Final Sort Blog

January 2018

HAPPY NEW YEAR!  Welcome back to the Final Sort Blog!  Thank you Samantha Trehal for being our guest blogger!  Samantha is our Herd Health expertise reining from down south Colorado!  Thank you Sam for all you do…and for taking to the keyboard this month!!!

Tough Lessons from the Bleachers…..Marketing 101!

Cheers and here’s to hoping that everyone had a blessed and joyful holiday season; and, that 2018 is off to a great start! As we precariously roll into the New Year, most likely we have started a list of mental meanderings as we contemplate these first few months. Perhaps the highly motivated have even scratched down a list of resolutions…most likely on the back side of a pink feed receipt.  With the New Year, we also usher in calving season along with short sleeps, cold fingers, frozen toes, and copious amounts of coffee. But ahhhhh there it is….the light at the end of the tunnel!  It’s that big check that we hope to cash at the end of Bull Sale Season!  From the outside looking in, it’s truly a magical time of year when fathers gather up their sons and daughters skipping school to attend “THE” sale.  For the producer, the day comes with pensive relief knowing that the preparations are complete.  The final relief comes when a he walks into the sale ring and sees the bleachers brimming with people.

The bleachers drive this month’s conversation!  Now, just to get us warmed up, I would like to tell you a story.  We’ve all seen it at the country fair.  In fact, it usually happens to the same kid every year!  I’m going to call him Jimmy.  Every year, Jimmy arrives at fair in an absolute whirl wind.  It doesn’t appear that he’s quite ready to be at the fair, but he qualifies this by noting that he has a job, basketball practice in the mornings and it is summer break after all.  Jimmy never quite knows where he is supposed to be, so mostly he follows the pack asking panicked questions.  He barely makes the show, but what the heck….he’s here to make money!  Sale day eventually rolls around and Jimmy walks his steer into the ring.  The auctioneer begins….someone eventually offers an opening the bid.  The auctioneer begs for bids, and for a few seconds, the bottom-bid-buyers help Jimmy with another $5.  Jimmy leaves the ring disheartened and talking disparagingly about the politics and such.  But you see, Jimmy didn’t come to the sale with any bids in his pocket.  He didn’t send out buyer letters, he didn’t market his steer…he didn’t do his homework!  He fed the lie that he didn’t have “time.” He came to the sale with hope and left all the rest to chance!  But here’s the catch!  He failed on purpose because he didn’t create any reason why he would experience success that exceeded that of his competition.  He didn’t purposefully place anyone in the bleachers; and, he didn’t give anyone in the bleachers a compelling reason to bid on his steer other than a low rate opportunity.  Jimmy’s success was a direct reflection of Jimmy’s choice to rely on hope rather than purposeful marketing.  Jimmy’s success was a direct reflection of the fact that he didn’t take the time to market his steer because “chance” seemed to be a reasonable shake of the dice….and other priorities won out!

So, long story short, this month’s blog is all about filling the bleachers on sale day….purposefully thinking about a marketing plan that will effectively target and interest the right crowd!  It’s about building success before sale day arrives!

The first objective is to determine what sector of the bull sale market you would like to target. For some it may be other seed-stock producers, but for the vast majority, it’s commercial breeders. At this juncture, you must be in tune with the objective of your breeding program and what characteristics will entice buyers.  Perhaps you are known for having a slew of sire groups which cater to those in need of a low maintenance calving ease winter. Or maybe your breeding is tailored to sire calves to cross the scales with weaning weights that drive hard at the bottom line!   Whatever your particular strengths…know them…drive your marketing toward them and capitalize on them. Buyers will become faithful when you clearly identify your product and you deliver what you promised for several years running. And now the magic starts!  Folks will begin filling in the empty spots in the bleachers because they’ve heard and the hype has taken hold!  Continue to build on it. But remember to think outside the box when it comes to promotion….

