

Dec
07

Previously, we have written about the various tools and techniques we use to evaluate our cattle, primarily heifers.  Those practices are:

We use blood samples to check for pregnancy

Another practice we employ is pregnancy checking our South Poll cows and heifers.  Although both of us at Holiday Ranch have attended classes on pregnancy checking by palpation, we are still not confident of our abilities.  Most ranchers that do not perform their own pregnancy checking employ the services of their veterinarian.  For us, this is not an expense we can justify due to mileage charges and other expenses the vet must charge.  We also work our cattle slowly and gently.  When the vet is on-site that hurry-up-and-get-them-worked mentality is not the way we like to operate.

At Holiday Ranch we preg-check by drawing a blood sample.  This technique is easily learned and although we don’t consider ourselves good at this, we can usually get enough blood to obtain a result.

Draw blood from the underside of the tail

The test we use is called BioPRYN®.  BioPRYN is a pregnancy detection tool for use in ruminant animals. It measures the presence of Pregnancy-Specific Protein B (PSPB) in the blood circulation of the animal. PSPB is a protein that is produced only by the placenta of the growing fetus. Blood can be drawn on cows and heifers at 28 days or more post-breeding and cows – must be 90 days post-calving to ensure accuracy. If a sample is taken within this 90 day postpartum window, there is a chance for a false positive due to residual PSPB which has not cleared from the maternal blood stream.  The accuracy is 99 percent when the test determines an animal open.

Here are the instructions on how to take a pregnancy blood sample:

1. Use a fresh bleeding needle with every cow. Cross-contamination of blood will affect the results.

2. Screw the needle onto the needle holder.

3. Insert the blood collection tube into the other end of the needle holder until the stopper touches the back portion of the needle. Do not puncture the stopper. Hold these assembled materials in one hand.

4. Lift the cow’s tail with the other hand.  For us, it helps if you have someone hold the cows tail straight up for you.

5. Insert the needle about 1/2 inch deep and perpendicular to the tail at the underside, midline and at about 3 to 6 inches from the base of the tail. In this region, there is a longitudinal, midline ridge of skin through which you push the needle.

6. Blood will appear at the junction of the stopper and the back portion of the needle once the vein is punctured. If it does not appear, pull the needle out slightly and insert in a different direction until the vein is punctured.

7. Once blood is seen, push the tube onto the needle. Be sure to keep the needle under the skin since vacuum will pull blood into the tube and if lost, blood cannot be collected.

8. Use a second tube if this happens.

9. Collect 2 cc or more of blood.

10. Withdraw the needle from the skin and remove the tube from the tube holder.

11. Sequentially label the sample vials with the ear tag ID using a permanent marker on the vial label.   Labeling the tube will assist the laboratory in sample organization and help expedite results.

12. Place the tube in an ice rack or refrigerator until shipment.

13.  Then, ship your samples to one of the labs listed on the BioPRYN website.

Here is a video that demonstrates how to draw blood from a cow or heifer:

Nov
28

Previously, we talked about taking measurements on our heifers.

By using a radar chart or spider chart we learned about by reading a page at Rotokawa Cattle Co., we can first plot what the ideal body measurements and percentages should be according to Gerald Fry’s information on his website, Bovine Engineering.  These measurements are plotted in red on the chart.

Then, using data we collected on the individual animal, we plotted their measurements in blue.

As you can see, charting the information makes a strong visual tool for seeing where an animal’s strengths and weaknesses lay.

In addition to charting measurements, we also use the collected data to figure frame score.  Gerald Fry states the ideal frame score to perform well on grass is 3.5 to 4.5.

 

From our limited experience, animals less than one year old may plot rather oddly.  I therefore recommend this procedure be done at one year of age and older.

Nov
27

PVC pipe measuring tools

With the help of my friend, JB, we recorded linear measurements on our Holiday Ranch cattle back on November 8th when all animals were worked through the chute.  We used homemade PVC pipe measuring tools adapted from those used by Gerald Fry.  Gerald is probably our country’s number one advocate for linear measuring.

The information shown here is taken directly from Gerald’s website, www.bovineengineering.com.  Please visit his website to learn more detail.

In this image, taken from JHL Beef, you can see all the places to take a measurement.  Mr. Fry’s website also shows where to properly take the measurements.

