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Maximizing Maternal Power | November 2022

by Cheryl Kepes

Photos courtesy ZWT Ranch

ZWT Ranch builds operation on proven pedigrees.

Wil Mayes recently stepped into one of the biggest challenges of his life. His family’s Angus cattle operation, ZWT Ranch, needed new management and Wil was tapped for the job. “In the beginning, it was hard for me to balance all the different aspects of the business since I was pretty green when I first started here,” Wil Mayes shared. “But I learned a lot really quickly and I learn every day. You learn a lot from these cows, you think you know a lot, but man they sure teach you.”

Stacked Maternal Power

Currently in his second year of running ZWT Ranch in Crossville, Tenn., Wil is hitting his stride. The operation is growing and sharpening its focus to fulfill the ranch motto, “Stacked Maternal Power.” The daily decisions at the ranch center on optimizing maternal production. “What we like to do is stack great cows top and bottom on the pedigree, because then you know you are rock solid in what you have,” Wil explained.

ZWT Ranch owns some of the most prominent genetics in the Angus breed. Genetics from the Coleman Donna, SAV Elba, OCC Lady Blackcap, and EA Rose 918 cow families are just a few of the bloodlines that makeup ZWT Ranch’s donor herd. The operation has built its registered and commercial herds on a foundation of Angus cows with proven pedigrees.

ZWT Beginnings

Wil’s father, Tony Mayes, has more than forty years of experience in the beef cattle industry. Tony and his wife, Mary, created the family ranch name by utilizing the first initials of their three sons’ names: Zach, Wil, and Tate. The Mayes family started with a commercial herd then expanded their operation to included registered Angus cattle.

In the early 2000s, the Mayes family started to implement their registered Angus program. The family began with Ohlde Cattle Company and Duff Cattle Company genetics. Then ZWT Ranch infused Schaffs Angus Valley genetics into the herd. “That blend of cattle seemed to work really well here because we have 8, 9, and 10-year-old momma cows that are still in solid production. They are structurally correct, they have good feet, they are maternal, they raise good calves, and they breed back like they are supposed to; they do a lot of things right,” Wil said.

Registered Herd

ZWT Ranch’s registered herd runs at the ranch headquarters in Crossville, Tenn. The registered herd includes 800 momma cows. Sixty percent of the momma cows calve in the spring and the other 40 percent calve in the fall. A majority of the registered mommas raise their own calves. The remaining females serve as recipient cows that raise embryo transfer (ET) calves. “We do a majority of our embryo transfer work right here on the farm. We setup our own cows, implant our own embryos, and calve out our own embryo calves,” Wil stated.

ET work has been an important part of ZWT Ranch’s operations since it started its registered program. However, when Wil took over the ranch the emphasis on embryo work increased. “In the last two years we have really ramped it up more than we ever have,” Wil said. Between spring and fall calving seasons, ZWT Ranch implanted as many as 400 eggs in recipient cows. The emphasis on ET work derives from the Mayes family’s desire to utilize embryos collected through the years from its donor battery. Cows in ZWT Ranch’s registered and commercial herds carry and raise the ET calves.

Commercial Herd

The Mayes family owns and operates a ranch in neighboring Speedwell, Tenn., where they run their commercial herd. The commercial herd consists of 400 momma cows. “The commercial cow herd is basically an Angus herd and 80 percent of them would be registered but they are just older genetics,” Wil explained.

The Angus commercial cows that are not raising embryo calves are run with Hereford bulls. Their baldie heifer calves are retained, raised, bred, and then sold in ZWT Ranch’s production sale. ZWT Ranch’s commercial customers seek the commercial females due to the hybrid vigor of the Angus/Hereford cross and the longevity of ZWT Ranch’s genetics.

The Mayes family focuses on longevity in its commercial and registered herds. “The longevity in them is very important and that is something that we are not going to forget about,” Wil stated. “For it to work in the commercial world these momma cows need to last 8, 10, or 12 years for people to really make money on them. We are going to focus and continue to focus very hard on that.”

ZWT Ranch pays close attention to producing maternally bred cows that are structurally sound because the cattle must be able to traverse the terrain in eastern Tennessee. “I know we are east of the Mississippi but it’s true ranch country; these cattle have to travel,” Wil explained. “We are running real cattle on real ground out here and calving spring and fall. These girls are working that’s for sure.”

Herd Sires

As powerful of females as the ranch produces, ZWT Ranch also takes pride in the genetics in its sire program. The ranch utilizes and offers genetics from some of the top Angus bulls in the industry. ZWT Ranch’s sire directory includes ZWT Summitt 6507, ZWT Intervention 7363, ZWT Infusion F182, SAV Bloodline 9578, SAV Hesston 2217, Brooking Gold Coin 8069, Brooking Major 7103, and Laflins Marvel 1801 just to name a few.

The Mayes also sell bulls they raise to commercial and seedstock producers. Customers purchase bulls via private treaty and through ZWT Ranch’s production sale. ZWT Ranch’s bulls are fed and developed in large contemporary groups, where they are sorted for disposition. Many of the bulls are sold as yearlings or with age-advantage.

Dedicated to Beef Industry

In addition to its registered and commercial herds, the Mayes family is involved in other aspects of the beef industry. The family owns a backgrounding operation in Crossville, Tenn. In addition, the Mayes family owns, in partnership, Phelps County Feeders, a feedlot in Holdrege, Neb. Aside from owning their own processing plant, ZWT Ranch plays a role in most every step of the beef industry. “We are in all aspects of the beef business, and I think that is pretty unique when you can tie it all in,” Wil added.

Future Goals

At the same time Wil took over operations, Dallas Woltemath, joined ZWT Ranch. Dallas assists with marketing, advertising, and breeding decisions. “Dallas is very knowledgeable, and he is such a benefit to the program and such a blessing to be around,” Wil said.

Wil’s moving the operation ahead and planning to stay on course with ZWT Ranch’s philosophy of breeding females to achieve “Stacked Maternal Power.” Though each day brings new challenges, the circumstances also produce growth. Wil’s dedicated to the cattle industry and confident in his calling to make sure ZWT Ranch’s endeavors succeed.

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