There are many different ways to promote your business in today’s age of technology!  Some avenues may cost you financially, while others may merely require blood, sweat, and tears.  Your message is critical and reputation is everything in this business!   In this era, you can’t afford to ignore social media marketing such as Facebook!  Facebook is a cheap way to provide tremendous amounts of exposure to your operation.  If you have resources and knowledge, be diligent and pay attention to the strategies of breeders whom you deem to be successful.  If you do not have the knowledge, seek out marketing firms or individual known for the quality work. Take the time to connect with other breeders by “liking” their pages and asking them to “like” yours.  As that happens, you gain access and exposure to their contacts as well as yours and the exponential result is simply astonishing!  Spend time interacting with folks on Facebook to gain exposure.  Social media is a great way to add polish and exposure to your operation.  Trust me!  This is time and money well spent!

Representing your cattle in photos and video is essential in our market.  We are blessed with a plethora of incredible talent when it comes to photographers and at the end of the day, good pictures sell bulls!   With that reality, however, comes a double edge sword!  We have all seen the shiny, jet black, head cocked off, hind-leg set just right, photos, one after another from well-known photographers.  When you move onto the video of the same animal you are left scratching your head wondering if they may have gotten something mixed up. When it comes to hiring someone to picture your cattle and design your advertisements, understand that a clone stamp or layer change here or there may seem necessary to some, however, it may come as a surprise, but to a lot of folks, a picture that genuinely represents the animal is valued far above a three-hour photoshop job after 300 action shots in the picture pen.

At the end of the day, this is a business of networking and personal relationships.  Staying in contact with your customer base is critical.  While electronic media is powerful, face to face contact, marketing phone calls, ranch visits to see and discuss the calf crop sired by your bulls and personal contact will pay dividends beyond your imagination.  Your customers want to feel that you care about their operation and they want you to be interested in their success.  If they are going to invest in your program, they expect you to be make an investment in theirs!

Equally important is learning how to reach out and always be striving to increase the size of the customer base. That means that whether you are a “people” person or not….you HAVE to be a “people” person.  If you are unwilling or unable to do this, put someone in your business structure or family in this role that is better suited than you!  You need to make a solid, consistent presence in your local community.  In this business, word travels fast…both good and bad!  Reliability and integrity are list toppers when it comes to growing a long term sustainable business.   Remember that you are in this business to market cattle.  Also remember, that while the bull sale business is immensely competitive, you will always be perceived better if you check your emotions at the gate and just get on with doing good business…always with integrity and character!

In closing, I assert that mostly, results are logical.  Generally we get the results that are completely appropriate and consistent to the foundation (or lack of foundation) that we have laid.  I guess you could say that mostly results happens predictably and on purpose.  Perhaps we purposefully lay a foundation for a desired result being ever mindful in every decision.  Or…we bumble through without purpose and act surprised when the results match the lacking vision and nonexistent effort.  This is true in all aspects of life, but it most certainly holds true to how your marketing plan will drive you bull sales.  Create what you want on purpose!   Remember why you do what you do; and, remember why you love the life you lead!  Reach out the people who tick for the same reasons you do! So if the light at the end of the tunnel is that big check at the end of Bull Sale Season….put some grease on the wheels Chappy!

December 2017 – Merry Christmas!!!

The GREAT RECONCILIATION – Paper Cows vs. Teeth Tits & Wheels

Humbled is how we come to you today; but humored as well.  We are so incredibly thankful for the beautiful illustrations of humanity that we work and walk with in this life’s business.  They are great people…the best in fact!  These folks that we admire are tenacious (or is it stubborn?), hard-working (or is it hard-headed?), convicted (or is it “strongly” opinionated?), visionary and forward thinking (unless you are looking down the road from the opposite direction; then they’re just plain backward!)  You get the picture!  These vibrant strands of humanity woven throughout our industry are as subject to perception as any other sector of humanity….and let me tell you…sometimes they really do embrace their humanity…aaahhhhum!  With that vibrant picture painted before your keenly lit eyes, I introduce you to two sectors of our industry:  the purebred/registered breeder and the commercial cattlemen.  Before I delve into the characteristics of these two sectors, I must warn you that I am going to be a bit precocious ribbing each of them as I reconcile their uniquely perceived interests into one common interest of success! (So, whichever group you belong to, please know that I intend to give you a little rub as I have a bit of fun with you!)