Once the measurements are recorded, then what?  How do we interpret those measurements?  Gerald Fry to the rescue!  Here is what he says about the female measurements:

TOP LINE

The top line is the total length of the animal from front of pool to back of rump.  The top line is taken from three measurements, Neck length, Body length and Rump length. These three measurements make up the total top line length.

HEART GIRTH

Heart girth is the total distance around the animal’s heart girth. The heart girth should be equal to the total top line or larger at 12 months of age. The large girth is needed for proper size of the vital organs (heart, lungs, and glands).   The closer the heart girth is to the top line, the more efficient, adaptable and vigorous the animal will be. Larger heart girth to top line is better.   Insufficient heart girth is a high indicator of structural defects, allows front feet to toe out, hooked toe, more susceptible to stress and is a high maintenance animal. They do not perform well on grass. Small heart girth is a structural defect and should not be tolerated. Reproduction suffers.

NECK LENGTH

Actual neck length minus ½ the body length. Neck should be equal to half the body or half of 2/3 top line. The neck should be 1/3 the total length. A well-balanced cow will have a neck half the length of her body. The ideal range is +.5 or -.5 inches.  If the neck is too long the cow will be very dairy and high maintenance. Easy to stress. Her daughters will have long necks. Long necks tend to over produce milk, making the maintenance high and she will be a slower breeder.  If the neck is too short the cow will be wider in the shoulders (coarse) and milk production suffers.  This is a loss of femininity and masculine features: Long necks in the female are not symbolic of femininity.

BODY LENGTH OR 2/3 TOP LINE

The 2/3 top line is composed of the rump length and back length. Distance from the middle dip in vertebrate between the shoulder blades to back of rump.   If the back is to long it affect the neck length and the animal is out of balance.  Long backs tend to be weak and will sway. Most long backs have too small a loin muscle. Long backs can cause an irregular shaped loin muscle. The animal will break behind the top of shoulder to loin muscle. There will be a dip from rib cage to shoulder blade. These breaks or dips are a structural defect and should not be tolerated.

SHOULDER WIDTH

Shoulder width should be same as rump length. Shoulder width minus rump length. Ideal range is 0 or +.5 or -.5 inches.  Too wide of shoulders in a female will cause a lack in milk production.  Too narrow a shoulder in the female requires more maintenance and results in reproductive problems and is high maintenance. In the cow, the shoulders should balance the rump length

RUMP LENGTH PERCENT

The rump length percent is the percentage the rump makes up of the body length or the 2/3 body length. Divide the 2/3 body length into the rump length for the rump length percent.  In females the rump length should not exceed 40% of the 2/3 top line.   38% to 40% is the ideal range. Either side of this is in the extreme.  The rump length sets the standard for femininity.

FLANK CIRCUMFERENCE

This is a fertility and maternal trait indicator.
The greater the flank circumference is than the heart girth the higher the fertility.

  • High flanked cows have a tendency to be a little more flighty.
  • High flanked cows have less meat on the rump.
  • High flanked cows have a tendency to be higher maintenance.
  • High flanked animals will take longer to finish on grass.
  • The flank area should be 2 too 10 inches larger than girth at 12 months.
  • Larger is better.
  • A small difference of less suggests that other fertility indicators should be checked.
  • Fill can affect as much as 3 inches.

RUMP WIDTH PERCENT

Rump width divided by the rump height.   This percentage indicates ability of self-fleshing, ease of keeping, reproductive efficiency, and indicator of volume of meat on rump. The minimum rump width % is 40% of rump height. The wider and deeper the rump and flank the higher the maternal characteristics. The wide deep rump represents femininity and reproductive efficiency. Wide rumped cows have sons and daughters with wide rumps.

ADJUSTED RUMP WIDTH

Rump width minus rump length. The rump width should be 2.5 inches wider than its length. The wider the rump is than long is a high fertility indicator.

  • The wide rumped cow has sons with short necks.
  • The wide rumped cow has daughters with wide rumps.
  • The wide rumped cow has more meat in the rump area and produce sons and daughters with more meat.
  • The progeny will mature earlier and finish by 16 to 18 months of age on grass

RUMP HEIGHT

Rump height correlates highly with gain-ability.
Tall animals tend to be out of balance, slow to come into puberty, thus lower in fertility and reproductive efficiency. They have smaller loins. For overall performance and finishing on grass a frame score of 3.5 to 4.5 works best.

