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Virginia Cooperative Extension - Knowledge for the CommonWealth

A Southwest Bull Buyers’ Insight

Livestock Update, March 2009

Joi Saville, Beef Extension Associate, VA Tech

The Virginia Beef Cattle Improvement Association has served the needs of the Virginia Cattle Industry for over 50 years through the coordination of the Central Bull Test Program in the state. On March 28, the 30th Annual Southwest Virginia Bull Sale will be hosted at the former Umberger Sale Facility in Wytheville, VA.

Through input from bull buyers, BCIA has made several enhancements to the bull development and marketing program including semen testing all Senior bulls, offering volume buyer discounts, and expanding the guarantee for all bulls purchased. The strong relationship between seedstock suppliers and cow-calf producers form the strong foundation of the BCIA bull testing program.

A few commercial cattlemen provided the following thoughts regarding the BCIA Bull Tests

Bobby and Martha Jackson of Draper, Virginia, have been in the cattle business for over 20 years. “It started with our father-in-law, and then my husband inherited the farm, and we have just kept farming all these years,” stated Ms. Jackson.

When they inherited the farm, they started with 150 “garden variety” type cattle. Since, they have grown to over 300 Angus-based brood cows and seven registered Angus bulls for breeding.

“We are real proud of the Southwest Bull Test Station,” continued Ms. Jackson, “It helps to support the local producers in the area.”

Ms. Jackson explained that they have bought bulls from the Southwest Bull Test Station because they are raised from local producers, and they like to support them. “When you find something that works, you just have to stick to it,” she explained, and that is exactly what they do.

In addition to buying local bulls, they like to help support other local producers, as well, when they buy their replacement heifers for the herd.

Bobby and Martha, along with their farm help, Billy Dunford, currently farm over 1,000 acres in 3 different locations. With hopes of someday passing the farm down to future generations, the Jackson’s have taken great steps to protect their land and water resources. They took the initiative to fence out all the creeks on their properties and install waterers, and in 2004, Bobby and Martha Jackson received the Clean Water Award for Southwest Virginia. In addition, 500 acres of their farm in Max Meadows was placed into a Conservation Easement.

The Jackson’s take a lot of pride in both their farm and their animals, and look to the Southwest Bull Test Station Sale as both an educational and buying experience. “As a former school counselor, I could look at the information provided to us from the bulls and compare it to test scores on students,” stated Ms. Jackson. “We sell all of our calves at weaning, so we look at the bulls on paper first and judge them on four criteria.”

These four criteria, which include calving ease, birth weights, weaning weights and frame scores, have helped the Jackson’s get where they have wanted in the industry. “We take a lot of pride in what our calves look like when they get off the trailer. We want them all to look uniform, and our bull selection and BCIA has helped us get there,” continued Jackson.

Ms. Jackson explained that she bookmarks the BCIA web site page because it provides valuable information, especially for her. In addition, this gives the Jackson’s a way to “keep up” with the bulls as they progress on the test.

“We, my husband and I, turn the bull selection into a little game,” she explained. “We each take the off-test reports and separately choose 10 bulls that we think will fit into our herd. Most of the time we are pretty close to selecting the same bulls, and most of the time, they end up being the highest selling bulls in the sale.”

In addition to reading the information available to them, they felt like the BCIA Bull Test was becoming more quality oriented. “We have never had any problems with the bulls that we have bought, however, I think the new guarantees are very helpful,” Jackson stated. “The new guarantees just add more value to those bulls.”

By taking great pride in their cattle, land, and local community, Bobby, Martha and Billy enjoy coming to the Southwest BCIA Bull Test Sale and supporting the local consignors, as well as continuing to maintain and improve their cow herd.

At the young age of 6, Jason Semones started his life in the cow business with one Hereford heifer. Now, with the help of his dad and uncle, they currently run about 250 Angus and Angus/Gelbvieh cross cows, as well as keeping about 15 - 20 breeding bulls at all times.

“Beef cattle are something I have always enjoyed working with and is a stress relief from the retail store business that our family operates,” Semones stated.

“We have made many genetic strides in our cowherd over the last 30 years,” he continued, “although a lot of it has been trial and error.”

By aiming for calves that are moderate size at birth and fast growers, Semones has focused on improving carcass characteristics as well. In the last 10 years, Semones has begun to keep about half of his calf crop for retained ownership. At the same time, they have tried to decrease the mature size of their cows.

“Having an efficient keeping cow is very important in this day and time,” Semones added.

With these goals in mind, Semones has focused on buying BCIA bulls since 1974. “It allows us to see if the bulls perform u p to their genetic potential in a feedlot type of environment,” he explained. To Semones, this is an indication of how their progeny might perform in the feedlot.

