by Lilly Platts
Willekes Angus, Choteau, Montana, has been consigning bulls to Midland Bull Test for over 20 years and has built a reputation for raising Angus bulls that can succeed in both commercial and registered programs across the country. Bob Willekes operates the business with his son, Marshall, and takes great pride in knowing that the genetics from their program can help producers be more successful and profitable.
Becoming a part of the Midland Bull Test was an easy decision for Willekes.
“We saw the results of the bull test sale and were interested mainly because we wanted our herd to be in with a lot of competition from other breeders to see where we stood,” he recalled.
The management of the test and the commitment to quality are aspects Willekes really values.
“The honesty and integrity of them has kept me going back. They have become great friends and I feel they do the best for their consigners. They promote the bulls in a good, honest fashion, which we really appreciate,” he said.
Reflecting on his time consigning to the Midland test, Willekes said, “I still remember a time around ten years ago that I felt our cow herd was not progressing as fast or as well as I would have liked. Leo McDonnell and his wife, Sam, were running the facility at the time and I asked Leo if he had any advice for us. His answer was, ‘Just breed for good cows. Keep doing what you’re doing.’ That inspired me, and that’s what we strive for today and also in the future.”
A Female Foundation…
Willekes Angus has found success at the Midland Bull Test with repeat customers and top-performing bulls every year. The cow herd is responsible for this. Willekes puts a major emphasis on the cow family behind each bull and has recently started utilizing embryo transfer work to further take advantage of these standout pedigrees.
“We look at the qualities of that cow and we always strive for production. We know that everybody buying bulls needs production because the commercial guys are being paid by the pound,” Willekes explained. “A trend that I always go back to is the maternal side of the cow. Bulls come and go but a good maternal cow line always seems popular.”
The original decision to focus on Angus genetics was also based on building maternal strength.
“We found that they were maintenance free, good mothers, they thrived in harsh conditions, and they’re just generally great to be around,” Willekes said.
Willekes explained that while he will try new AI sires every year overall, he focuses on using genetics he knows will work. AI and embryo transfer work are an important part of this breeding plan.
“Up until the last three years, things were almost all AI, and then we ran cleanup bulls,” he explained. “Now, we’re still AI’ing the whole cow herd, but have taken a lot of registered cows that weren’t meeting criteria and turning them into recips. We have five donor cows that they’ve been flushing.”
Building Balanced Bulls…
Balance and moderation are principles that guide Willekes’ genetic decisions. While growth, carcass and other terminal traits are important for commercial programs, he also recognizes that for these genetics to be sustainable, they also have to take into consideration that the female is more important long-term.
“Most commercial people I know, and especially in this area, are keeping their own replacements, which makes the maternal really important,” he said.
The selection of bulls to develop and females to keep back, are based on these same principles. Willekes utilizes EPDs and performance measures in every decision, but first makes sure that each animal will be able to hold up physically.
“The structure of the bull is really important,” Willekes said. “We’re really looking for something that is very correct in its feet and legs.”
In addition to the Midland Test, Willekes consigns bulls to the Treasure Bull Test, and sells some private treaty. The data and sale results from each test give him an idea of how his bulls are performing, and what he can make improvements. He also makes a point to follow up with customers throughout the year to make sure his bulls are also excelling as sires.
“I always make it a point to call the bull buyers who have bought my bulls,” he said. “I try to contact them every year. I want to know the good and bad of every bull that we sell.”
Choteau is known for having beautiful but oftentimes harsh winters, and much of the country in the area is rugged. Willekes runs his registered cows alongside the commercial herd and expects them to perform without being given special attention. Bull development is simple and focuses on making sure these herd sires will be able to enter any program and excel.
“I don’t believe in creep feeding,” Willekes said. “I think that it takes away from the cow herself. I want to see what a cow will produce without any added feed. Our cows are run on rough pastures, non-irrigated and they also run with our commercial cows, so they are not pampered or treated any differently.”
Willekes, who moved to Choteau from New Jersey 25 years ago, has also found his community within the beef industry. Alongside his wife, Brenda, he raised a family of three girls, Sarah, Danielle, and Amanda, and three boys, Marshall, Chuck, and Shane, on the ranch, and also takes great pride in being a part of the cattle business.
“It’s definitely a people’s business, and there are so many people and friends that we have met along the way that we really enjoy,” he said. “They’re good, hard-working, honest people. We’re all in competition but always look out for each other.”
This sense of community is also a major part of selling bulls.
“We’re always proud to see that our bulls are scattered around the country and used in different places,” Willekes concluded. “I take a lot of pleasure in raising something that I can see go into someone else’s herd and make a difference, and that can promote that herd. I love to see and hear that my customers are having success. That’s something that gives us a lot of joy and satisfaction. We feel blessed to be able to support our livelihood with something we love to do and we look forward to what God has planned for us in the future.”