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Meet 509: Ronan’s super-bull

RONAN- Jerome Stenberg’s prized bull, named “509,” has the potential to change the Angus industry worldwide. Born in 2006, 509’s genetic makeup is incredibly rare and could be exceedingly important to ranchers, consumers and conservationists alike.

The bull has sired thousands of calves, with 2,500 straws of his semen sold around the world in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Canada. Two 509 bull calves were purchased this spring in a joint research venture between North Dakota State University and the United States Department of Agriculture Research Service. The ramifications of this study have the potential to revolutionize the beef industry, and it’s all thanks to 509 and the Stenbergs.

Twelve-year USDA Research animal scientist, Scott Kronberg, said he couldn’t afford the bull and had to purchase two of his sons instead.

“He’s probably worth a million bucks,” Kronberg said.

So why all the buzz surrounding a bull from Ronan?

His offspring grow 50 to 100 percent faster than any other Angus cow, with a feed efficiency ratio of 5 to 1 - nearly the same as a lamb. The growth rate is not only rapid, but coupled with an early maturity, translates into offspring ready to harvest before their second winter. In addition, the calves have a low birth weight, which makes pregnancy and birth relatively easy on the cow.

“His bulls are topping the sales,” Stenberg said. “Some of the 509 bull calves at the Midland, Texas bull test were in the top 10 for feed-efficiency out of 600 bulls.”

When sky-high grain prices and a nationwide controversy regarding soil health after years of continuous crop turnover are taken into account, feed efficiency becomes an important statistic.

That’s where Kronberg’s research at North Dakota State comes in. Using 509’s sons as sires, he hopes to create offspring which grow and mature quickly on a quality forage-based diet with minimal grain supplement.

“It’s hard to be profitable month after month when growing and finishing cattle with high grain rations,” he explained.

Kronberg’s claim is supported by growing economic losses for cattle feeders raising cattle on grain. According to a June 26 article by Greg Henderson for Drovers Cattle Network, the average feedyard margins for beef last week were negative $140.46 per head. Kronberg said these losses have a lot to do with the high cost of grain as well as a high cost for calves brought into feed lots to fatten before slaughter.

His research has the potential to solve several of these problems.

The 509 offspring could reach harvest size before their second winter. If brought to slaughter before Christmas, less methane generated by grazing cattle might translate into environmental savings. In addition, it would save ranchers and consumers money, as cattle require more feed during the winter months to maintain body weight.

However, should the yearlings require the winter months as well, they may still have an edge over other cattle. Assistant director of marketing and sales at the genetic servicing company Origen, Lacey Sutherlin helps to market Stenberg Coalition 509 in conjunction with the Stenbergs. Sutherlin said another advantage to 509’s DNA is that he maintains his body weight and build in the winter months without needing much additional feed.

“(509 is) helping to improve the industry as a whole in a lot of different ways,” she said.

More than simply breeding fast-growing cattle, Kronberg hopes to breed delicious-tasting beef.

“Many Americans don’t really like really lean beef,” he said. “Choice beef has a large amount of inner muscular fat. It takes a lot of feed energy to put that inner muscular fat into a ribeye cow.”

Inner muscular fat, also known as marbling, creates USDA-choice grade beef. Kronberg said this type of meat is much easier to attain through corn-feeding the cattle. By manipulating the fatty acids, supplementing feed with flax or canola and increasing Omega 3 fatty acids, Kronberg hopes to attain choice grade beef that tastes more corn-fed.

“If you feed cattle corn for a number of months, the oleic acid is high. Canola may produce the same byproduct,” Kronberg said.

He suspects a correlation between high oleic fatty acid content and the taste of corn-fed beef.

“This is a big deal,” Stenberg said. “It’s incredibly exciting for us to have gotten in on this at the ground floor.”

The two 509 sires will be bred this July. With a gestation period of nine months, the calves won’t be born until next spring.

“I look forward to seeing their calves,” Kronberg said.

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