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Flying High in the Cattle Industry | May/June 2022

by Cheryl Kepes

Photos courtesy Soaring Eagle Farms

Soaring Eagle Farms takes innovation to new heights.

At 74 years of age, Dr. Jeff Gower, owner of Soaring Eagle Farms, reflects on a life and business strategy he learned years ago from the most difficult course he ever took – Organic Chemistry. “In Organic Chemistry you don’t work forward, you work backwards,” Dr. Jeff Gower explained. “In life you figure out where you want to be in five years and you work backwards, so you don’t run into those dead ends going forward.”

The practice of beginning with the end in mind has helped Dr. Gower garner much success in his business, Angus cattle operation, and Clydesdale farm. Off the farm, Dr. Gower and family, own and operate Wil Fischer Companies, a distributor of Anheuser-Busch products and other beverages throughout the Midwest. The eagle in the Anheuser-Busch logo in conjunction with the frequent spotting of eagles on the family farm, spurred Dr. Gower to coin the name Soaring Eagle Farms for his Angus and Clydesdale operations.

Angus Cattle Venture

Jeff and his wife, Melonie, live in Springfield, Mo. Around ten years ago, the couple decided to purchase commercial cattle to run on some of their property in Gainesville, Mo. The 3,000 acres of grass, lakes, and Ozarks hills seemed the perfect place for a large cattle herd.

Though they appreciated their commercial cattle, the Gowers decided to transition the operation to a registered, purebred Angus herd. “The commercial herd was a good set of cows, but we realized where the industry was going was more on high-end marbling cattle,” Dr. Gower explained. “So, we had to do a shift and that’s when I started doing my focus on the high-end Angus.”

Shift to Elite Herd

Soaring Eagle sold its commercial cattle in 2015 and started the transition to an elite herd focused on superior Angus genetics. Currently, Soaring Eagle Farms owns close to 1,200 head of cattle. The herd is multi-faceted. It’s comprised of registered Angus donor cows, recipient cows, elite Angus females, a bull battery, and commercial cows.

Soaring Eagle follows a disciplined, scientific approach to its’ breeding program. Recently, the operation incorporated the use of Promogen™ Genetic Evaluation as a tool to guide selection, breeding, and culling decisions. The Promogen™ test, researched and implemented by Bill Julien, Ph.D., DVM, and CEO of Anova Biosciences, evaluates an animal’s immunological resiliency and ability to handle stress. Promogen™ experts state these traits can be genetically passed from one generation to the next. A high Promogen™ score reflects the animals’ ability to produce immunologically superior offspring.

Every registered animal produced or purchased by Soaring Eagle is evaluated by its Promogen™ score. Dr. Gower, who worked as an orthodontist before joining Wil Fischer Companies, values the information he receives on his cattle through Promogen™ Genetic Evaluation. “I partner with a gentleman down in Texas, and every Friday if you look at the scores of the EPDs, it is either him or me, or one other breeder in Missouri who has the top heifers or bulls for $B, $C, $M and marbling,” Dr. Gower explained. “It’s not a guess. It’s not by chance. It is because we follow the science and do meticulous mating and this Promogen™ test is the roadmap.”

Soaring Eagle recently released its own sire directory featuring more than a dozen bulls. Semen is available for purchase on these herd sires that are stringently evaluated genetically and phenotypically.

Evaluating EPDs

In addition to Promogen™ scores, Soaring Eagle selects animals based on high-ranking EPD profiles, genomics, and phenotype. The Gowers flush 20 to 30 Angus females each year. Their breeding selections are heavily guided by data. “We went with marbling first then we came back, and we put all the carcass traits on top of those marblings and now we are getting a big ribeye, great marbling, a high $C, high $B, and high maternal dollar,” Dr. Gower said. “You can raise an animal that covers almost every trait that the Angus industry has put in their EPDs, but you can’t stay true to just one family and just one or two traits.”

Analyzing Phenotype

Soaring Eagle relies on the expertise of Joel Judge with Advanced Beef Solutions to guide decisions based on an animal’s phenotype. Each animal undergoes careful evaluation from Judge. “He (Joel Judge) scores each animal. He looks at their feet and goes up,” Dr. Gower said.

The information from the phenotypic evaluation, EPD analysis, and Promogen™ score are all considered when selecting Soaring Eagle’s top females and bulls. To make it to the donor pen, bull battery, or production sale the animal must excel in all three areas.

Production Sales

Soaring Eagle hosts several sales each year at its sale facility in Springfield, Mo. The events include a spring bull sale, a spring female sale, and a fall elite heifer guest sale. Soaring Eagle’s 2022 spring bull sale featured 60 lots, with a sale average of $10,063. The sale’s top selling bull brought $107,500. Soaring Eagle looks forward to its upcoming spring female sale planned for Memorial Day weekend.

In 2021, Soaring Eagle hosted a new sale to its yearly offering. Soaring Eagle put together a fall elite heifer guest sale. This event featured Soaring Eagle females and high-quality Angus heifers from other producers across the country.

The Angus producers consigning to the elite heifer guest sale were selected by Judge as he traveled the country. These operations ranged in size and notoriety. The sale featured 45 lots and averaged $22,665. “That was one of the highest average sales in the country; from people who just had great animals. They didn’t have a family name that had been in the cattle industry for 100 years, they just were trying to breed the best animal they could, they did, they were identified, and we rewarded them,” Dr. Gower explained.

Commercial Herd

The commercial cow herd at Soaring Eagle must meet specific criteria much like the registered herd. Currently, Soaring Eagle is working on building a commercial cow herd that exhibits high Promogen™ scores. Dr. Gower says these animals will produce offspring that will garner a premium at the sale barn and display optimal health in the feedlot.

Horsing Around

Long before the Gowers started their cattle operation, they stepped into the horse business. In 1982, Anheuser-Busch launched a new beer – Budweiser (Bud) Light. At that time, Bud Light was a newcomer to the beer scene. In hopes of stirring interest in the new product, Dr. Gower purchased a Clydesdale filly and took her to different locations all over the Ozarks. “I learned really quick I could go to a restaurant or package store in a small town and unannounced I could have 300 people show up in two hours. They would come with their children and grandchildren and with cameras in hand,” Dr. Gower shared.

The marketing idea was a hit. In no time Bud Light became a top selling beer in Missouri. And the Gowers’ love for Clydesdales took root. Soaring Eagle now has one of the largest purebred herds of Clydesdale horses in the world. Soaring Eagle has produced many Clydesdale champions through the years. Dr. Gower was inducted into the Clydesdale Breeders of the USA (CBUSA) Heritage Hall of Fame in 2021.

Future Plans

Dr. Gower doesn’t leave the future of his farms to chance. He’s meticulously charted Soaring Eagles’ course. He relies on his years of expertise along with innovation, technology, and science to ensure his Angus cattle operation and Clydesdale farm soar to even greater heights in the years to come.

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