Customer satisfaction…that's the name of the game in any business. Without question, in the cattle business, it is more than imperative for survival.
Charolais breeder Lester Colomb, owner of Colomb Cattle Co. in Abbeville, La., recognized this fact early, and has made it a priority as he has built his Charolais herd.
Colomb credits his love for the cattle business to his grandfather, who raised commercial cattle in South Louisiana. Fifteen years ago, Lester started building his own commercial herd that at one time numbered over 600 head. But, it wasn't until he starting using Charolais bulls on his predominately Brahman cross cows that he started thinking about the purebred side of the industry.
“I have always had good luck with Charolais bulls,” Colomb says. “I have had great weaning weights, and have always received a premium for my calves.”
As a matter of fact, Colomb was so impressed with the performance of his Charolais bulls, he decided to produce his own to use on his commercial cows. He first bought 40 Charolais cows with that in mind, but, when he saw how well the Charolais cattle he produced adapted and performed in the harsh climate of South Louisiana just five miles from the Gulf Coast, Colomb decided to make a change in his operation and jumped into the purebred business. He sold off a big part of his commercial cattle and began the process of building his Charolais herd.
The rest, as they say, is history. Today, Colomb owns three farms in Abbeville that total over 2,200 acres (he and his wife Tammy, son Nick, daughter Kelly and grandson Layne, live in nearby Lafayette), and the Colomb Charolais herd numbers over 350 registered females. Colomb also runs 250 recips for his extensive embryo program, 40 head of registered Brangus and 400 head of commercial cattle in the marshes of the Louisiana Gulf Coast.
According to Colomb, the key to the continued growth and success of his program can be attributed mainly to his commitment to customer service.
“I think the reason that our bulls have been so popular is because we do so much for our customers,” he explains. “This last year we helped our commercial customers market over 4,500 calves.”
Without question, Colomb's commitment to his customers is unparalleled. Colomb works hard to help customers market their calves to the feedlot and guarantees that he will get them a price for their calves from three different sources (Eastern Livestock, Platte Valley Feeders and Aztec Feeders). Colomb inspects the calves and takes the quotes to the customers. He will also help the producers get the calves ready for shipping to the feedlot.
“This hands on approach gives us a chance the see the calves being produced by our bulls and we also get to keep in touch with our commercial customers,” Colomb adds.
Another bonus for Colomb and his customers is that they can follow the cattle through the feedlot. Colomb gets a closeout sheet on each group from the feedlot and is able to monitor important information like feed conversion and rate of gain on his cattle. Last year, calves from Colomb bulls performed way above average and received a premium, averaging $40/head profit.
“Numbers like that sure make it easier to sell our calves,” Colomb says. “People are starting to notice that these Charolais/Brahman cross calves we are producing down here are performing well in the feedlot. The feeders have been extremely pleased with these cattle. It is a win-win situation for everybody.”
Obviously, bull buyers are taking notice too. Colomb markets 250-300 bulls annually to buyers predominantly in Louisiana, western Mississippi and eastern Texas, all at public auction. He hosts a bull sale in the fall (the first Saturday in November) and one in the spring. This year the sale will be January 29, 2000. (Starting in 2001 the bull sale will be the first Friday in March, held in conjunction with the Vermillion Parrish Cattleman's Assoc. Replacement Female Sale.)
Adaptability is another priority at Colomb Cattle Co. All bulls are bred to thrive in the harsh conditions of the Gulf Coast, and are strictly raised on pasture with minimal supplement.
“We don't pamper these bulls,” Colomb explains. “They are made to walk to water, walk to shade, walk to feed. We try to make them travel long distances so they will be ready to go to work. It helps our bulls hold up and keeps our customers satisfied.”
Colomb's cattle are not only popular with commercial breeders. He estimates that about 10 percent of his bulls go to purebred breeders and he also markets about 200 females each year through his “All ET Female Sale,” held the first Saturday in March.
According to Colomb, he has also been fortunate to own an interest in two of the most popular bulls in the breed, Wyoming Wind and Prime Cut, who are the two senior herd sires at Colomb Cattle Co. He is also excited about the prospects of a young bull he raised “Advance,” who was the high selling bull at the American International Charolais Assoc. (AICA) Bull Sale in Houston. Colomb sold ˝ interest to Walter and Francell Busa, Rock Bluff Ranch, Anderson, Texas. They are expecting the first calves from this young prospect this spring.
Not surprisingly, Colomb continues to look for ways to insure the quality of his bull battery. One priority is prodigy testing through the feedlot and the packing plant That is why he chose to put all of his herd sires through the AICA Sire Evaluation Program. Semen from each bull consigned to the program is used to breed 100 commercial cows. AICA and the breeders follow the calves from birth to the packing plant. The resulting data helps the breeders identify the superior sires and chart how their calves are performing in the feedlot and on the rail. Colomb made the decision to put all of his bulls to the test, and so far has been very pleased with the results.
“We are putting all of our herd bulls in this program, and so far we have been pleased with the results,” he says. “But, if we don't like the data we get back on any one of them, we will get rid of that bull.”
Undoubtedly, Colomb is innovative in his management style. A great deal of thought and preparation goes into each decision he makes. Progressive thinking has also put him on the cutting edge of the industry as he prepares to enter new and uncharted territory in the cattle industry…genetic mapping and cloning.
“Genetically mapping our cattle will be the wave of the future,” he says. “When we can recognize cows that are genetically mapping to the traits we want, then we clone these cattle and reproduce those desirable traits.”
Towards that goal, on December 21, cloned embryos from four of Colomb's top cows will put into recips.
“We are jumping the gun a little,” he explains. “Ideally we need to DNA test the cows first, identify the top genetics, and then go from there. Right now we are cloning what we think are the best four cows we have. In four years they may not be our best cows, but we want to get a system in place so that when we are able to genetically map these cattle, we will already have some experience in cloning.”
Another of Colomb's priorities is to expand his already extensive embryo transfer program. He hopes to eventually cut back on the size of his herd to about 150 donor females and expand his recip herd to about 400. Donors must meet a strict criteria. They must be good egg producers and produce consistent litters.
“Once we find the good ones, we work them hard,” Colomb says. “We flush them four or five times before we breed them and we flush our donors every 45 days. That way, we are comparing contemporaries. We can identify superior traits in cattle quickly.”
Obviously, Lester Colomb's progressive management style has taken his program a long way in a relatively short period of time. And, as the popularity of his cattle continues to increase, he says it will pave the way for the continued expansion of his program.
“We have a real good system in place now to change as the industry changes,” he says.