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Excerpt from Cattle Today article, Volume 8, Number 7 - December 10, 1994.

Willow Oak Chiangus:
Bottom line genetics for profit-minded producers

 by: John Purdy
       Special Correspondent

Near the foothills of East Tennessee, in the winding river valley of the Holston River, approximately 300 Chiangus brood cows are grazing on native grass pastures. These black, polled functional females are the production units for Willow Oak Chiangus Ranch. At Willow Oak, production of Chiangus seedstock is their only business. Since 1982, this Rogersville, Tenn., ranch has a program of producing reliable useful genetics for commercial cattlemen. This program focused, from the beginning, on the development of a hybrid Angus breed called Chiangus. "The concept was not original with me," says Richard Arnold, owner of Willow Oak Chiangus Ranch. "This breed was several important pioneers, but the person most responsible for our involvement was George Wheeler of Allandale Angus fame." (Editor note: see Cattle Today, Vol. 7, No. 6 for article on George Wheeler.)

Willow Oak's original plan was to breed performance oriented Angus cattle, but back in '82, George Wheeler, a long-time Angus breeder told Arnold of his dream for a hybrid Angus breed - to put an end to expensive and herd-mongrelizing cross-breed programs and keep black polled Angus-type cattle at the forefront of the modern industrialized cattle industry. Wheeler suggested that Arnold concentrate his efforts on developing a hybrid breed of Angus called, Chiangus.

"The cattle are lean meat, high yielding Angus-type cattle," says Richard Arnold. "Our goal from the beginning was to develop a new breed of cattle - bred for today's cattle industry which means production efficiency and lean meat performance."

The results have been eye opening. Willow Oak customers have reported impressive results for Chiangus steers. Through the National Cattlemen's Association's Strategic Alliances Field Study, Chiangus breeders have been able to verify by an independent third party (NCA) that, in Arnold's words, "Chiangus steers are unequaled in bottom line performance and profitability."

In the NCA Strategic Alliances Field Study, two pens of Chiangus steers averaged $161 per head profit compared to $55 per head on the other 13 pens of high-quality steers from reputation herds from Western Cattle Country. These results were duplicated two consecutive years by Chiangus steers in the Texas A&M Ranch to Rail Program. These steers in the Strategic Alliances program and the Texas A&M program come from three different cattle ranches in Nebraska, South Dakota and Texas. The only thing these operations have in common are that the steers are Chiangus and each are bull customers of Willow Oak Chiangus Ranch of Rogersville, Tennessee.

Willow Oak has successfully marketed performance-tested Chiangus bulls from Texas to Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and nearer home throughout the Southeast.

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To develop a composite breed, Willow Oak has taken some of the most impressive performance genetics in the history of the cattle industry and applied both modern and old fashion breeders techniques to produce the high-tech cattle called Chiangus. Here is how - (Excerpt from Cattle Today, article Volume 11, Number 10 - February 7, 1998)

For other breeders who would like to understand how Willow Oak accomplished this consistency, what can you tell us about how this happened?

The number one thing is we developed a program based on information (data) and good cattleman's sense (functional and structural correctness), used good genetics and didn't fool ourselves. We have been faithful to our system and honest with ourselves. We started in 1982 to develop lean meat, high grading-high yielding Angus-type cattle. We accomplished this by using Angus cattle to develop a hybrid breed. We moved beyond crossbreeding because crossbreeding is the number one enemy of consistency and predictability. Anyone who visits our herd or attends our sale, the first thing they observe is the consistency of the cattle. I mean consistency of appearance, deep bodied black cattle - consistency of temperament -consistency of data-high marbling scores, ample ribeye measurement and low fat cover. This is no accident. We started with genetics that contained those characteristics and blended them in a live breeding program that has produced the predictability that we have today.

This all sounds good but there have bound to have been problems.

Of course there have been problems. This is the cattle business - but we have been fortunate. I have had the advice of two outstanding cattlemen. George Wheeler, a retired Angus breeder who first urged me to accept the challenge of producing a Hybrid Angus that could meet the challenges of value based marketing and John Coble of Billings, Montana, who knows more about the breeding of livestock than anyone I have ever met or read about. Between these two, we have been able to keep the ranch and our program headed in the right direction. The cattle industry has changed in many respects but one thing that has not changed is the art of breeding cattle. We have more tools, more information and more data. This presents greater opportunity but it does not change the fundamentals of breeding livestock. Consistent quality is obtained by breeding the best to the best. John Coble's skill has been critical and George Wheeler's perspective has been important. Together, we have produced this very important product-hybrid genetics with purebred predictability.