Introducing the purebred/registered breeder!  Our industry is truly indebted to the visionary cattlemen who are geneticists, scientists and those who have the desire to build the best bovine that has ever graced God’s green earth!  We like them round, sound and low to the ground and we like them pretty!  Nice feet, wedged just right, pretty udders, perfect angles and doe-like faces with lashes like Bambi!  These cattlemen are generally plagued with passion that cause wives and daughters to be envious of Lucky Lucy Loo #302!  These folks are some of our brightest and best on every level.  A few subtle years ago, these folks challenged heaven and earth (in and out of the show-ring!) as they began breeding for the better bovine with their eyes focused intently on quality and profitability.  That passion gave rise to relative bench-marking, tracking of statistics, creation of performance associations, development of indexes, and creation of EPD’s.  In today’s climate, many pass over the cow’s production records for gestation, weaning weights, birth weights and fertility.  Instead, they look almost exclusively at EPD’s or gnomics; and, have forgotten that “function must fit the form!” Great numbers will not result in great cows if they are not designed to thrive in the intended environment.  The notion of exclusively or predominantly looking at the numbers, which are mere expected performance guesses, has led to the eventual demise of evaluating “Betsy on the hoof” and the equally eventual evolution of the PAPER cow.

In this world of $500,000 cows, shiny auction blocks, polished people and beautiful…. beautiful papers, it seems as though the cow and her eventual offspring are oft forgotten!  Additionally, in this world, one could argue that we have moved to that precarious place where we are breeding paper instead of cows at all…and, in fact, the phenotype of the cow may in fact be a poorly conceived after-thought.  Here lies the birth of the perils that cause us to cringe.  Our industry is fraught with beautiful pedigrees accompanied by bad feet including corkscrew claw, long toes and short flat heels.  Equally prolific are structural compromises such as straight shoulders and post-y hips, bad bags, raised, sloped tail heads and small pelvises.  Lastly we have the specimen who is unable to maintain a consistent breed back or who does not display maternal characteristics that will lend to care free calving.  Based on the beauty of the pedigrees, the trendy names and novelty of the numbers, however, these characteristics are overlooked and Betsy Be Gone dodges the cull gate again and again.  On some outfits, she is excused on that occasional year when she doesn’t raise a calf; she gets a much needed pedicure each fall; and, she slowly evolves from a spring calver to a fall calver and back to a spring calver as the calving date slips ever so slightly each and every year.  But…you must understand, the numbers are simply beautiful!  Fortunately the gifted minds and convictions of our forefathers in this cattle building business have persevered! Most of our breeders are performance based cattlemen who understand what makes a cow herd work; and, what traits are important to the cattleman!

Now, before you rain hell and fire in my direction, let’s have a bit of fun with the commercial cattleman and I assure you, we’ll eventually weave this tale together in a happy way that leaves every party with their dignity in tact!

I enjoy those moments spent basking in the simple yet brilliant wisdom of the commercial cattleman.  This specimen is the most tenacious of businessmen.  The commercial cattleman is truly the most pristine picture of the west; the portrait of the free spirited American cowboy…deeply attached to the land, the legacy and the livestock.  He is the man who sells pounds for a living in spite of the market, the politics and the weather.  He operates on a larger scale and a tighter budget with a keen eye bent toward input costs as he keeps that ever-shrinking bottom line black.  All the while he supplies the world with pounds of red meat …the BEST red meat that money will buy I might add!   The commercial mind is focused on profitability and is keenly aware that the “best” cow ($$$) may not be the best investment.  He balances on the wire as he weighs capital outlay, return of investment and return on investment with herd quality and cash flow.

