COLUMBUS – James Plasek was awarded the 2017 Commercial Producer of the Year by the American Salers Association in January for his innovative use of Salers cattle and DNA testing.
Born and raised on a dairy farm, Plasek spent most of his life farming and breeding animals. He bred a variety of animals, including dogs and hogs, but his passion lies with cattle.
“The more I raised them, the more I liked them,” Plasek said.
Pasek became more involved in breeding cattle in the mid-90s. Back then, his cows had trouble calving and losing a calf is one of the biggest losses a breeder can face.
“I had some issues with the breeds of cattle I was using as far as calving ease,” Pasek said. “Saler is known for their extraordinary calving ease because of the way the calf is shaped and because of the way the calf’s pelvis is shaped being slightly larger than many other breeds.”
After turning to Salers cattle he never looked back, and currently has upward of 200 head of cattle.
Plasek wanted to optimize what he had and stand out from other breeders. He spends his time reading agriculture and science magazines. This ultimately led him to adopt DNA testing. Most commercial breeders tend to shy away from testing because of its cost, he said.
The science of DNA testing has grown rapidly in the last 20 years and the results became more accurate, Plasek said.
DNA testing provides breeders with information such as the cattle’s maternal abilities, marbling and growth. Without the tests, breeders have to wait to see these results.
“DNA testing shows you things that can’t be seen by the eye,” Plasek said.
The tests allowed Plasek to make faster advancements in his breeding business which impressed the association.
Plasek feels fortunate to be able to rent a sufficient amount of pastures from his family, friends and neighbors who are familiar with the cow-calf operations.
Breeders commonly breed calves into feeder cattle, stocker cattle and the finishing feedlot cattle. Plasek’s main focus is producing feeder cattle that weigh between 400-700 pounds. These cattle are sold to be fattened.
Plasek strives to ensure that he uses the right genetics to produce high-quality meat.
“If you don’t use the right genetics as a cow-calf guy, the guy on the end in the grocery stores selling it will not have a premium product,” Plasek said. “So that’s the challenge that I enjoy is trying to make the best possible product.”
When Plasek first adopted DNA testing, he tested the meat by giving them to family, friends and neighbors. Due to his “outstanding results,” he started to mass-produce.
Plasek believes that this business is growing because of the rapid growth of technology advancement. He sees a future where the price of meat is determined by its genetic values.
Cattle with high genetic value produce well-marbled, tender meat that brings high demands from restaurants and stores, Plasek said.
“In five or 10 years down the road – when we do get there – I want my cattle to get the top price not because of what they weight or because of what they look like but because of their genetic value,” Plasek said.
Plasek was left speechless when he was notified of the award. The ceremony was held in Denver and gathered breeders from all around the world. He felt honored to be in the same room as them and to share perspectives.
“It was an honor,” Plasek said. “I am humbled.”