What type of problems have you encountered in developing your breeding program?

Well, the first problem that you encounter when you undertake the challenge of developing a hybrid breed is convincing potential customers that your cattle have value and that there is a reason to try your bulls. This has been a long, slow process; but the success of our past sales stand as a testament to the fact that our cattle do provide real value to our customers. We have the data to prove it and we have over 200 bulls in cow herds around the country to confirm the value of our cattle. This is no longer a problem. Our customers are our best advertisement.

The second problem we encountered was a negative impression regarding the temperament of some Chi x Angus cattle from the steer show days. Many people believed these cattle to be up-headed and nervous. That is a problem we have tackled head on. It speaks simply to the proper use of the breeders art - the use of selection pressure to remove any potential temperament problems. We have so effectively eliminated that problem that we have our sale cattle in groups of three in open pens for inspection on the day before and the day of our sale. The most common compliment we receive is the soundness of the cattle's temperament.

This was accomplished through the use of a temperament rating system. The Willow Oak cow herd is rated on temperament. Every member of Willow Oak staff provides a rating but final ratings are set by John Coble.

5 - Best Temperament
    4 - Good Temperament
    3 - Average Temperament
    2 - Below Average Temperament
    1 - Unacceptable Temperament

Cows that fit in categories 1, 2 and 3 are long gone from Willow Oak. Categories 1, 2 and 3 are only used to identify any weaned calves that fit those categories. There are very few 1 or 2's in the calf crop any more. At our 2000 sale, the number-one comment by those in attendance was the docile, easy-going nature of the Willow Oak cattle. That is the direct result of this temperament rating system. The temperament rating on the sire and dam of each bull at the sale is provided for the customers' use.

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Generally, the cattle business is local in nature, but Willow Oak has bull customers in Texas, Montana, North & South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri and all of the southeastern states. Back in the 1980's and early 1990's, we used to hear a lot of criticism about southeastern cattle being inferior. In 1997, in an attempt to demonstrate in the west that the myth about southeastern cattle not being up to western standards was not true, we took a pen of bulls to the Great Western prestigious Pen of Bulls contest.

3 Ozzie sons out of 3 Enchantress cow family

This is the data for our Grand Champion Pen (as pictured left to right):

  Adjusted Yearling Wt. REA BF MARBLING
#1 1078 15.73 .12 3.71
#2 992 14.94 .16 4.06
(High Choice)
#3 1068 15.29 .20 4.08
(High Choice)

Our focus is on the commercial industry; however, the structural correctness of our cattle allow us to do what we did in 1997 without changing anything.

We have come even further since those Cattle Today articles were written. The best proof is the average data on the last twenty-five years' sales:
(5-Point System)
Weight per day of Age Scrotal 

Yearling Wt.
(365 day age)





1.29 3.1 4.0 3 lbs. 36.75






In 1989, the National Cattlemen's Association conducted the National Beef Quality Audit. The result of this audit revealed a $226 of loss per carcass. The NCA concluded that all of this loss could be avoided through proper genetics and management. The major sources of the losses were:

 Excessive Seam Fat      -  $111.99
     Excessive External Fat   -  $ 62.94
     Lack of Muscling            -  $ 29.47
     Lack of Marbling             -  $ 21.68

Correction of these problems have been the primary reason for the Value Based Marketing programs coming out of the major feeders and packers. Willow Oak cattle, because of their unique heritage, will correct or improve your herd in all 4 areas. Our sale bulls, in addition to being EPD rated, performance tested and temperament rated, have been sonogrammed for backfat, marbling score and ribeye area. As a group, the sale bulls averaged .25 backfat, a marbling score of 3.1 and a ribeye ratio per cwt of 1.31. These bulls were also pelvic measured and scrotal measured. The significance of each is explained below.

