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Virginia Cooperative Extension - Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Cooperation: Key to Success of BCIA Bull Tests

Livestock Update, February 2009

Joi Saville, Beef Extension Associate, VA Tech

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As the old saying goes, “You are only as strong as your weakest link,” the same goes for the Virginia Beef Cattle Improvement Association Bull Test Stations. Cooperation for the BCIA program goes beyond the bull consignors and the association, but extends to include the bull feeder and the bull buyers.

Tim Sutphin of Hillwinds Farm has been feeding bulls for 5 years for the BCIA test stations. “I decided to become involved in the process,” stated Sutphin, and the rest is history. As a longtime bull buyer, Sutphin decided to become involved in the process of bull evaluation, and became a feeder for the BCIA Southwest Bull Test Station as a result. “My interest in the program coincided with several other things that were happening at the time, and since then, it has been a great relationship,” continued Sutphin.

Tim, along with his wife, Cathy, and their 4 children, Laura, Allison, Caroline, and Heath, own and operate Hillwinds Farm, in Dublin. Tim and Cathy began farming back in the mid-1980’s and moved to their current location in 1994. Hillwinds Farm consists of approximately 2,000 owned and rented acres that support 750 commercial cows. The cowherd consists of primarily Angus-based cows with a percentage of Simmental and Gelbvieh genetics to capture the established advantages of crossbreeding. Both fall and spring calving are practiced to make efficient use of resources and labor. In addition to the large commercial cow herd, stocker cattle, replacement heifer development, bull test feeding and a flock of 120 commercial ewes add diversification to the operation.

Sutphin feels that the BCIA Bull Test sales have always been a source of high quality genetics. As evaluation procedures and technology has advanced, Tim feels that there has become more similarity in the genetics of bulls offered through bull test stations, production sales, private treaty sales, and breed sales. However, the BCIA program remains unique in its ability to not only provide high quality genetics, but diversity in breeds, type and performance - all at one location.

“You can find a bull to fit any particular scenario, through the BCIA Bull Test Sales,” stated Sutphin. “From low birth weight bulls for heifers to terminal sires, to replacement heifer type bulls, BCIA has something for everyone.”

Tim also likes the rigorous process that the bulls have to go through to make it to the sale. “The bulls are evaluated in an un-biased manner and have to pass breeding soundness exams, structural soundness exams, as well as meeting minimum EPD’s for growth and test average daily gain,” explained Sutphin. “From there, only the top 2/3 of the bulls tested are available for sale.”

“I have had good luck with the bulls that I have purchased. They have always held up well and I have never had to go back to an owner for anything,” stated Sutphin. “You have to remember, if you go to a particular breeder’s farm, you have to pick from what he has got. It may not be what will work best for you and your herd, or even a high quality top end bull. You have those options at the BCIA Bull Test Sales, and they are all high quality bulls.”

Currently, Tim has a sorted herd and uses both purebred and percentage bulls depending on the scenario. “In some instances I am looking for a terminal sire that provides some growth and bigger frame, and in other cases, I am looking for a low birth weight/calving ease bull to put with my heifers,” explained Sutphin.

“I believe in the crossbred cow,” stated Sutphin. “I have been able to use these sales as a place to buy Angus, Simmental, Simmental Cross, Gelbvieh and even some Charolais bulls to use in my program. Not too many sales in Virginia offer buyers the chance to purchase different breeds in one location. It is a great opportunity.”

In 2004, Tim began his new relationship with BCIA as a contract feeder of bulls for the BCIA Southwest Bull Test Station. Since then, Tim has realized the cooperative efforts that it takes to make the whole program viable.

“In order to keep the bull test program viable, we all, bull consignors, myself, BCIA, and the bull buyers, have to have a connection with each other,” stated Sutphin. “We are all trying to ultimately producer a good calf crop and improve cattle not only across Southwest Virginia, but across the state, and this is a good program to do that.”

Trying to foster a good relationship with everyone is what Tim focuses on. “We have several consignors that are very knowledgeable about our day to day operations with the cattle,” explained Sutphin. “In some cases, we even have some of the regular bull buyers stop in to check on the bulls and see how they are doing.”

Sutphin feels that BCIA has a good program set in place to avoid any conflict between breeds, consignors or buyers. “The program is set up in such a manner that each bull can be judged on his own merit, without any outside influences,” explained Sutphin. “It is BCIA’s responsibility to record and keep track of the data on the bulls and provide an unbiased opinion on both the bulls and the consignors. It provides a level playing field for all.”

Another side of the relationship is the consignors. “Consignors have started the process towards providing high quality bulls. There is a huge screening process that starts right on the farm where the bulls come from,” states Sutphin. “The process starts from choosing the right genetic package to growing them properly before testing and the selection of those top bulls to send on to test.”

“You look at our sales that we have with 140 bulls and take into account those 140 bulls were not only selected from the 200+ bulls that were fed, but they were probably sorted out of 1,000 or so bulls back on the farms,” continued Sutphin.

Tim and Hillwinds Farms serve as the third and most vital part to the whole process. “Our job is to feed and take care of the bulls. We want to provide a fair opportunity for all the bulls to grow and develop,” he stated. “In addition, we get to know the bulls well enough that we can start to match the needs of our bull buyers.”

Tim explained that he, along with his farm manager, Mike Hall, walk through the bulls every day. They are very critical on disposition and try to handle the bulls so that they are used to people when they leave the test. “Because of our interaction with the bulls, we really get to know the bulls and how they will fit into individual situations,” continued Sutphin.

“The bull buyers have to buy into the relationship as well,” continued Sutphin. Tim feels that the bull buyers buy into this cooperative relationship because they know it is their best opportunity to buy the best bulls that consignors produce.

Tim explained that the regular bull buyers like to stop in and see what is going on. “I like the interaction with the bull buyers,” stated Sutphin. “It gives me an additional opportunity to help them as much as I can by matching bulls and needs.”

“And now, with the guarantee behind these bulls, buyers have the confidence of the consignors standing behind their product,” continued Sutphin.

Another part of this cooperative effort is the Open House that Hillwinds Farms and BCIA offer. “This gives consignors a chance to showcase and exhibit their bulls, as well as buyers a chance to make an informed decision about the bulls that they want to purchase,” declared Sutphin.

Tim feels that a majority of the bulls are going into operations that are with older farmers, part time farmers, and small herds that do not want any calving difficulty. In addition, he felt that these producers wanted something that would grow well so that they did not receive any discounts on grading. Tim uses this to his advantage and makes notes of the bulls that fit into these scenarios and discusses them with potential buyers at the Open House.

“I am getting to know a lot of the buyers and can start to match their personalities up with a good bull that will fit their particular situation,” stated Sutphin. “This Open House gives those buyers an opportunity to make an informed, non-rushed decision and form a relationship with both myself, Mike, and the consignors.”

“The Bull Test Sales provide a good value on high quality, carefully selected bulls. Without the cooperation between consignors, BCIA, myself, and the buyers, the quality of the BCIA Performance Tested Sales would not be able to remain such a viable point in the production chain,” stated Sutphin.

The Southwest Bull Test Open House is scheduled for Sunday, March 22nd from noon until 4:00 PM at Hillwinds Farm. The Southwest Bull Test Sale is set for Saturday, March 28th in Wytheville, beginning at Noon. We hope to see all of you there.

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