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Bianchi Charolais
By Heather Smith Thomas
Chris and Robert Bianchi raise registered Charolais and commercial cattle in California, about 80 miles south of San Francisco on the central California coast. The cattle are a joint family operation with Chris’s parents, Don and Carol Silacci, with help from Robert and Chris’s daughter Erica. Erica is a sophomore in High School, and is very involved in the ranch. She makes the fourth generation in this family operation.

Some of the Bianchi cattle and Silacci cattle are run together, and some are not. The commercial cattle are all run separate.

Chris grew up raising cattle with her parents. “My husband came from a dairy background; his family had a dairy and then his father sold the dairy and is raising beef cattle also. Robert grew up in Hollister, which is not far from here,” says Chris.

“We run approximately 120 purebred Charolais cattle. We also have a couple other herds of purebred cattle (different breeds), and about 300 head of commercial cattle as well,” says Chris. “We use the Charolais bulls we raise, to breed our own commercial cows, so we are always aware of how they do and to make sure there are no problems with any bulls we sell to anyone else. We’ve been very successful using these bulls in our own herds, and we want to make sure we don’t sell anyone a problem, in bulls they buy from us.”

Bulls are sold private treaty at the ranch, and through a number of consignment sales throughout the year. “We’ve done very well and have had the sale topping Charolais at various consignment sales around the West,” says Chris.

“Our bull calves are run in the hills with their mothers. After we wean them they go to Snyder’s feedlot (a bull growing facility) at Yearington, Nevada. They are put on test there, and have complete ultrasound work and fertility tests. We have all that data on the bulls we sell. We keep a few here at home, but the majority are fed there,” she says.

Between the purebred and commercial cows, the cattle are run on about 6000 acres in the foothills. Even the purebred cows are run in the foothills during winter. The Bianches have a few purebred Hereford cows as well as Charolais. “The Herefords are Erica’s. She has some Charolais also. The other purebred herd we have are Pinzgaur cows,” says Chris.
“We used to market a lot of them, but not lately; the Pinzgaurs are not a very popular breed. We use many of them for our recip cows, because we know they are good mothers and have good milking ability,” she explains.

They do some AI breeding, but mainly use herd bulls in their Charolais herd. “We do quite a bit of embryo work, however, to utilize a lot of different bloodlines. We do close to 50 embryo transfers each year,” says Chris. A veterinarian from the Lander Veterinary Clinic at Turlock comes to their ranch to do it. “We go through and do all the preliminary work. We set up all the recip cows, and synchronize them, and he comes in and puts in all the embryos.”

They have about 100 cows they use as recips, since they don’t use the same cow over and over. “Depending on when she calves, we might breed her to a bull the next time, and put an embryo in her again the following year. We often rotate the recip cows this way, so they are not always being used strictly as recips. This allows us a little variation, and enables us to calve at different times of year with the embryo calves.”

The purebred cows calve mainly in the fall, but there are also some spring calvers. The commercial herd is strictly fall calving. In their climate this is the best time of year, since they have green pasture through winter. “Typically our hill pastures start turning green in November/December, though this year was quite a bit later. Our pastures sometimes stay green into the first part of June, if we have some late rains. But usually in May everything starts turning brown,” she says. The summer months are when the cattle need to be fed, to augment the lack of pasture.

Most of the purebred cows, and Chris’s fathers commercial cows, are on a 300 acre piece in summer—150 acres are used for his commercial cattle and the rest for the purebred Charolais. About 60 acres of it is planted and the rest of it is cut and windrowed, for the cows to use during the dry summer months. “If we have spring calvers, they go to the permanent pasture, and the rest go onto the dry hay that we raise and stockpile (windrowed).” This works fairly well to feed them through the dry months. In November they start bringing the cows back out into the hills as that pasture greens up.

The ranch grows most of the feed for the cattle. “We also own a feed store in town. My sister and my mother take care of that business and my husband, myself and my father do the cows. Right now we are farming about 750 acres of grain/hay. Last year the feed situation was so tough that our pasture is just barely starting to get ahead of the cows now, that are turned out,” says Chris.

Last year they had to buy feed, more than usual, and fed a lot of corn stalks. The cows seemed to do all right on it. Many people in their region had to downsize their herds. “You can tell the effect this had on their operations, from the bull market. There’s just not as much demand for bulls right now because people have sold off so many cows. Thos cutbacks are very apparent, looking at demand, and at bull prices. Hopefully this next year will be better,” she says.

Their purebred cattle are treated just like commercial cattle. “We rope the calves to brand them, and use horses for cattle work. We have a few broodmares to raise horses for use on the ranch.” This is a lot more efficient than trying to work cattle with 4-wheelers. They handle cattle the old fashioned way, yet utilize all the up-to-date technology available in their breeding program, reproduction, ultrasound data, etc.

One reason they raise a few horses now is to make sure they have some when they need them. “A few years ago we didn’t have enough horses; it’s kind of bad when you need a horse and don’t have any to use! Now that we’re raising some we don’t have that problem anymore,” says Chris.

Their daughter Erica is very involved with the ranch and has a good herd of her own. “She’s very excited this year; she filled our her state FFA proficiency for beef production and was one of 3 finalists in the state. We won’t know til next month what the final results will be. She’s also trying to decide on where she’ll go to college.”

Their Charolais breeding program has been evolving for more than 25 years. “My family had some purebreds that we showed, when I was in high school. My parents started breeding Charolais early on. At one time, a long time ago, they had mostly solid black commercial cows, then they started introducing Charolais bulls, primarily as a terminal cross, then decided to raise Charolais,” says Crhis

The commercial cows now show a lot of Charolais influence; most of them are sired by Charolais bulls. “We also have a few black and red Angus bulls, mainly to use on first calf heifers. In our commercial herd the cows are yellow, gray, reds, blacks and whites, with some Angus influence also, but predominantly the herd bulls are Charolais. The cows are almost all crossbred, and wean off really good calves. They are good size when we wean and sell them. We try to ship the calves in late May or early June.”

The purebred Charolais herd has grown larger over the years, partly due to some of the embryo work they’ve been doing. “We market quite a few of the bull calves. Most of the buyers use them for terminal crossing (which makes an excellent feedlot calf). The last couple years we’ve been selling our commercial calves with the electronic ID, so they can be traced back to us, or tracked. They’ve been age verified so they can be exported, if that was ever an option for whoever purchases them,” says Chris.

The purebred Herefords are mainly Erica’s and that herd is expanding as well. “What we are trying to do with the Herefords is provide bulls for people that are crossbreeding. We are using pedigrees and EPDs that would be similar and complementary for anyone using black cattle—if they wanted to switch and keep a crossbreeding program going. The numbers on the EPDs would be very comparable to what Angus cattle are, basically,” she says. This would give them a different option rather than continually using black bulls.

“We are trying to build the Hereford herd, with the philosophy that a person who’s only been using black bulls might be able to use a Hereford bull that would have the same numbers and comparable traits,” she explains.

They also continue working with their purebred Pinzgaurs even though that herd is smaller. “We used to show them a lot, in earlier years, and had several national champion bulls and females throughout the years. This year the national show is in Puyallup, Washington so we will be going back up there for that. The top end of that herd we breed strictly Pinzgaur to keep them purebred, and then we use some of the others as recip cows for the Charolais embryo program.” Their family has enjoyed working with a variety of breeds and crossbreds and thus they have a good feel for what their commercial customers desire.

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