 Data tells only part of the story - so read on. This is how we have done it: 

The ideal beef cattle temperament requires a docile, easily-handled bull with sufficient libido to seek and breed cows. Chiangus bulls are born with vigor to thrive and a drive to breed. Through selection pressure, Willow Oak has produced bulls that are, at the same time, docile and easy to handle. We also rate our cow herd on temperament. Every member of Willow Oak staff provides a rating but final ratings are set by our manager:

     5 - Best Temperament
     4 - Good Temperament
     3 - Average Temperament
     2 - Below Average Temperament
     1 - Unacceptable Temperament

 Cows that fit in categories 1, 2 and 3 are long gone from Willow Oak. Categories 1, 2 and 3 are only used to identify any weaned calves for culling. There are very few 1, 2 or 3s in our calf crop. At our sales, the number-one comment by those in attendance is the docile, easy-going nature of our cattle. That is the direct result of this temperament rating system. The temperament rating on the sire and dam of each bull at our sale is provided for our customer's use.

This sonogram measurement measures the fat on the bull at the ribeye area. This gives an indication of the amount of external and seam fat on the cattle. With respect to the bulls on performance testing, it gives an indication of how much fat is involved in the bull's weight gain on test. At last year's sale, the Willow Oak bulls had an average backfat of .20. The bulls were lean - around 1/4 inch fat. Read in conjunction with ribeye measurement and daily gain on feed, this gives our customers an opportunity to evaluate the bull's comparative ability to put on red meat.

Willow Oak Chiangus have historically excelled in ribeye measurement. Ribeye measurement is a strong indication of the muscling present throughout the carcass. Indeed, Monfort's new Tech 21 lean beef program pays a muscling premium based on the ribeye measurement. The industry average ribeye measurement is 1.1 per hundred pounds. Any measurement ratio above 1.2 is regarded as a breed improver. The Willow Oak sale bulls average 1.29 per 100 pounds.

For profit-minded cattlemen, the balance to be struck is to reduce external and seam fat but maintain good quality marbling. Marbling scores are taken at the time of ribeye measurement. In general, Chiangus cattle marble very well while having minimal external and seam fat. Chiangus cattle do this very well. The average marbling score on the Willow Oak bulls is 3.1. The scale is as follows:

The bulls in this sale have been tested on feed. The bulls are averaging, as a group, almost 4 lbs. gain per day on feed.This is significant, but must be examined in light of fat cover, marbling score and ribeye measurement. Read together, you can determine whether the bull on test is gaining profitable quality red meat or whether the pounds gain are profit­destroying fat. When you look at the almost 4 lbs. per day gain with a .24 backfat, 3.1 marbling score and 1.29 ribeye per 100 lbs., you know these bulls are ready to help their owners with profitable performance in the modern cattle industry.

Expected Progeny Difference (EPD) is the estimate of how future progeny of each sire are expected to perform in each of the traits listed. EPD is expressed in pounds either plus or minus. Sires with large numbers of progeny are the most accurately evaluated individuals. However, research indicates that EPD's computed for young bulls not yet producing progeny are considerably more accurate for making selection decisions than adjusted weights and ratios. Expected progeny differences for young bulls may be as much as nine times more accurate for selection across herds than performance ratios.

Chiangus are Angus hybrids. In the last ten years, Chiangus has developed EPDs. This is an outstanding performance breed with a baseline of 0. Despite the obvious superior performance, the Angus EPDs appear superior because of a higher mean score - some performance vs. low performance. This should be kept in mind when comparing Angus EPDs with Willow Oak EPDs.

A bull's scrotal measurement is genetically linked to fertility and masculinity in the bull and his sons and fertility and femininity in his daughters.

The bulls at Willow Oak are EPD rated on birth weight which has some predictive value for calving ease. In addition, the bull is rated for calving ease - combining his actual calving ease when born with a visual evaluation of shoulder construction and joint flexibility. As a general rule, Chiangus bulls are easy calvers for a performance breed. This rating is provided to assist bull customers and to aid the screening process for sale bulls.

The hallmark of a quality breeding program is consistency of quality. The data on Willow Oak bulls over the past 15 years demonstrates the following:

199 Ozzie Sons:                       REA: 15.90 sq. in.                 BF: 0.17 in.
                                                    REA/CWT: 1.40
                     Marb.: 2.65 (CH)

285 Ozzie Grandsons:               REA: 15.95 sq. in.                 BF: 0.16 in.
                                                     REA/CWT: 1.33                     Marb. 2.81 (CH)

Most importantly, these bulls can be obtained at prices that make sense. The bulls in our February 2015 sale averaged $5,428 and went to 20 states.