The commercial cattleman understands real world cattle and the harsh conditions in which our stock must thrive to remain profitable.  He is keenly aware that the mama cow must take care of herself, raise a calf independently, breed back, wean a respectable calf and do it again year after year without falter.  He may breed and raise his own replacements; or his cattle may be sprinkled with somewhere upward of 6 brands….6 breeds and 6 colors.  In spite of this, he knows quite intimately that pay day is all about tipping the scale on shipping day; it’s a vicious game he plays.  He shoots for BALANCED….round, sound and low to the ground; muscle, mass, deep ribs, length like a freight train, the ability to cover country like a mountain goat all the while gaining weight as if Thanksgiving happens every day! Occasionally, however, the deals draw him into a few specimen that scream tall, flat and narrow as he attempts to balance quality with capital outlay!  The trick though, is that those tall, flat and narrow cows wean the same type of calves; and, they trip over pennies eating dollar bills as they do it.  He shakes his head as he scans the pen on shipping day knowing full well that some of those “let it slide” decisions have cost him as he overlooks a pen of uneven calves lacking uniformity, desirability….and 50 pounds.  On cull day, he has his sights set high, but in light of the slumped killer cow market and the pretty penny those shiny bred heifers will cost him…he may let Lop Sided Lucy slip by one more time noting that “she raised a whopper calf this year…and after all…she’s got teeth, tits and wheels…and she’s got a calf in her!”  What the heck…does she need teeth?

And alas my friends, this is the point when we come full circle.  While I have been incredibly sarcastic at the expense of “our people.”  These are the BEST people God created in vicious pursuit of the BEST life….building the best legacies!  The take-away from this conversation is that we must be mindful of the end game in order to be successful; and, neither segment of this industry can exist without the other.  The purebred breeder needs the commercial cattleman; he is the factory for the cattle industry!  As such, the purebred industry must be mindful that while the numbers are a imperative to continued improvement and a crucial means to the end, but they must not lose sight of those things that are essential to the commercial cattleman!  We must have sound, efficient cattle who are able to produce and reproduce year after year.  That means that our purebred cattle must be proven to survive and thrive facing the same elements and criteria as their commercial counterparts.  Likewise, the commercial cattlemen need good cattle to continue to produce the best beef that the world has to offer!  They need the design team and they look to you…they NEED you…the purebred breeder to make that happen!

Ps!  As you travel around, Midland may very well be the ONLY major sale that provides the damn dam production records!

November 2017

Thank you Rachel Sutherlin for being our guest blogger!  Rachel is completing her internship here at MBT this month.  We sincerely appreciate her work at MBT and wish her the best of luck as she returns to her schooling!

Birth Weights… HOW LOW DO YOU GO!

We don’t want to give up power and torque when it comes to our vehicles because we expect optimal performance.  So…why do we select for below average birth weights and not push our cows to the same standards of optimal performance?  It is often said that too much of a good thing is bad?  In light of low birth weights, have we pushed too far?  Are they beginning to cost us too much?  Have we passed that pinnacle point of diminishing returns?  Where do we draw the line between low birth weights being a positive or negative attribute?

A dead calf is worth nothing…and no one wants to deal with a hard pull!  Keeping birth weights in check is important; but, are we putting too much emphasis on a negative birth weight EPD?  A cow should be able to deliver a calf weighing 7% of her body weight without assistance.  If she can’t, send her to the cull pen?  Recent trends are driving birth weights lower and lower resulting in much smaller calves… sometimes 60lb or less.  Producers are paid by the pound at weaning or on the rail and those ultra small calves NEVER catch up!   Why are we cutting ourselves short by not making our cows work for us?

