Eastern Agricultural Research Station; 50 Years of Service to Ohio Agriculture

Stan Smith, Fairfield County PA, OSU Extension

The Eastern Agricultural Research Station (EARS), known originally as the Eastern Ohio Resource & Development Center or EORDC, was established in 1965 through the purchase of a 728-acre block of hilly land near Belle Valley in Noble County. This land, along with 40 acres acquired later on, was and is known as Unit I. The Station’s size was significantly increased in 1966, when the Union Carbide Corporation and the Baker-Noon Coal Company donated an additional 1,325 acres that had been extensively strip-mined for coal. This area is known as Unit II and was the subject of land reclamation experiments through the 1990s.

While much of the work over the years at EARS focused on forage research, ruminant nutrition and reproduction, it’s significant that for 30 years the Station served as the home to the Ohio Performance Tested Bull Program.

The Ohio Performance Tested Bull Program (OBT) had been originated in 1970 by the Buckeye Beef Improvement Federation (BBIF) and Ohio State University Cooperative Extension to offer an opportunity where Ohio’s breeders could have their bulls developed off their farms in common facilities and in an environment where the bulls’ performance potential could be fully expressed and compared with others’ bulls. It also offered bull buyers a source of beef bulls representing multiple breeds at one sale site, on one day.

The first OBT was held under the viaduct at the Ohio Expositions Center. After being moved around to a few different locations during the first seven years, it was decided to build a barn dedicated to the program at what was then the 10 year old Eastern Ohio Resource Development Center in Belle Valley. The OBT was moved there permanently in 1977.

To plan for the building that would house the OBT bulls while on test, a Bull Test Facilities Committee had been formed that included such notables as Henry Bergfeld, Charlie Boyles, Roy Wallace, Lorin Sanford, Don Moody, and Charles Parker, to name just a few. The BBIF and OSU Extension continued to play key roles in providing the leadership and management of the Ohio Performance Tested Bull Program, allowing the program to thrive in Belle Valley for 30 years.

Bulls of any breed could be enrolled in the performance testing program at the station as long as they were eligible to be registered with a beef breed association. In the early days the performance tested program involved placing bulls on feed for 140 days after they had been delivered by their breeders and acclimated to their environment. During this acclimation period the bulls were brought up on a high energy feed ration of corn, protein supplement, and hay to allow them to express their genetic potential for performance and growth. The goal was to identify those that had the greatest potential for growth while also remaining sound.

Upon completion of the test period a sale of the bulls was conducted. In those early days the only requirements for a bull to be included in the sale was to be sound and free of physical defects, to have gained an average of 2.5 pounds per day during the 140 day test period, and to have a weight per day of age of at least 2.5 pounds. Bulls meeting these requirements were considered “Certified” and catalogued for the sale unless the breeder chose to take him home. Bulls gaining an average of 3 pounds per day and weighing at least a 2.75 per day of age were catalogued as “Certified Superior” bulls. Even though reproductive examinations were not conducted on the bulls at that time, they were guaranteed to be breeders if managed properly. In the event a bull was identified as not being a ‘breeder’ within 6 months of the sale, the consignor/owner was required to replace the bull with one of like quality or refund the purchase price.

Based on that criteria, at the conclusion of the first test held at EORDC in 1977 the Ohio Bull Test program found 127 bulls catalogued for sale at auction consisting of the Angus, Red Angus, Red Poll, Charolais, Hereford, Polled Hereford, Simmental, Ankina, Beefalo and Maine-Anjou breeds. Bulls had originated from herds in Ohio as well as New Jersey, New York, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. The program had begun in the fall of 1976 when 288 bulls were received and placed on test under the direct supervision of Ohio State University Cooperative Extension Beef Specialist Dr. Charles Boyles along with EORDC Station Manager Jim Murphy. They were aided in directing the program by a committee made up of BBIF members, Ohio breed association representatives, and Extension and OARDC representatives.

Aside from scales, the only technology used in the Ohio Bull Test program at that time was an ultrasound reading that was considered to be accurate to 0.05 inches of rib fat. This measurement was taken on the bulls between their 12th and 13th rib at the conclusion of the test period.

In 1979, the practice of taking hip height measurements on each bull was begun in order that frame scores could be calculated and published in the sale catalogue. A minimum frame score of 4.0 was established as a requirement in order for a bull to be certified for the OBT sale.

Beginning with the 1985 OBT sale, EPDs were published in the catalogue for those bulls that had EPDs calculated by their breed association.  At the time, this included only the Angus, Polled Hereford, Charolais and Simmental breeds.

Scrotal circumference was also measured and 365 day adjusted measurements were published on each bull beginning in 1985. In addition each bull was given a complete Breeding Soundness Examination which included palpation of the internal reproductive organs and microscopic examination of a semen sample. Bulls were required to pass this Breeding Soundness Examination in order to be catalogued for the sale.

In 1988 it was determined that only a 112 day performance test period would allow the bulls to adequately express their genetic potential for growth in a feedlot environment. This change also allowed for an additional 28 days for the bulls to be brought down from their high energy ration and get them better prepared for moving to a pasture breeding environment. The shorter test period also reduced the opportunity for the bulls to produce as much body fat. From then until the conclusion of the OBT program in 2006 the bulls were tested over a 112 day feeding period.

By 1990 ultrasonic measurement technology had advanced to the point that in addition to rib fat thickness, ultrasound was utilized to measure ribeye size of each bull. These measurements were taken on the 84th day of the performance test and reported in square inches.

