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Marketing bulls is a dynamic business with a Hollywood feel

The bulls on display on the purple shavings in the shadow of the old Exchange building at the National Western Stock Show aren't necessarily the answer for the commercial cattleman. They are, however, responsible for the elevated heart rate of many a club calf breeder.

Phil Lautner of Lautner Farms in Adel, Iowa, was selling semen on clubby sires long before the days of ultra-slick marketing and the curation of online legacies. Also a commercial cattleman, Lautner began buying bulls in the 1990s when selling semen meant hand delivering straws from tanks in his vehicle, one buyer at a time.

The promotion of club calf bulls is a dynamic business with a Hollywood feel as the kings of the business aim higher to promote the best of their barns. Already scheduled to promote his bull Honest Abe, Lautner ran across James Mitchell at a stop on then President-elect Donald Trump's thank you tour in Des Moines. Mary Osborn, his longtime office manager, suggested having Mitchell in Denver to help promote one of their newest bulls, Honest Abe, and it was a crowd pleaser and social media boon.

Mitchell, a retired 25-year Army medic, hails from Kansas and began appearing as Lincoln after he grew a beard at his wife's urging. His likeness to the famous President quickly became apparent and he has since been featured in Time Magazine and even touted by Trump.

The Lincoln presenter joined the Lautner team in Denver to promote Honest Abe, a black crossbred steer out of Man Among Boys and Goretska 805. His photo graces the banner and people seemed to enjoy the unexpected history lesson and photo opportunity. It was just the ticket for the flashy marketing that has become par for the course in the business of promoting bulls. It also gave Mitchell the opportunity to promote American agriculture in a unique way.

Lautner always has his eyes open for outstanding bulls to purchase and promote and often receives calls from cattlemen hoping to add a bull to the Lautner Farms lineup. Lautner likens the process to recruiting for a sports team.

"You've always got to be looking for them," he said.

A NOTCH ABOVE

The ones he's looking for, explains Dax and Chance Lautner, both invaluable members of the Lautner Farms team, are not only of the highest quality but exceptional in the qualities club calf enthusiasts covet. The bulls must be sound, big bodied, big topped, and have great hair; they must be a notch above anything else.

The younger Lautner men, Chance is Phil's son and Dax, his nephew, spend a great deal of their time on the road visiting customers' operations, selling and delivering semen, and viewing the calves produced by Lautner Farms bulls. Dax covers the states west of Iowa, Chance covers the states to the east. This customer service grows and maintains relationships with customers and remains one of the most valuable and important parts of the job.

"They appreciate when we stop by and we can give our opinion on how they can mate their cows," Chance said. "We usually pick up a few new customers and that's how Phil really got started."

Osborn, who has been with the company for about a decade, is responsible for the graphics that adorn banners like the ones catching the eye of buyers in Denver as well as magazine ads and internet marketing. She runs the office and maintains the blog, which she says is integral to the business. It's a veritable roadmap to securing a visit from Dax or Chance and to keep up with the hottest bulls available.

Naming the bulls is arguably half the battle, the crew agrees and that responsibility falls to Phil. A bull's name will be plastered across all marketing formats and will eventually adorn calves' ear tags and will be printed in calving logs on ranches across the country.

Lautner draws inspiration from both likely and unlikely sources. Hilton Magic, a bull displayed in Denver this year is a nod to basketball in Lautner's home state.

"There's a Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa, at Iowa State," he said. "They say there's Hilton Magic there when they win so many games."

Some of the other aptly named bulls in the 2016 lineup include Loaded for Bear, El Chapo, Make America Great, Western Hauler, Roll Tide, Shoot to Thrill and Trump.

ONLINE PRESENCE

Social media is a more significant force in the sire business than Phil could have imagined when he began. Facebook and the Lautner Farms blog are integral to the business and have, the younger Lautner men indicate, eclipsed print ads in importance and bang for the proverbial buck.

"Facebook is instant," Chance said. "You can post it and it's out there immediately to the people who follow you and they can share it."

In addition to Facebook, Lautner Farms utilizes their online store at http://www.lautnerfarms.com and popular online sales company, Breeders' World, to sell semen.

Jackpot and Payback were two of the bulls that started the business about 20 years ago when Phil first began purchasing bulls and marketing semen and what began as merely an interest began taking on the shape of a business.

"There's been a couple of those bulls over the years," Phil said, "When you sell 25 or 30,000 units of semen and that makes you get real interested in it."

Now, Lautner Farms has semen on 150 to 200 bulls and they have become a household name in the industry. Lautner Farms is home to Who Made Who, Heat Wave, I-80, and Monopoly; together the list is a Who's Who among those with an interest in show cattle.

Phil Lautner enjoys seeing calves out of his bulls win major shows. Lautner has ties to at least 15 class winners, or second place winners this year at the National Western Stock Show and honestly enjoys what he does.❖