Producing a more profitable bull is no easy task
December 31, 2012
Producing the best seedstock bulls in the country is not an easy assignment. It takes dedication, sound science and a little luck. For Leachman Cattle of Colorado, it also takes a little technology.
Expected progeny differences (EPDs) have become a major factor in the seedstock industry today. Buyers can see what a bull is expected to add or take away in a variety of categories. Those categories include items such as birth weight, weaning weight, marbling and ribeye, just to name a few.
Headquartered out of Wellington, Colo., LCoC developed a $Profit index that allows the ranch to predict the financial merit of an animal from birth through slaughter. "This is calculated based on our proprietary database of over 460,000 animal records. Of almost 6,500 calves that are born in the Leachman system each year, about 1,400 of the bulls come on test in Wellington to be evaluated for growth, feed efficiency, ultra-sounded for carcass merit and scored for disposition, phenotype and structure," said Lee Leachman, Owner and Manager.
This information is important because it allows the ranch to show a buyer what a bull will add to the buyer's herd in terms of added value. This number makes it easy for a buyer to compare bulls, and decide on one that will add the most profit to his herd.
“We still run things on good old fashioned customer service. A lot of the reason why we can compete with bigger feed stores is because we treat people how they want to be treated, and they come back because of that.”
~ Danielle Nater, daughter of Dennis Nater, owner and operator of Northern Colorado Feeder’s Supply
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The $Profit index was created to help produce improve their bottom line, and is the most important thing to LCoC right now. "EPD's are the best tool for selecting for and making improvement in beef cattle. However, most EPD's currently only measure output. We know that output is not profit. Profit is income less expenses. We can select for more weaning weight or more yearling weight, but what resources does it take to produce heavier calves, and mature cows that have heavier mature weights?" Ryan Peterson, Sales and Customer Service Manager.
He continued, "We are multiplying cattle that excel in our $Profit index. This index factors in all of the economically important traits from birth to slaughter, including feed intake. We use current prices for feed and market based grid pricing values. Some ranchers say you should only select for high output. Other ranchers suggest that the key is minimizing inputs. We think the best way is to find the genetics that have the biggest spread between output and inputs — that's called profit!"
To measure this, the best bulls each year are developed and tested. "Our bulls are developed at the Horton Feedlot and Test Center in Wellington, Colo., which is managed by Travis Horton and Family. We feed efficiency test bulls in our own facility and at Colorado State University's ARDEC center," Leachman said.
Feed efficiency is becoming more and more important, as feed costs have skyrocketed and are a major factor in a ranch's ability to be profitable. "We have made sizeable investments to measure individual feed intake. Feed cost is the single greatest cost for ranchers. We estimate feed intake EPD's and feed conversion EPD's for every bull and female we sell. This data is also factored into our $Profit index. This single number helps our cooperators and customers make the best possible mating decisions to improve their bottom line," he said.
This testing allows LCoC to determine if their genetic decisions are paying off. "Real world testing is critical to ensuring that our selection is working. It also helps our customers better understand the value of improved genetics. We currently have seven commercial ranches that are collecting data to document the value of our genetics. We are measuring a host of traits including feedlot performance, feed efficiency, carcass merit, bull breeding capacity and female productivity. Results from these herds show that our genetics are excelling in all of these areas," said Leachman.
The calves are produced each year from 30 cooperator herds, and more than 6,500 cows. Peterson stated, "We spend the great majority of our time measuring and evaluating our bulls so that we can be sure that they meet our customers' needs. The beauty of our cooperator system is that they provide the herd management so that we can focus on breeding decisions and customers."
Using this index has allowed LCoC to produce bulls that will help ranchers in their commercial herds, and help them to be more profitable. However, it does not come without challenges.
"Perhaps the greatest challenge in seedstock production is working with ranchers to help them make the best genetic decisions. There are so many different EPD's in the cattle industry not only within a single breed, but across breeds. This makes it difficult to sort through all the numbers and know what is best for each producer's given situation. A commercial cattle rancher has a lot of irons in the fire. They have to manage livestock, grass and people. Producers may only purchase bulls or semen once or twice a year. Keeping abreast of all the information and technologies is a challenge for all of us. That is why our $Profit Index has become so popular among our customers. It simplifies selection and we have proven that it works in multiple test herds," he said.
LCoC markets a variety of different breeds for different customer needs, including Angus, Red Angus, Charolais, and their composite breed, called a Stabilizer. There bulls are made up of Angus, Simmental and Gelbvieh breeds of cattle. The bulls are sold year-round, and through seven production sales held around the country each year.
The sales take months of preparation and data collection to be successful. "First and foremost, our bulls and females have to be properly fed. We have learned that managing the energy level in their diet is critical to optimize growth while minimizing structural and longevity issues that come from over feeding. Most seedstock breeders get their bulls too fat," Peterson explained.
The most important part, however, is the data collection. "We spend several months collecting data on the animals. Each animal sold at LCoC is individually scored for feet, legs and disposition. This is one of the most important parts of our sale preparation. We take yearling measurements for weight, feed intake, scrotal, frame and ultrasound. We fertility test and trich test (when required) and only sell bulls that are guaranteed breeders," he added.
He continued, "Then we spend a lot of time on making it easy for our buyers to evaluate the cattle. Almost all of our bulls are clipped, videoed and pictured before sale. All of our production sales have catalogs either in print or online for our customers to access and make their purchasing decisions. We have an online animal sort that lets customers easily sort through our offerings. We also spend countless hours visiting with customers over the phone to make recommendations and pick out sight un-seen orders."
Everyone at LCoC enjoys raising seedstock cattle. "There are lots of things that make raising seedstock fun and rewarding. It's exciting when a planned mating produces a high selling bull or our next great herd sire. However, the most rewarding part of the seedstock business is the success of our customers. We love to hear that a customer's calves topped the market again this year, or that their weaning weights are getting better and better, or how their cows are improving, or even just to have them keep coming back to buy bulls year after year. We are having a real impact on the equity and quality of life enjoyed by our customers and their families. Making a difference for ranching families is the best part of the seedstock business," Leachman said. ❖