The Gelbvieh breed of cattle is one of the oldest breeds in Germany, starting in Bavaria in
1850. The word “Gelbvieh” is pronounced Gelp-fee and, in German, means “yellow cattle.” The color of the first cattle was yellow-brown with dark hooves; through breeding, polled and black cattle are now usual. As is common among early cattle breeds, Gelbviehs were bred to be used for their milk, beef, and as draught animals.
Modern Gelbviehs are best known for their highly maternal traits, their age of puberty, and their maternal efficiencies, said Dan Warner, of Warner Beef Genetics, Arapahoe, Neb. “They get pregnant easier than the average cow, and they raise bigger calves than the average cow,” he said. In addition to those benefits, as one of the continental breeds (cattle from the European continent, as opposed to cattle from the British Isles), “they have excellent growth and muscularity as well.” Their carcass weights and pounds weaned are also good traits. At Warner’s operation in south central Nebraska, average weaning weight for his Gelbvieh-cross calves is in the mid-600 lbs. at 205 days. But weaning weight isn’t the only thing Warner looks at. “If you think about ranch profitability,” he said, “and you have 100 cows, and only 85 percent get bred, it doesn’t matter how big the calves are that you wean off those 85 cows. If you get 95 or 98 of those cows bred and they also wean just as big a calf or bigger, they are the most efficient maternal cow out there.”
Not only is their bred rate higher, Gelbvieh cross cattle reach puberty earlier. Heifer calves sired by Gelbvieh bulls cycle as much as two or three months faster than other cows, Warner said.
The American Gelbvieh Association (AG) has trademarked the “Balancer” name, the name for cattle that are Gelbvieh crossed with black or red Angus. Balancer cattle must be a minimum of 25 percent to a maximum of 75 percent Gelbvieh. Balancers are ideal, Warner said, because the Angus cross improves meat quality without sacrificing maternal efficiencies or growth. And Gelbvieh are good cattle to cross, because they “have a huge amount of breed complementarity,” he said. “The way their traits line up is more appealing than other breeds of cattle. Gelbvieh work very, very well with British cattle, especially red and black Angus.”
The Warner family has been in the cattle business since the early 1960s, starting with a commercial herd. When Dan showed 4-H cattle, his dad happened to buy an open heifer from a Gelbvieh breeder, and their work with the breed began. Now, his parents, Monte and Kristie Warner, he and his wife, Kate, and his brother Darren and his wife, Amy, operate the farm, which includes the registered herd of Gelbvieh and Balancer cows and bulls, a commercial herd, and row crops.
They hold an annual bull sale each year on the first Tuesday in March and a female sale the last Saturday in October. Dan and Kate won the 2018 AGA’s Breeder of the Year Award; at the 2019 National Western Stock Show in Denver, they raised the champion pen of five heifers, the champion pen of five balancer bulls, and owned part of the national champion bull.
Bruce Blickenstaff has been raising Gelbvieh cattle for the past 10 years. Blickenstaff, who raises cattle and row crops near Wilsonville, Neb., started with them for “the extra kick out of the heterosis,” he said. When he started crossing Gelbviehs with Angus, he saw an increase in weaning weight.
Because the grass isn’t high quality in his part of Nebraska, he was concerned about the size of the mature cows, but it wasn’t a problem. “We might even have lessened our mature cow size,” he said.
He also sees more cows bred with the Balancers. They run a 60-day breeding period, and there’s a higher breed rate than before he started with the Balancers.
The Blickenstaffs — Bruce and his wife, Darla, and their son Chris and his wife, Molly — wean calves in early September and sell them as feeders.
The AGA is the largest Gelbvieh association in the world and ranks fifth in the number of registered animals among beef breed associations in the U.S.