Flashy advertising campaigns with catchy jingles or supermodels might draw attention and create name recognition. Regardless of name, if customer satisfaction is not accomplished, repeat business will not be achieved. Words and statistics do not build a reputation, but creating products that meet consumer demand will.
A seedstock producer's reputation comes with patience and many intangibles. Building bulls that meet the needs of commercial customers is the ultimate goal. Sound, functional cattle that can go out and service the cow herd take time to produce. Once the desired genetic package is in place, often times, to take the next step, bull development is labeled, “handle with care.”
Unlike mass producing an automobile, there is no controlled environment for bull development. Managing the ups and downs, plays a role in how bulls will be groomed to meet the needs of the commercial industry.
“We have to get bulls to what we call a “happy medium.” We want them in good shape. They have to be in condition to walk the pastures, not confined and getting fat,” says Ryan Carmichael, Manager Minerich Land & Cattle Co., Richmond, Kentucky. Minerich sells yearling and 18-month bulls during an annual spring bull sale.
“During the 30-plus years we have been marketing bulls, the only bad footed bulls I have had were bulls I had to send to the feedlot because of the drought,” says Rod Reynolds, Reynolds Limousin, Samford, Colorado. Reynolds markets both yearling and two-year-old bulls in March.
“My customers like bulls hard and ready to work. They come off wheat in good shape and don't fall apart,” says Myron Garriott, Nine Mile Limousin, Canton, Oklahoma. Garriott markets all his bulls through private treaty sales.
One common thread Continental cattle seem to have is the benefit gained from increased exercise during the developmental stages. It seems the extra walking builds stoutness and do-ability bulls will need later in life.
“Our bulls get a lot of exercise. We run them on 80 acres of wheat and 30 acres of love grass during the winter months,” Garriott says. “They have to move back and forth to get to water. I don't have to worry about my bulls going down hill when my customer gets them.”
“Bulls have to have plenty of room to travel. Exercise is one of the real important things we do when we develop the bulls,” Carmichael says. “We run bulls in a 40 acre trap. All bulls benefit from walking the pasture.”
“We have found over the years high altitude and a lot of rocks make for pretty sound bulls,” Reynolds says. “We sell a lot of bulls into big country where pastures are at least a section or larger. They have to travel.”
Different strategies are taken with different age bulls to fine tune the process. Depending on the market situation, certain age groups have to receive a little special attention put bulls in proper condition.
“Our cutoff date for yearling bulls is March 1st, we carry the younger bulls over to be sold as two-year-olds. During the summer they run in the same conditions most of our customers run their cattle,” Reynolds says. “These bulls will run on pasture at 8,200 or 8,300 feet elevation during those months. Until weaning, younger bulls run in high altitude pastures with their mothers. We put these bulls in five acre lots when we start our feeding program.”
“After we take yearling weights in September, we'll back the older bulls off a little bit and let them lean up a little,” Carmichael says. “Then we'll start upping the feed a little as it gets colder and 45 days before the sale we evaluate the bulls then adjust what we are doing.”
“I sell most of my bulls as yearlings. I'll carry a few over through the summer and we have to supplement them a little more in late summer when the grass gets dry,” Garriott says. “The availability of forage changes management a little, but so far I have been pretty fortunate with moisture.”
Rations and feeding regimes also change from place to place. Available feed resources will often dictate rations. Watching bulls develop will also pay dividends during this stage in the production cycle.
“We feed a ground ear corn and soybean meal ration. Bulls have free choice minerals and alfalfa/grass hay,” Carmichael says. “The ground ear corn adds a lot of fiber to the ration. It is a real good feed and I like having that extra fiber. We have had real good luck with feet and legs on this ration.”
“We'll wean the bulls on ground alfalfa hay and then start them on barley/oat hay and alfalfa silage ration that we mix in the bunk,” Reynolds says. “High concentrate rations just don't work for us.”