THURL

The thurl should be 13% of the rump height or greater. Greater is better if the slopes of the rump are at the proper angle.  Thurl should be 13% of hip height or greater.   This indicates pelvic depth and structural soundness of hind legs.   If the thurl is properly in place the animal will track correctly (back foot in front track).  The measurement is taken from ground to stifle joint to top of back.  Proper structured thurl makes for ease of calving.

UDDER
The udder should be small and tucked neatly between the back legs with
four equally placed nipples 3-4 inches long. The udder should attach high
up behind the back legs for longevity and soundness.
The udder should blend into the lower part of the belly very smoothly
with no V or crevice between the udder and stomach. The udder should not be tilted up in front. Tilted udders are a structural defect resulting from the sire and his scrotal makeup. Tilted udders have less milk. The udder has a direct influence on the scrotal make up and navel area of her sons.

This information can be overwhelming!  We now have all of our measurements and know what the different measurements and percentages mean, but how do we compile it in an understandable fashion and relate it to the individual animal?  That will be my next post.

While you are studying how to measure your replacement heifers, take a minute and visit with our Missouri partner, Bruce Shanks of Sassafras Valley Ranch.

Follow Holiday Ranch on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/pages/Holiday-Ranch/306824716001982?sk=wall

Nov
27

How do we at Holiday Ranch evaluate which heifers to keep?  Let me tell you, it is a very arduous process.

As stated in our previous post, our Missouri partner, Bruce Shanks, has previously evaluated these heifers visually for multiple traits.  The very best have been selected to come to Florida to be developed and bred.

pull tail hair from switch for DNA sampling

Another tool we use to further evaluate these heifers is DNA.  By submitting hair samples on each heifer we are provided a report giving a numeric score of 1 to 10 for a number of traits.

Here are the Igenity results on a randomly selected heifer:

Average Daily Gain = 6

Tenderness = 7

Percent Choice  = 5

Stayability (longevity)  = 6

Maternal calving ease  = 5

The jury is still out on how much emphasis to place on DNA.  We believe DNA has the potential to add value to the herd, so we will continue to test our animals.

DNA is simply another tool we use to be combined with multiple other evaluations.

Remember to visit our partner, Bruce Shanks, of Sassafras Valley Ranch.

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Nov
26

Ever wonder how to decide which heifers to keep in the herd?  There are so many things to consider.  We have been evaluating our herd for the past several weeks in order to keep only the best of the best South Poll females.

Calves and their dams are evaluated

Here is what we do at Holiday Ranch to make our tough decisions:

On our Missouri herd, our partner Bruce Shanks evaluates each calf and its dam.

Bruce scores each calf according to the following scale he devised:

Thickness

1 = thin

2 = below average

3 = above average

4 = thick

Frame

1 = too big or extremely small

2 = a little tall

3 = moderate

4 = very moderate

Disposition

1 = charging

2 = nervous, agitated

3 = OK or uncaring

4 = curious or extremely gentle

Hair

1 = rough hair, not slicked off, long

2 = below average

3 = above average

4 = appropriate to season; slick/oily

Performance

1 = slow growth

2 = below average

3 = above average

4 = fast growth

Each calf’s score for each of the above traits is added together to determine a total calf score.  The total ratings could be 5 for the worst or 20 for the best.

Then, each dam is given a similar evaluation based on the following criteria:

Longevity

1 = 1, 2, or 3 years old

2 = 4, 5, or 6 years old

3 = 7, 8, or 9 years old

4 = 10+ years old

Udder Quality

1 = poor, large

2 = below average

3 = above average

4 = great, small, tight

Condition

1 = emaciated, very thin

2 = thin, can see all ribs

3 = moderate, can see 2-3 ribs

4 = very good (smooth, etc.)

Frame

1 = too big, extremely small

2 = a little tall

3 = moderate

4 = very moderate

Disposition

1 = charging

2 = nervous, agitated

3 = OK, uncaring

4 = curious, extremely gentle

Hair

1 = rough hair, not slicked-off, long

2 = below average

3 = above average

4 = appropriate to season, slick/oily

Girth

1 = narrow

2 = below average

3 = above average

4 = wide

Cow scores for each of the above traits are added together to determine a total cow score.  Possible scores are 7 to 28

After each calf and her dam are evaluated, their total scores are added together to obtain a combined total for each cow and her calf.  Based on this scoring we use the resulting number as a tool to select which heifers to keep.