In addition, Semones added that they know up front at the BCIA Bull Test Sales, that only 2/3’s of the top performers are the ones offered for sale, which adds to the value of those bulls available.

In addition to the data that is available to buyers, Semones feels that the bull test sales allow a buyer to shop from a variety of seedstock producers in one location. “It makes it easy to find the traits that you are looking for in a herd, all in one place,” Semones explained.

By adding some of the new guarantees and changes to the BCIA Bull Test Sales, Semones feels that BCIA is becoming more customer-service oriented, and will allow them to compete against the larger seedstock operations that have their own bull sales.

Jason, along with his dad and uncle, have looked to the BCIA Test Station programs to find bulls that will fit in their operation. From good growth to carcass characteristics, the Semones continue to make genetic strides in their operations, so that they know the cattle they produce will perform just as well as the bulls they have purchased.

Down in Lebanon, Virginia, Phillip Bundy, along with his wife, Sue, and children, Emily and Will, of Bundy Farm use EPDs and genetic information to grow their cow herd.

In 1993, Phillip began farming with 42 bred heifers and some stocker cattle. “My first year, we were weaning calves that averaged around 400 lbs,” stated Bundy. “Now we are weaning calves over 600 lbs.”

Phillip credits a lot of this improvement to his herd to the BCIA Bull Test Stations. “You get a lot of information, like EPD’s, and that helps to make a decision on what you are buying,” he continued.

By keeping most of his replacements, Phillip has grown his herd to a 260 commercial cow herd, as well as 9 – 10 service age bulls. “The BCIA Bull Test Stations provide more information and tools to look at when buying a bull, compared to many other sources,” declared Bundy. “These tools, in addition to the close proximity of the sale, are why we choose the BCIA Southwest Bull Test Sale.”

“We don’t like to over-stress our young bulls, that is why we keep so many and only buy 1 or 2 each year to rotate into the herd,” explained Bundy. “So far, we haven’t had any problems with our bulls that way.”

Besides the unbiased information provided to all the buyers, Phillip feels that the added guarantees are just a way to strengthen the program and add more value to the bulls. “It provides one more step in the bull buying process that producers do not have to worry about,” he continued.

Phillip, Sue, Emily and Will have used BCIA Bull Test bulls to grow and improve their cow-herd performance. They attribute a lot to the information provided on those bulls, as well as the added guarantees.

“Farming is an honest way of making a living,” explains Malcolm Boothe “It can be challenging, frustrating, and rewarding.”

Boothe, along with his wife, Debby, and daughters, B.J. and Lacey Ann, use that philosophy on their 4th generation farm in Pulaski, Virginia. Boothe’s Longview Farm has been a part of Malcolm’s whole life, and he doesn’t see that changing. It began when he was 12, with the death of his father, Malcolm and his mother decided to keep farming a part of the family. Starting with the 42 Angus/Shorthorn crosses they looked for a way to make the cows more productive and grow their cow herd.

“We are constantly striving to make our cows more productive,” Boothe explained, “I am trying to get more pounds produced off the same acres that we had when we started, and that is where the BCIA Bull Test Sales come in the picture.”

Using careful selections of a combined package for growth and calving ease, Boothe adds maternal characteristics to grow his herd to its current size of 200 cows.

“The Bull Test allows you to see how select bulls from a group of producers perform against other bulls and other breeds,” Boothe continued. “The bulls compete against each other and it gives buyers an opportunity to see how they compare.”

Boothe looks for that combined package of growth and calving ease, while keeping in mind that his replacement heifers have to have those maternal traits as well. “I am trying to sell my heifers to help others improve their herds as well,” stated Boothe.

When it comes to sale time, Boothe says that he goes to the BCIA Bull Test Sales with total confidence. “The BCIA Bull Test Program has a long standing reputation. I have only had 1 problem in my history of buying bulls and the buyer stood behind the bull 100%,” he continued.

Boothe recognizes that he is buying the best that the BCIA Bull Tests have to offer, in addition to the well-known management program. “These bulls have not been ‘baby-sat’,” Boothe explained. “They have had to perform in the real world against other bulls, and they are ready for the real world of breeding when they sell.”

Boothe also likes the added value of having the Senior bulls fully evaluated for breeding soundness. “It is one less thing that I have to worry about prior to breeding season,” he continued. Like most producers, Boothe uses his bulls that he buys for his spring calving herd, and they are put with cows shortly after they are bought. Consequently, the breeding soundness exam eliminates many potential problems that the bulls might have right off.

By constantly striving to make their cows more profitable, Malcolm, Debby, B.J. and Lacey Ann, look toward the BCIA Test Station sales to choose the right bulls for their operation. By combining certain traits and characteristics, the Boothe’s continue to not only improve their herd, but help in improving other herds through the offspring.

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