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Hooked on Angus | February 2023

by Cheryl Kepes

Photos courtesy Janssen Angus

The Janssen family transitioned its cow herd to Angus and never looked back.

Jon Janssen fell head over heels for the Angus breed during a herd visit more than 20 years ago. He grew up raising Polled Herefords and Simmentals never thinking he would want to manage any other breed. However, a tour through the pastures at Schaff Angus Valley (SAV) in St. Anthony, N.D., turned his world upside down.

One look at the Madame Pride, Blackcap May, and Emblynette cow families and he was hooked. “The first time I saw those cow families in the late 1990s, I knew my calling was to bring some of those very best SAV genetics to Iowa and propagate them from scratch. And that is what we did,” Jon Janssen explained.

Janssen Angus Begins

After returning to his farm in Earlham, Iowa, Jon set out to build a herd reflective of the maternal completeness captured in the SAV genetics. He appreciated the Angus females’ soundness in multiple areas. “It was a combination of a lot of things and most of all it was just the overall eye appeal and maternal value of the cattle, just absolutely honest cattle that were good-uddered, big-bodied, easy-fleshing, and able to convert roughage into calf weight,” Jon shared.

Janssen Angus started with an embryo purchase from Chad Ellingson, a mating of EA Emblynette 104 and SAV Final Answer, as well as matings from the SAV donor cows that had first caught Jon’s eye. The genetics served as the foundation of Janssen Angus.

Today the seedstock operation runs with 120 momma cows. Jon and his wife, Maradith, along with their children Madeline, Katie, and JD work together to manage the herd. Prior to working exclusively on the Janssen Angus operation, Jon spent 15 years at GENEX. While in the beef department at GENEX, Jon traveled throughout the United States and to other countries educating breeders on genetic values and being an ambassador for the GENEX bull stud and the Angus breed.

Growing the Angus Herd

The Janssens retained most of their females every year for ten years to accelerate the growth of their Angus herd. The demand for their bulls gave the Janssens the financial security to be able to hold on to their females. In the early years of Janssen Angus, the family sold its bulls at SAV sales. In 2016, Janssen Angus launched its own production sale. Currently, Janssen Angus sells 60 bulls a year through its sale, and 20 bulls annually by private treaty.

The Janssen Angus herd consists of cattle from SAV cow families including Madame Pride, Blackcap May, Emblynette, Abigale, Elba, Erica, Priscilla, Bessie Heiress, Greystone Jannet, and most recently the Tehama Elite Blackbird and Coleman Donna and Chloe families.

Breeding Genetics

Janssen Angus filters all breeding decisions through the motto, “breeding genetics; not just raising bulls.” The operation focuses on producing cattle with functional performance traits that will improve the commercial cattle industry. “We’re not striving to win purple ribbons. We’re not trying to raise cattle that have the best EPDs in the world that we can sell for a million dollars,” Jon stated. “We’re trying to raise cattle that will increase pay weight and profits for our commercial customers, as well as help them build better cow herds through more maternal genetics with that performance.” Each step of the process, Janssen Angus keeps its commercial customers in mind.

Breeding Program

The Janssens incorporate a combination of AI and ET work to achieve the genetics that fit their goals and their customers’ goals. The operation has as many as 50 ET calves a year. Most of the embryos are implanted in the Janssens’ commercial recipient cows, but occasionally one of their registered cows serves as a recip. “If a registered cow isn’t pulling her weight through AI, she gets an embryo. It sounds crazy, but I don’t care how good a cow looks or how good she is, if she can’t reproduce that, she is going to raise somebody else’s calf,” Jon explained.

The momma cows are all AIed once or twice and then the Janssens turn in a herd bull. Many of the cleanup bulls on the Janssens’ operation are herd sires listed in semen directories for other producers to utilize via AI.

Stockman’s Eye

When making mating selections Jon analyzes the animal’s EPDs, but he relies the most on his knowledge gleaned from a lifetime of evaluating cattle. “When we’re doing our matings either AI or ET, there’s no magic formula that we use to make those matings,” Jon shared. “The best thing that you can do as a breeder of cattle is, if you are blessed to have a good stockman’s eye, continue to improve on your eye throughout your life, that’s going to serve you better than your ability to read a bunch of numbers.”

Jon looks for combinations that will complement each other from the standpoint of feet, legs, depth of body, and eye appeal. Additionally, he strives to breed for balance and match cattle from a visual standpoint.

Janssen Angus Philosophy

Though trends in the cattle industry may vacillate from year-to-year, Janssen Angus remains unwavering in its philosophy. The primary goal of Janssen Angus is to produce cattle that can transform grass to pounds, raise a heavy calf, and remain fertile. “We believe that cattle were put on this earth for one reason - and that’s to use their ruminant stomach to consume poor-quality grass or poor-quality forge and convert it into beef,” Jon said. “There’s no other production animal out there that has a four-chamber ruminant stomach like the cow does and if they can’t efficiently take roughage and turn it into calf weight, maintain themselves, and breed back, they’re not any good to us or anyone else.”

Customer Connection

The Janssen family takes pride in the relationships they have built through the years with their customers. The alignment of philosophies and dedication to the cattle industry link the Janssens with their customers. The commercial producers who purchase bulls from the Janssens, share in the Janssens’ goal of producing maternal cattle that can raise heavy calves in any environment.

Jon’s experiences in the cattle industry have given him the opportunity to forge friendships with producers in other countries. Every year, Jon’s longtime friend Santiago Debernardi, brings a group of breeders and veterinarians from Argentina to tour cattle operations in the United States. Janssen Angus always hosts the group for a herd visit.

Though their operations are thousands of miles apart, the mutual passion for the cattle industry pulls these producers together. “It’s great being friends and bouncing ideas off of one another and learning from each other’s experiences,” Jon said. “And what can we take from what they’re doing there and what can they take from what we’re doing here and try to make each other’s operations better.”

Jon’s passion for the Angus breed burns as bright today as it did decades ago when he first laid eyes on the SAV cow families. His desire to build better genetics for his customers drives his decisions and actions every single day.

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