How’d they sell? Breeders recap the spring bull sale season |

How’d they sell? Breeders recap the spring bull sale season

Heather Hamilton
for Tri-State Livestock News
Following the challenges of the last year, many registered producers were concerned going into the bull sale season. However, when the final bid rang in, breeders said they felt very blessed with the results, and are thankful for their quality customers and the optimism of the farming and ranching community in general. Photo by Heather Hamilton

With reduced cow numbers, a dry 2012 and customers questioning how many cattle they will be running in 2013, seedstock producers in the Tri-State region faced many uncertainties going into their spring sales. However, they said that through adjustments to management and exceptional customers, they weathered the year surprisingly well.

Selling registered Angus bulls into northeastern Wyoming, southeastern Montana and southwestern North Dakota since 1972, Mangen Angus said that while their average was down slightly from 2012, their loyal customers turned out as usual to bid on the 162 bulls they offered this spring.

“Our sale was pretty comparable to the last few years. We have a strong customer base, and put a huge emphasis on customer service and on our bulls through our unconditional one year guarantee, and people respond to that,” explained Mary Alice Mangen of the philosophy that helped the Mangen’s survive and thrive for generations.

The family has cut back on the number of bulls they sold, both in 2013 and 2012. Mary Alice noted that was both in response to the high steer calf prices in the fall, and the logical response to there being fewer cattle in production.

“I always feel pretty humbled and am thankful to the people who show an interest in our cattle and come to our sale. This is a fun business – the farmer and rancher is a very optimistic breed, and they’ll tell you there’s always next year, it rains after every drought, it will get wet again and grow grass and be good.”
Jon Millar, Millar Angus

“We usually have about 200 bulls, but the prices were high last fall so we castrated a few more and just kept the very top end to sell as bulls – that just seemed logical when looking at the whole picture,” commented Mary Alice.

Of the bulls sold, the Payweight-bred bulls were by far the most popular. Heifer bulls were a little down from recent years, but Mary Alice noted that the top end sold as strong as always.

“Many of our customers are repeat buyers, and hard-core ranchers that muddle through the bad times and enjoy the good ones. We’re very thankful to have them, and for our volume customers for their optimism going forward,” added Mary Alice.

In Lusk, WY, relatively new seedstock producers WEBO Angus hosted their 6th sale this spring, and said that while the year has been challenging in various ways, they too are very grateful for their customer’s dedication to their relatively young program.

“We always call our customers prior to the sale, and several told us at that time they had already sold over half their cows, and that things were looking pretty bad for the other half without any moisture. They just weren’t in the market for any bulls, which was concerning. But, when it was all said and done we turned 13 bulls back of the 75 we had for sale, and our average was down slightly from previous sales,” explained Buttons York of how WEBO’s sale fared, adding that when looking at the big picture in eastern Wyoming and western Nebraska, she was thankful with the results.

Buttons and Waldon York began raising registered cattle recently, but her family has been in the commercial business for generations. She said the commercial management of their registered herd is a key part of their fast success in the bull sale world.

“They don’t get any favors, and we feel it’s important to give our registered cows the chance to fail in our ranching environment for the benefit of our customer, whose cows must survive in that same environment. One thing we noticed in this drought is that our females that were more linebred for low birthweights, those that throw 65 pound calves, and who were particularly feminine and frail-built fell apart last year and didn’t breed back. We strive to keep birthweights in moderation, but also maintain the vigor and performance necessary, and seeing how those cows fared just reinforced that mindset,” she explained.

That idea is clearly shared by WEBO’s customers, who kept heifer bull prices high throughout this year’s sale. Button’s noted that of everything, the heifer bulls stood out as selling particularly well. In addition to their program, she said this was also due in part to many producers selling old cows and keeping heifers with the idea that they will eat less grass and be the most current genetics on their operations.

“Another thing we have heard is that people in our area are very concerned that they couldn’t buy back what they sold, and they are striving to keep their genetics in place. It can be very hard for cattle to adapt to this area, and we are very appreciative to our customers for including us in the genetics they want to keep,” said Buttons.

Jon and Breezy Millar of Millar Angus, based in Sturgis, SD, also saw a reduced sale average, but said they feel very blessed to have sold all their bulls this year, despite many long-time customers not needing them due to decreased cow numbers.

“We had several customers up in the air on if they were keeping their cows, and who didn’t need bulls. So, we tried to branch out and target a larger area this year, and we sold more bulls into eastern South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and clear into southern Nebraska,” explained Jon of the adjustment the program made to maintain their viability.

One highlight was their new herdsire, Tombstone, who was purchased through the Midland Bull Test.

“We had our first calf crop out of him in the sale, and they were our top sire group. There were about 20 of them, and they had a lot of interest and drew a little extra crowd – that helped a lot in my opinion,” noted Jon.

He also stated that his reduced average came from the lower end of his bulls bringing significantly less than last year, adding that the top end was equal or above 2012 prices. This follows a trend he has heard many customers discuss.

“What I’m hearing from my customers is that if they have to cut back on cow numbers in general, they want to beef up their bull power and try to maximize the performance in those calves. Their plan was to buy better bulls and get more quality while they have a reduced quantity,” he explained.

Just as the commercial producer is hanging tough this spring, the registered folks are planning to do the same.

“I always feel pretty humbled and am thankful to the people who show an interest in our cattle and come to our sale. This is a fun business – the farmer and rancher is a very optimistic breed, and they’ll tell you there’s always next year, it rains after every drought, it will get wet again and grow grass and be good,” concluded Jon with agreement from Buttons and Mary Alice.

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