We are now in what might be my favorite season of the year, bull sale season. It is the time of year when marketing comes to the forefront of breederâ€™s minds and where their breeding program and hard work pays off.
The thought of breeders and marketing reminded me of something in a membership call with state leadership, where we talked about what it takes to be a good breeder, a great breeder and an innovative breeder. As we get into sale season, here are some things to think about to move your operation forward.
First, you have to consider your customer, the commercial cow-calf producer. I know many of you sell a number of bulls to fellow breeders and that is great. But always remember, fellow breeders typically come for one bull and might not be back for a while, many commercial customers need bulls every year.
What does a commercial bull buyer need? What does he want? Why should he choose you?
Iâ€™d say he simply needs bulls that are fertile, sound and will produce a high calving percentage. He wants calves that are going to be high quality and sell for top dollar. Commercial customers want bulls that are going to fit his herd in a manner that produces consistent, high-quality calves. He also wants to get the best value he can for the money.
So you have to figure out how to give him the best value you can for his dollar while getting the most money you can out of your seedstock.
This is where things get complicated. Now you have to figure out how to make that commercial buyer choose you. This is the point where the good breeders are separated from the great and the innovative. There are four segments of the process you have to maximize in order to attain greatness and maximize profit. These segments are program development, record keeping, marketing and customer service.
Program development is a broad term that incorporates all aspects of producing seedstock bulls. The genetics need to be top quality in order to sell bulls. This should go without saying, but Iâ€™ve seen a number of seedstock producers run their breeding programs as if they are commercial operations. Bulls are put out in the pasture and the cows are bred, rather than matings being formulated and top-quality bulls used. A seedstock herd bull is worth a substantial investment in order to produce the right kind. Artificial insemination is a simple skill to learn and a cheap way to access top-quality genetics.
Along with the right genetics, these seedstock bulls need to be developed at a top level from birth. That means tagging at birth, giving all the right vaccinations (to cows and calves) and supplying the right nutrition program to allow them express their maximum genetic potential. A good nutrition program starts with the cow. Her body condition and mineral program during pregnancy have an impact on her offspring throughout their lives. Bull calves need the appropriate feed and mineral every step of the way. They should be pushed to an appropriate weight to display their genetic differences and be in sufficient condition to handle their first breeding season. This is a fine line, but research has shown that a 1,200-lb. yearling weight is a good goal. In NALFâ€™s 2011 bull sale analysis, there was a $1,100 difference between programs that had their bulls averaging at least 1,200 lbs. at yearling and those that did not.
Record keeping goes hand-in-hand with good management practices, but often times it can be neglected. Commercial producers tend to pay for more information and most can be collected on the farm with an investment in a good set of portable scales and a scrotal tape. Birth weights are still important, but so are weaning and yearling weights. These need to be taken in a complete contemporary group in order for the top calves to get their just due in the genetic evaluation. Last spring, we saw bulls with scrotal circumferences lower than 32 cm. sell for $200 more than bulls without the measurement. Bulls above 32 cm. brought even heftier premiums.
As more and more programs become available and producers are rewarded for how their cattle do on the rail, carcass evaluation through ultrasound is increasingly desired by progressive commercial producers.
Marketing is probably one of the more challenging tasks for most breeders. It is typically only done once a year for the bull sale and then forgotten about for the rest of the year. An accomplished breeder recently told me that the reason he advertises throughout the year is you never know when people will be looking and you need to keep your name out there.
The biggest thing that can be done by Limousin breeders is to improve the pictures of their bulls. A picture only adds value when it is a quality picture. This goes back to development. Bulls need to be in the right condition to picture and should be well clipped and professionally pictured. Sometimes hiring professionals to help clip and picture is one of the most beneficial investments to make. Also donâ€™t forget, there are a lot of outlets through the internet with Facebook and other social networking sites, and things like NALF e-blasts, that can create some excitement for your sale with a modest investment.
Customer service is the most ambiguous task and can be the most time consuming. A visit to your customerâ€™s place is traditionally one of the most effective avenues for successful customer service. Seeing the cow herd, calves and bulls in their working environment can be a useful tool in helping the breeder select the right type of bulls, and will help you better understand their needs and goals.
Guarantees are also a great customer service option that makes for happy returning customers, who will also help with the marketing section through word of mouth. Sometimes they cost in the short term, but pay in the long run. I know several breeders who have an unconditional first-breeding season guarantee and others that just have a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee. The key is to figure out what not only works in your budget, but also do what you can on a case-by-case basis to maintain customer satisfaction.
In my familyâ€™s bull sale last year, we gave a $3,000 credit on a bull that had successfully bred cows and was sound, but had developed swelling in his hocks. The customer took the credit and bought a $6,500 bull this time, which with the salvage value of the bull meant the bull he bought was worth $5,300 with the credit. Not all instances work out like that, but in my experience it tends to work to your advantage when you make it right for your customers.
There is a lot of effort and investment you have in developing genetics and time spent building your herd; make the most of it. The extra investment in the little things will continue to pay over time and put you in the category of a great breeder in the minds of your peers and most importantly, your customers.