Pelvic area measurement of each bull was also begun in 1990. Bulls were measured with a Rice Pelvimeter and an adjusted to 365 day of age measurement was reported in square centimeters in the sale catalogue. The measurement of pelvic area was discontinued in 1998 as its accuracy and the effectiveness of utilizing it as genetic selection criteria came into question. In 2000 OBT returned to measuring pelvic area and continued to do so through 2004.

The advancement of the internet allowed the OBT to create a homepage in 1999 where the data as it was taken and photos of each catalogued bull was posted. That year four remote sale sites were also added across Ohio for buyers who were unable to travel to Belle Valley on sale day. Each site was linked to the sale arena by telephone and while watching the bulls at the remote locations on a video tape, buyers were able to listen to the sale and place bids over the phone. Bulls purchased at any remote site were delivered to that sale site free of charge.

In 2000 the minimum frame score requirement for sale bulls was increased to 4.5 or greater.

Also in 2000, further advancement in ultrasound technology allowed the OBT to add the measurement of percent of intramuscular fat (%IMF) to the list of measurements taken and being provided to prospective buyers. It was at this time a certified Centralized Ultrasound Processing (CUP) laboratory technician was employed to take the images that were then processed at the CUP laboratory.

In 2002 all bulls were tested upon delivery to the station for BVD so as to identify and eliminate any persistently infected animals. Also, bulls originating from Johne’s test negative herds were identified in the sale catalogue. Another addition for this test year was the identification of Get-of-Sire groups; three bulls sired by the same bull.

Also in 2002 OBT began measuring rump fat by ultrasound and adjusting the measurement to 365 days of age. The rump fat measurement was coupled with the rib fat measurement to determine more accurately overall external body fat. This enhanced the accuracy of predicting percent retail cuts.

With concerns for biosecurity escalating, 2002 also marked the first year that anyone who had traveled outside the country within five days of the sale date was asked not to attend and instead participate in the sale via one of the remote phone/video sale sites. All visitors on sale day were asked to wear plastic boots that were provided by the OBT Sale Committee. This practice continued until the conclusion of the program in 2006.

During the thirty years the Ohio Bull Test was housed in Belle Valley at EORDC, not only did the genetics sought by potential buyers change but the performance of the bulls did as well. By comparison to the first sale held in Belle Valley in 1977, for the final Ohio Performance Tested Bull program that began in the fall of 2005 one hundred seventeen bulls from thirty-three different consignors were delivered to the bull barn on October 26th. The bulls were representative of nine different beef breeds including: eighty-six Angus, ten Red Angus, five Simmentals, five Polled Herefords, three Charolais, three Shorthorns, two Gelbviehs, two Limousin bulls, and one Chimaine by breeders from Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Following a four week feed adjustment period, the bulls were weighed on-test. You’ll recall that by this time the testing period had been reduced from the original 140 days to 112 days.

With improved technology and understanding for using additional data, the performance records provided on the bulls upon completion of the test in the spring of 2006 included EPDs, birth weight, weaning weight, scrotal circumference, frame score, ribeye area, fat thickness and intramuscular fat measured by ultrasound, weights, and average daily gain while on test. Each bull that was catalogued had also tested negative for TB and Brucellosis and had passed a reproductive examination. In order to be eligible to sell, the bulls were required to index 90% or greater within their contemporary group when using a ratio of 0.60 for average daily gain ration and 0.40 for weight per day of age ratio. The bulls were also required to be registered with a breed association, have a minimum frame score of 4.5, be structurally sound and have a minimum ribeye size of 0.9 square inches per hundred pounds of live weight.

As indicated in table 1 below, it’s interesting to note that during the 30 years the OBT was housed at EORDC, average daily gains of the bulls certified for the sales increased from 3.41 to 4.29 pounds/day on test. In 1977 only 7 bulls exceeded an ADG of 4 pounds per day while on test, yet in 2006 69 bulls met or exceeded 4 pound per day. Top gaining bull in 1977 had an ADG of 4.61. In 2006, top gaining bull averaged 5.38 pounds per day while on test.

Table 1

Weight ADG High
WDA No. Bull
> 4 lbs/day
Ave. BF
1977 128 March 19 1130 3.41 4.61 2.92 7 0.30 inch
2006 99 Feb. 27 1288 4.29 5.38 3.41 69 0.43 inch

Over the years, many in Eastern Ohio were heard attributing the advancement in performance of Eastern Ohio beef herds to the opportunity for area cattlemen to identify and purchase high performing bulls of several different breeds in one location from the Ohio Performance Tested Bull program.

At the conclusion of the 2006 Ohio Performance Tested Bull Program, the decision was made to discontinue the program due to Ohio State University budget constraints, biosecurity concerns, and advancements in technology. The original ‘bull barn’ remains today and is utilized for animal research, most of which revolves around ruminant nutrition.

If you’d like to learn more about the history of EARS, please join in celebrating the 50-year anniversary of The Ohio State University’s Eastern Agricultural Research Station on Sunday, October 2, 2016. The Station’s re-dedication program and field day begins at 2 p.m. at the Station in Belle Valley followed by wagon tours of the facility and grounds continuing until 5 p.m. OARDC and OSU Extension experts will be on hand to share research impacts from the past, the present and for the future of southeastern Ohio’s agriculture and natural resources. Featured will be the station’s research on grazing and forage management, beef cattle and sheep production, ruminant nutrition, and land reclamation. For more information contact Station manager Wayne Shriver (740-732-2682) or see this flyer.