If our goal is to save time and labor as we breed for small calves at birth; we must also assess how much extra work and effort a dink calf will require.  A dink calf can cost many long hours in the calf warmer because they don’t get up on a cold nights; followed by hours in the maternity pen suckling because they can’t get the job done!  The same dink calf may die because he is too weak to get up if he is born in the middle of the night.  Sometimes theses calves aren’t big enough or strong enough to sustain those first few hours. What is the point of these ultra low birth weights if they result in exponentially higher labor costs and cause your death loss to sky rocket?  You are then faced with the decision of breeding or culling those cows who lost their calf even though you purposefully bred her to produce that dink calf who was unstable to survive!  You are essentially undermining the stay-ability of your mother cows by setting them up for failure.

We need to make our cattle work for us to minimize cost and effort!  We must be especially mindful of undermining her ability.  Using a low BW bull on a cow sired by a low BW bull can produce a smaller pelvis in her female progeny.  As a result, you have just exacerbated your problem as the offspring will have an even harder time calving….even low birth weight calves.  We must consider the big picture and the long-term effects to determine whether we are hurting or helping ourselves.  Low birth weights are good for first time heifers and small framed cows; but, we need to push those bigger birth weights on cows to maximize our return….and they should be able to handle it!

We need to make our cows work for us.  Don’t lose money on the first day!  We have to focus on not turning these lower trending birth weights into a bad thing!

October 2017

Let’s Talk Efficiency!!!

Welcome back to the “Final Sort Blog!”  We need to talk efficiency folks! It’s all about getting MORE for LESS…working SMARTER…not HARDER!

In spite of the work done here at MBT, efficiency STILL seems to be elusive to some folks.  We recently communicated about the efficiency of an unnamed herd.  A tremendous number of assertions were being made, but there was no measurement of INPUTS!  Now it is true that they had a great understanding who the “apparent” easy do-ers were in their herd, but they moved them right into the category of “efficient bulls.” Now we must agree!  It is certainly nice to see those nice, soft, round sided calves at weaning.  Those shiny buggers that pair growth and gain into a beautiful package that knocks your eyes out!  We’ll take that any day, but we’ve said it once, and we’ll re-assert!  The margin is in the middle…lodged right between the money you get and the money you give!

The whole conversation makes me think of two geldings Gus and Sam standing out under the big cottonwood tree swatting flies.  Gus and Sam are nearly a matched pair, both golden in the summer sun, fat and a bit sassy.  The only thing that separates Gus and Sam is a board fence that runs between the grass pasture that Gus stands in and the dry lot corral Sam lives in.  Gus grazes nearly all day long until the summer sun blazes down when he finds relief under the big oak tree.  Sam gets about three flakes of grass hay every morning and evening spending the majority of his day coveting Gus’s knee deep luscious green grass!  Now I assure you, we think the world of Gus, but he’s just an easy keeper. Sam is able to maintain the same body condition on less!  Hands down, Sam is the most efficient specimen in the herd!  Efficiency happens when each pound gained requires less than average input and ‘ol Sam nails it!

The fallacy happens when folks only focus on the gross.  It doesn’t matter if you gross your first million but you spent two million to make it happen.  The same is true when we feed cattle.  Here at Midland, we search out those individuals who require less feed (and therefore money) to gain each and every pound.  That trait must be paired by the same animal with the ability to also out gain their contemporaries!  That’s the combination we are looking for!  Simply spoken, it’s doing more with less!

It is mighty hard to refocus our priorities when we’ve programed ourselves for years to seek those 650 pound weaning weights.  Many a shiny bragging rights have accompanied those plump weaning weights here in our Big Sky country.  Those plump shiny calves do paint a pretty picture as they trot across the scale.  But!  Consider this….here at Midland, we focus on achieving those same goals, all the while minimizing your feed costs.

For Example…

Two bulls were tested at Midland and both came off the efficiency test at 1,100 lbs.  Their stats are as follows:

Bull A – ADG 3.47, Dry Matter Intake 28.73 lbs/day, Feed to Gain Ratio 8.28 lbs of feed/lb of gain, RFI 3.90

Bull B – ADG 3.26, Dry Matter Intake 22.45 lbs/day, Feed to Gain Ratio 6.90 lbs of feed/lb of gain, RFI 2.77

Without measuring their inputs, it appears that the bulls performed almost identically with Bull A showing a slight advantage in the raw ADG.  When the inputs are added to the equation, the picture changes radically!  Bull B consumed 6.28 pounds per day less than Bull A marking a 21% difference!  When we put the dollars and cents to it, that’s an $80-$120/head savings in the feedlot and $60-$80/year savings on daughters retained in the cow herd without impacting any weights of their calves!