“We run bulls on wheat and don't put a lot of extra in them, except grass hay, unless the ground is covered,” Garriott says. “Once we take the bulls off the wheat they run on native pasture and we'll supplement them with 14 percent cubes. They do well on native grass as long as we don't overstock the pasture.”
Managing the bulls and administering the feed ration is a little different with each operation depending on the time and labor requirements. Controlling input costs is an important economic factor.
“We have always grown our own forages. We test a lot of feed and know what we're putting in the cattle. We save the best feed stuffs for the bulls because we know we can't skimp,” Reynolds says. “We hand feed the ration twice a day. We feed the same pen from the same bag everyday so we don't change the ration. We want the trough empty right before we feed again. We have to be consistent that is the most important thing.”
“The corn is something we can grow. We raise that part of the ration and buy the soybean meal which can sometimes get expensive depending on the year,” Carmichael says. “I like to see the bulls twice a day and it is cheaper to feed them this way. If they were on a self-feeder, I may only get through them twice a week.”
For certain breeds of cattle, particularly the Continentals, disposition has always been a factor. Past experiences sometimes dictate buying decisions. Human contact not only helps calm the bulls, but identifies potential problems that can be eliminated.
“Human contact is always a good thing. Our bulls have to be quieter than other bulls because people have heard about wild Limousin bulls,” Carmichael says. “We cull hard for disposition. There is no reason to sell a wild one you know there's a good chance you'll get back.”
“I can better manage the bulls if I hand feed them. When we are handling them a lot right before the sale I can change the ration a little to dry them up,” Reynolds says. “By increasing the hay in the ration two weeks before the sale it dries them up and will keep them cleaner.”
Managing the bulls in large groups sometimes causes problems. Once bulls have established a pecking order they get along fine in most cases.
“We run 25 to 30 head of bulls of mixed ages together at all times, depending on demand,” Garriott says. “Occasionally when bulls get a certain age they'll pick on one or two.”
“We run all the spring bulls and all the fall bulls together. If you put them in a big lot and they are together from weaning there shouldn't be a problem,” Carmichael says. “In the spring the bulls will start showing a little more aggressiveness. I like to see that though because I think it goes right along with libido.”
Since the areas of the country are so different, conditions and climate will play a big role in future adaptability. Cattlemen seem to form a partnership with Mother Nature to help bring out the best their genetic have to offer.
“We are at 7,700 feet of elevation during the winter and around 10,000 feet during the summer months. We have to have certain bloodlines to handle the altitude. Cattle adapt to lower altitudes very well because it is easier for them,” Reynolds says. “Cattle that get up in that high country and walk around have to develop better hearts and lung capacity. We have to be real careful with the Angus genetics we incorporate in our Lim-Flex program because they are more susceptible to brisket disease.”
“I sell most of my bulls to commercial men in my area. They see my bulls in their working clothes,” Garriott says. “The bull's ability to forage helps them go to their new home and there isn't such a drop off in nutrition.”
“Our primary grass is fescue. We over-seed timothy, orchard grass and clover to improve forage quality for the bulls,” Carmichael says. “The heat takes a toll on bulls here. In the summer we have to have a lot of shade because they don't have a lot of appetite.”
Gaining repeat business is the ultimate goal. Just like the firms that pay the big bucks to be in the Super Bowl ads, a lot of money is spent on product development. One mistake in the formula used to create solid commercial bulls usually leads to unhappy customers. Building a reputation comes with consistent production, not only meeting the operation's goals, but also satisfying bull buyers' needs.
“It takes a lot out of a young bull if he is overfed then has to adjust to his new home,” Garriott says. “Future performance will suffer on bulls that are developed in confinement without a lot of exercise.”
“By raising our bulls in this manner they gain well and stay sound,” Reynolds says. “We have been developing bulls this way for over 30 years and we still have to listen to our customers.”
“Good customers know what they like and I am glad not everybody is looking for the same thing. The feed costs for over-conditioned bulls don't pay, they just lead to more problems,” Carmichael says. “Bad news travels faster than good news if a bull you sell doesn't work.”