Winter Cattle Journal 2020: Topp notch Herefords
It is said people buy from people.
At Topp Herefords in Grace City, N.D., the customer service and value-added programs that go along with their superior genetics make these purebred breeders rise above the pack. Prominent sire groups in the Topp catalog include Pioneer, Start Me Up, Playbook and Due North – but it’s the people behind the great genetics of these red and white cattle that make the operation flourish.
Ryan Topp, owner of the business along with his wife, Prairie, is quick to point out that Topp Herefords “was not made by Ryan and Prairie – it’s a team effort.” Every person has their own responsibilities, including the Topps’ children: Lauren, Mariah and Logan, and longtime employees Keith Herberg and Riley Ehlers. Ryan grew up in the ranching business; his father started Topp Herefords in the 1960s. After he died the herd was dispersed in 1984. Ryan restarted the Hereford breeding program in 1988. Prairie went to work fulltime on the ranch after leaving a career in international ag marketing, and runs the office and handles recordkeeping and customer service. “We are a really good team,” says Prairie. The kids all have their own cattle and between school activities are involved in the day-to-day work as well. “We are very much a family-run operation,” say Ryan. “I don’t believe in micromanaging, and we work together as a team to make it happen.”
The Topps say their true niche in the purebred world is working to develop genetics that bring money to the commercial cattleman. They have honed in on those necessary traits by following progeny through the feedlots, collecting data, and most importantly, working hand-in-hand with their commercial clients after the sale.
“We keep our pulse on industry demands; our guide is what the commercial clients are wanting,” says Ryan. “We work to learn what makes them money, what costs them money, and help facilitate a product based on what their needs are.”
In many ways Topp Herefords run a calendar year like any other purebred breeders. “We calve ’em, we wean ’em, and we try and sell them for what we can,” says Ryan. They calve in January to February with a first season, and have added a second calving season in May and June with the goal of being half and half. Their 2020 sale will be their first offering of 20-month bulls, along with their traditional yearling bulls. Topp’s production sale is the second Friday in February, held on the ranch. Last year they sold 150 bulls, 25 open heifers and 10 bred heifers. The night before the sale the Topps hold a Cattlemen’s Banquet to offer informational sessions and roundtable discussion on their customer service programs – an extra opportunity to add value to a genetics purchase.
However, the sale is just one day out of the year for the Topps. “I like to say that for 364 days we work for you and on day 365 you buy your bull,” says Ryan.
Those other 364 days include intensive investment in their clients through two value-added programs: facilitating feedlot calf sales through an alliance of feedlots, and selling Angus replacement heifers with partner Ellingson Angus of Mandan, N.D..
The Topps work with four feedlots to help place their calves. “We take a business approach to marketing their product, and help them take control of their profitability by providing options to sell their feeder cattle,” says Ryan. He says some of their clients contract calves before they’re even born, and when the calves are weaned and ready to ship, the Topps go help sort and load out.
“This marketing plan opens up so many options for our clients, and allows them to capitalize at a market they feel profitable at,” he says. The Topps also work closely with a packing company to facilitate the sale of the cattle on the meat end, allowing them to add value to their genetics through the entire chain.
The heifer program Topp Herefords offers gives clients the opportunity to sell their F1 baldy calves and buy back purebred heifers the next fall. Topp Herefords partners with buyers to provide premium bids for replacement quality open heifer calves in the fall, and facilitates the sale of the top 60 to 70 percent of their customers’ calf crop. The next fall the customer can buy purebred Angus heifers bred to Hereford bulls, due within 10 days of when they want to calve.
“Providing the purebred female replacement option allows our customers to crossbreed 100 percent of their cattle and also receive steer prices for their heifer calves,” says Ryan. “It’s an added advantage of marketing through Topp Herefords.”
Scott Ruland ranches with his wife and son near New Town, N.D., and has been a bull customer of Topp Herefords for 15 years. He also works with Ryan to source black females to create F1 baldy calves, which he has had repeat success selling as replacement heifers and to feeder customers for years.
“I just keep coming back – there really is a difference in working with Topps,” says Ruland. “Their genetics have excelled for our operation, but their customer service is above and beyond.” Ruland says they have seen a 50-60 pound increase in calf weaning weights through the F1 cross. He adds that in addition to offering the heifer programs, Ryan comes out to evaluate his cow herd with him and makes recommendations on which bulls he think will work. “Some people you only hear from two weeks before the sale. With these guys – and it really is all of them in a true family operation – they really work to build a relationship, not just make a sale,” says Ruland.
“Ryan builds trust, but he also works hard to maintain that trust.”
The attitude of maintaining exclusive customer relations and working to improve every day overflows into everything the Topps do.
“We do not take for granted what we have established, nor are we content with what we have,” says Ryan. “We will make our programs better, we will make our cattle better – and we will do that through our clients.”
When the entire team is pulling in the same direction, you have to look at the drivers to see the reason behind the success. For Ryan and Prairie, it’s evident that family is the driving factor, serving clients is their work, and Hereford genetics are their tools.
“This isn’t about just the business, it’s about our family,” says Prairie. “From so many perspectives – spiritual, holistic, work ethic, fun, health … it’s one of the best ways to raise kids. It just produces good human beings.”
The Topps have helped other cattle producers fulfill their goals – and they’ve also produced some very good Hereford cattle along the way.