FARMER CHAMPIONS CHAROLAIS Cattle grow faster, bigger and leaner


They grow bigger faster than other area breeds, and their meat is much leaner, says J. Robert Tibbs Jr.

He's sold on his beloved Charolais cattle -- and boasts Harford's largest herd of the French-breds.

Mr. Tibbs, who started in 1970 with two heifers on his father's farm in Darlington, today estimates the value of his 124 head at $200,000.

The 52-year-old owner of Shadow Springs Farm on Old Level Road said he selected the Charolais breed because it has the fastest growth rate.

"It gives us the quickest turnaround on our investment," he said as he removed a pair of work boots in the mudroom of the two-story farmhouse he and his wife, Judy, bought in 1977.

He said other breeds, such as Black Angus and Hereford, have a much slower growth rate and rarely approach the size of the Charolais. While a Charolais bull weighs around 2,100 pounds, a Black Angus or Hereford runs about 1,900 pounds. An average Charolais cow weighs 1,600 pounds, a couple hundred pounds more than Black Angus or Hereford cows.

Mr. Tibbs says a Charolais is 200 to 300 pounds heavier than the more popular Black Angus and Hereford breeds, grows much faster and the meat is much leaner. That, he says, is what attracted him to the breed and why it is now being crossbred.

He said it is not unusual to find Charolais being crossbred with several other breeds. "Those owners are looking for larger, leaner animals," he said.

One such breeder is Robert Wagner who, with his father, Earl, runs the 185-acre Wagner Farm on Route 22 near Harford Community College. The Wagners have been raising cattle since closing their dairy operation in 1969.

Of the 55 head of cattle Mr. Wagner owns, about 20 are Charolais, which he crossbreeds with Brahman.

"I'm extremely happy with the quality of beef this crossbreeding produces," he said. "It's much leaner with less waste."

For 22 years Mr. Tibbs worked the herd during his spare time. His days were long and rewards modest, but this modern-day cattleman wouldn't trade time spent on the ranch for a round of golf at Hilton Head.

"This has always been my relaxation," he said. "I have never thought of this [ranching] as work. I can't think of a better way to spend a day."

He now has unlimited time to tend to daily chores on his 85-acre spread. Until December, the life-long Harford resident was an employee of the Philadelphia Electric Co. He spent 29 years in the mechanical department at the Muddy Run and Conowingo power plants before retiring Dec. 2.

Normally he sells the oldest 10 percent of the herd monthly, but the percentage will increase until his herd numbers fewer than 100.

Commercial prices for heifers range from 46 cents to 52 cents per pound; steers bring 71 cents to 80 cents per pound; and bulls can fetch 65 cents per pound.

Breeding cattle bring a different set of prices. A pure-bred yearling bull, weighing about 1,400 pounds will fetch about $1,900; a pure-bred cow about $1,700.

While Mr. Tibbs is downsizing his herd, the total count of Charolais on the East Coast is increasing. It now numbers 5,000 to 6,000. Nationwide the number is up to more than 1 million.

"I'm proud to have been a part of a group of breeders who believed in Charolais," Mr. Tibbs said.

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