Our toolbox is not limited to the above described rating system but this is one very helpful tool to select heifers to keep in the herd.

Visit our partner, Bruce Shanks, of Sassafras Valley Ranch.

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Nov
17

Kay and Cliff White were pleasantly surprised by the honor of Washington County Cattlemen of the Year bestowed upon them during the Farm City Banquet held in Chipley, Florida on November 17, 2011.

The Whites purchased a portion of the late Coy Dyson farm on Highway 79 five miles South of Vernon in 2003.  They named their farm Holiday Ranch where they built their dream home.

Cliff is a native of Northeast Arkansas.  He spent his childhood years on the family cotton farm and still owns two farms in Arkansas.  Cliff is a graduate of University of Tennessee and is retired from the Office of Inspector General for USDA.   Cliff is a supervisor on the Board of Orange Hill Soil and Water Conservation District.  He is also Vice-President of the Washington County Cattlemen’s Association, Inc.

Kay was a city girl and spent 27 years in custom home building in Columbus, Georgia.  Together Kay and Cliff have two daughters, two sons, and 6 grandchildren, plus 2 more on the way.   Kay is a Washington County Master Gardener volunteer and a member of the Wausau Garden Club in addition to serving as secretary of the Washington County Cattlemen’s Association.  She is an avid organic vegetable gardener and enjoys preparing gourmet meals.

The Whites operate a registered seed-stock operation using a new composite breed of cattle called South Poll.  The South Poll breed was developed by Teddy Gentry from Ft. Payne, Alabama (you may recall that Teddy is a member of the group “Alabama”).  The Whites have been active in the South Poll Grass Cattle Association serving on the Board of Directors.  South Polls were bred to excel and finish on grass with an emphasis on longevity, fertility, disposition, heat tolerance, and tenderness.  In this time of high feed prices, there is a huge demand for their bulls and cows because of their ability to perform on grass.  The South Poll steers are also in high demand with beef suppliers competing to obtain their product and some gourmet chefs use nothing but South Poll grass-fed beef on their menu.  The Whites have about 150 of their mama cows in central Missouri.  They are the largest registered South Poll breeder in the United States.  The Missouri herd is managed by their partner, Dr. Bruce Shanks.

The White’s focus on education and attend many cattle and forage seminars offered by the University of Florida in addition to non-traditional courses such as Graze fests, mob grazing, dung beetle field days, etc. The Whites credit Washington County Extension Agent, Andy Andreasen, and other University of Florida staff for providing invaluable assistance on the production and management of cattle and forages.  Forest Dilmore and Greg Noland of the Natural Resources and Conservation Service have also been extremely helpful to the Whites in the development of numerous conservation practices.

Although the Whites are not certified organic, they incorporate many organic practices on their ranch and the cattle are all-natural, meaning they are never given growth hormones or routine antibiotics.

Cliff and Kay are unlikely crusaders.  In 2006 and 2007 the land adjacent to their ranch and bordering Holmes Creek was rezoned as a planned unit development with approximately 650 houses on 860 acres.  Many of those acres were wetlands.   Although the Whites were not opposed to development in Washington County, they were concerned about its adverse impact on their ranching operation.  They intervened in the developer’s (Skywatch) application process before the Board of County Commissioners and Florida Department of Community Affairs.  Their legal intervention led to a new Florida law, the “Agricultural Nuisance Claim Waiver Act”.  In substance, the purpose of the law is to give notice to an applicant for a local nonagricultural land use permit, building permit, or certificate of occupancy which neighbors existing agricultural land that the adjacent farm operation may not be compatible with the intended use of their property because of discomfort or inconvenience that may come from practices such as noise, insects, burning, dust, etc.  By signing the required waiver, the new owner agrees not to bring any claim against the owner of the farm.  In an effort to help protect Holmes Creek from devastation that may be caused by development, Kay gave a presentation to the Washington County Commissioners regarding its beauty, uniqueness, endangered species and the necessity of protecting this underappreciated natural resource.