We’re in a dog eat dog business and we can’t afford to have inefficiency unnecessarily inflating our costs by 21%; and we can’t afford to waste 21% of our grass, hay and silage!  The dirt needed to produce that grass is simply too expensive to throw away 21% of the crop!  And folks!  That’s just the cost side!  These savings create growth opportunity as that 21% is an unrealized opportunity allowing us to increase our carrying capacity and incremental revenue!   Imagine if your retirement planner explained that you could earn an additional 21% return on your investments!  We certainly wouldn’t leave that opportunity on the table!

Let me say that one more time!  You have a choice!  Efficient cattle will cut your incremental cost thereby increasing your margins.  At the very same time, in a static environment, you will find that you are able to INCREASE your carrying capacity!  Wow!

Long story short….fat does not equal efficiency and you can’t select for a trait unless you measure it! AND!!! EFFICIENCY PAYS!

September 2017

Introducing the “Final Sort Blog!”

Welcome to the Midland Bull Test “Final Sort Blog!”  We look forward to chewing the fat…sometimes with casual meandering thoughts and pondering; and at other times, a bit more aggressively as we become stricken with conviction regarding this beloved bovine business and lifestyle; and the economics, politics, and trends that drives it!  We surely know that some folk will agree with our sediments, and others will not!  We take that with a grain of salt and most respectfully acknowledge well thought convictions that may differ from our own!  Mostly we are excited about inciting passion about the industry we love and driving that passion toward purposeful decisions and actions that will motivate positive impact in our industry!

“The Final Sort Blog!”  It’s a catchy little phrase don’t you think?  It popped up in a little brain storming session one afternoon as we were pondering those things that make MBT unique!  Here at Midland, we begin the test season with about 1,100 bulls from across the entire United States.  Feeding a low energy ration, we stand back and give the bulls an opportunity to spin their tale …to let you know if they are an efficient and effective prospect…to help you discern whether their progeny will leave you any MARGIN IN THE MIDDLE!  Based on performance, only the top 70%-80% of consignments are eligible to sell at the MBT Final Sort Sale.  As we observe thousands of bulls, the results continue to evidence that a well-rounded individual wins every time!  Those individuals prove themselves based on MBT Average Daily Gain Ratio and MBT 365 Ratio. Those factors are paired with the Growsafe Efficiency Ratio which creates a balance between the necessity of efficiency and gain; as great feed efficiency is beneficial only if accompanies acceptable gain.   Additionally, bulls are assessed for disposition, structural soundness, breeding soundness and genetic deficiencies.  The bulls who meet and exceed those criteria float to the top like thick sweet cream!  These bulls are the Final Sort!

Midland strives to be at the forefront of providing folks with objective data that is not biased or misleading.  While Midland has an overwhelming amount of data available, we don’t pick and choose what data you get to see…you get the full enchilada and we leave it to you to decide what is important in your operation.   EXCUSES DO NOT SELL HERE!  Every year we cut some really nice bulls from the sale.  Maybe he came up lame and that’s why his ADG was lower…maybe they simply came to Midland too conditioned and peaked out on their growth curve.  Regardless, unless they can walk the walk her at Midland by showing us the results, they don’t sell!  We keep it that transparent and we keep it that objective!

So alas!  We introduce the “Final Sort Blog” and the “Midland Bull Test Final Sort Bull Sale!”  We are excited to begin receiving cattle and to watch them develop!  We’ll keep you in the loop as they begin to tell their stories!  In the meantime…mark your calendar for the 2018 Midland Bull Test Final Sort Sale on April 4th & 5th, 2018!