The Whites invite you to visit their website at www.holidayranchsouthpolls.com and their blog at www.holidayranch.wordpress.com

Sep
09

Small gray cow birds from Iowa

When we talk about cattle birds in our herds, I realize that the birds are different depending on what latitude you are referring to.

Case in point.  My friends Julie and Bill Totemeier live in New London, Iowa.  Recently Julie sent me photos of cattle birds gorging on flies and bugs on their cattle herd.  These are little gray birds that actually light on the cattle to eat.

 

 

Cattle Egrets eat bugs the cattle stir up

Down here in Florida, our cattle birds are cattle egrets.  They are fairly large white egrets that share the pasture with the cattle.  They forage for bugs that the cattle stir up as they walk and graze.  Sometimes there are hundreds of these egrets present.  This year, however, there are not nearly as many egrets as in the past.

 

 

White Ibis, new to Holiday Ranch

In November of 2010 White Ibis arrived.  I have never seen these birds in previous years and assumed they were migrating and just happened to stop by Holiday Ranch to get a bite to eat on their journey.  They stayed all winter and this summer.  They do not necessarily forage in the same field as the cattle like the egrets do but they may be one field behind the cattle rotation.  I have seen where they have fished around in cow patties and presume they are eating our dung beetles.  They are beautiful large birds with black tips on the underside of their wings and dark pink curved bills with matching dark pink feet and legs.

We cherish all wildlife we have on the ranch and try to provide a good habitat for most all God’s creatures.

Sep
09

Hey everybody.  I’m back!  It has been a long, hot summer at Holiday Ranch.  I have been busy with my vegetable gardening and canning, plus a number of other obligations that kept me from writing.  I promise to do better now that things are slowing down a bit.

Bull M480 honored with the name "Chief"

The first item of exciting news is bull M480 was honored at the 2011 South Poll Board meeting by being given the name of “Chief”.  Those bulls so honored have proven themselves to be the best and are qualified for international semen sales.

 

Chief was our very first herd sire purchased in 2004.  He and his dam were featured on the Bent Tree Farms brochure back in 2003.  Dave Roberts (walking, talking book of knowledge on all things South Poll) selected him for us.  We will forever be in his debt for sending this special bull our way.

Typical Chief daughter, Holiday Ranch #643

Chief has sired some of the best females I have seen in the South Poll breed.  Almost, without fail, his daughters were exceptional.  If you have visited Holiday Ranch or Sassafras Valley Ranch you have seen his daughters (500, 600, and 700 series ear tags).

They are feminine, have excellent confirmation, are deep-gutted and wide, and have picture-perfect udders as you can see from the photo.

After 3 years of breeding cows at Holiday Ranch, we sold Chief.  He was gone 4 years but in the early summer of 2011, we located Chief and brought him back home to Holiday Ranch where he will live out his days.  We are so happy to have him back.  He is nine and a half years old now and is out in the pasture breeding cows.  We are hopeful he will stay virile for another couple of years (or more!).  We did collect semen on Chief so contact us if you are ever interested in using him as an A.I. sire.

A prominent, extremely large cattle breeder in the Southeast saw our cattle herd as he was traveling to the beach this summer.  He stopped, came into the farm and wanted to purchase all of Chief’s daughters we have remaining on the Florida farm.  I believe this speaks volumes for the kind of females Chief produces.  If you are wondering…no, we did not sell these ladies because they are the matriarchs of our herd.  As you know, our goal is to produce the “best of the best” South Poll cattle and these cattle are critical to our breeding goals.

Chief has also produced some special bulls.  J.A. Girgenti used a son of Chief (Holiday Ranch #516) for several years and was extremely pleased with the bull.  Ben Coleman thinks his Chief son (Holiday Ranch #603) is the best South Poll bull ever bred.  I have heard similar stories of other great sons out there in South Poll land.

All things considered, Chief is more than deserving the honor bestowed on him.  He is truly remarkable and one of a kind.  We are honored to have him working at Holiday Ranch once again.

 

May
18

When Holiday Ranch started in the South Poll business with 40 cows back in 2004, we had Dave Roberts (South Poll guru and keeper of all knowledge) select our herd sire.  This “big boy” was M480.  We knew M480 must be special because his photo was featured in the Bent Tree Farms brochure when he was a young calf.  M480 was a two-year old breeding age bull when we purchased him.  We felt very fortunate to buy a great looking bull stacked with some of the best genetics in the breed.

M480's Dam, B0358, the "Mother of Great Bulls"

M480’s dam is Bo358, known in South Poll circles at the “mother of great bulls“.   His sire, 0313, is one of the great bulls in the South Poll breed who sired slick-haired offspring and produced beautiful udders on his daughters.  These excellent traits have been acquired by M480 and passed on to his progeny.

Without a doubt, some of the best females in the breed were sired by M480.  Our Missouri partner, Dr. Bruce Shanks, recently wrote about M480.  He stated “Undoubtedly, M480 produces a daughter with extra thickness and capacity and in my mind are the best set of females we have”.Holiday 643, an M480 daughter

We kept M480 here at the Florida ranch for 3 breeding seasons as our only herd sire.  His last year he bred over 70 cows.  Then, we had Dave sell M480 because if he stayed he would be breeding his daughters (but that is another matter we could discuss).

One day we were sitting on the front porch enjoying a cool drink after a long days work watching the cows graze on the paddock in front of the house.  The subject of bulls came up and we thought it would be a grand idea to bring M480 back home as most of his daughters are now in the Missouri herd.  Only four of his daughters remain in Florida.

We started checking to see if M480 was still alive and, if so, where he was.  We found that he was with Jay Miller at Lookout Mountain, Georgia.  Jay had been using M480 in his herd ever since he left Holiday Ranch.  Jay agreed to sell M480 to us because he had a M480 son he could use as a replacement bull.

After consulting with Bruce Shanks and Dave Roberts regarding the advisability of collecting semen from M480, he was collected at Genex at Fort Payne after buying M480 from Jay.  We were told that his semen was way above average after freezing – not bad for an old guy!   We will make some of this semen available to other breeders wishing to use M480’s excellent grass genetics to produce some fine females and bulls.

Ben Coleman of Coleman Farms in north Missouri has a M480 son, 603, he thinks is the finest bull in the entire South Poll breed.  Ben likes his ruggedness and hardiness.  Additionally, M480 has produced several other outstanding bulls.

We have nominated M480 for special recognition as BREED LEADER within the South Poll breed.  If accepted, M480 will be honored with a name that we propose to be “Chief”.

We are so happy to have M480 back home where he belongs.  At nine years old, we hope he has several more good years of breeding cows at Holiday Ranch.  We will let him live out the rest of his life here

This fall Holiday Ranch and Sassafras Valley Ranch will have weaned heifers for sale out of many of M480 daughters in Missouri.  Contact us to reserve your 2011 South Poll heifers which will be available in the fall.

May
15

Our friend Dave Roberts at Fort Payne asked us to reconsider consigning a female to the 2011 South Poll Field Day seed stock auction.  We did not have any females for sale, but because “Dave asked”, we came up with a real jewel.

Allow me to introduce Debutante 10110:

Yearling Heifer HR 5107 WD93 10110

10110 is very special.  Her sire was 5107, a 10-star tender bull.  5107 is now deceased and Holiday Ranch only has 2 of his offspring.  10110 is one of those offspring and DNA testing confirms her to be 9-stars for tenderness.  She was selected to go back into the herd as breeding stock because of her tenderness.  As you know, grass genetics should emphasize tender beef off grass.

In addition to her tenderness, she is also a feminine heifer with a beautiful face and Bambi-like eyes.  As you can see in the photo, she is slick-haired with a desirable medium red color (no white).  Best of all, she is very gentle, with a laid-back docile personality.

10110 was born on our partner’s ranch in Missouri on fescue, therefore she should be fescue-tolerant.  She has been developed on our Florida ranch on Bahia grass and winter annuals.

This special girl will be very hard to let go.  Our loss will certainly be your gain if your goal is to produce tender grass-finished beef.

Please plan on attending the South Poll field day in Fort Payne on June 24-25, 2011 where this heifer will be offered for auction.  If you cannot attend, but would like to bid on this heifer, please contact us and we can figure out a way to submit your bid.

Please stay in touch.  Holiday Ranch and Sassafras Valley Ranch will have a nice crop of weaned South Poll heifers plus a few bulls for sale in the fall.

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