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Technology tools for purchasing cattle

Photo by Heather Hamilton"Some guys say they're not going to buy over the Internet because if they're going to spend $3,000-$5,000 on a bull, they want to see him and look at all of them and buy the one they like best. Others enjoy having so many more sales available through the television or Internet, and are comfortable watching and bidding that way," says auctioneer Lex Madden on the different mindsets regarding the various ways to purchase bulls in today's seedstock marketplace.

Purchasing bulls in today’s world is vastly different than it was a few decades ago, or is it? As the average age of producers continues to increase, some gladly incorporate every tool made available when purchasing livestock, while others improve their herds with tried-and-true selection methods used for generations.

“The biggest change I’ve seen in the last 5-8 years is advances in technology. It’s about like going back to school there’s so much information available on bulls today, and ways to find that information. With the evolution of [expected progeny differences, EPDs] and other forms of technology there is significantly more studying for the rancher, but, he also has a lot more to work with. Then, of course, he still has to figure in budget and if the bull will fit his operation. People of all ages use those tools, and some customers also say they’ve never owned a computer, and don’t want one now,” notes Torrington Livestock Auction and Cattle Country Video co-owner and auctioneer Lex Madden of what bull buyers have available today.

“We use all the information and tools we can for our program. I think it’s getting easier and easier to purchase bulls and breed the type of cattle that will work for you and the people you’re marketing them to. Anything that gives us more information is good,” comments Lance Creek, WY rancher Monty Finley of his approach to all the information available on bulls today.



“I get on the Internet and go to the Angus Sire Directory, and try to go back in a bull’s pedigree and see how the females in his pedigree bred back, where their milk EPD is at, what traits the sires in his pedigree were known for, and anything else I’m interested in,” continues Finley of the research he conducts when considering a bull purchase.

“I like to keep milk at about breed average, and on the rest of the EPD traits I like to select bulls that are a little above average, especially on scrotal circumference and ribeye area (REA). If there are 100 bulls in a sale, I’ll probably have eliminated 75 of them prior to showing up through research and selecting for various traits. Then I look at those remaining bulls and further narrow my selection based on eye appeal and structural correctness. I have a real good idea of what I’m going to buy if the price fits my budget before the sale even starts, and that’s a huge change from how I used to do things,” notes Finley of his approach to bull buying today.



He adds that he has also purchased several of his bulls off the Internet in recent years. He picks them based on the same criteria, and then uses those prices and bulls as a comparison tool when he does attend a live sale.

“With the Internet and some production sales being on TV, you get to see so much more of what’s out there in terms of purebred livestock, and we’re very blessed to have the quality of cattle we have in the Plains and Rocky Mountain regions. Those people have survived until now by treating their customers right and giving them the product they want, and buyers do business with who they trust and have a relationship with. They will sometimes call those breeders directly and tell them what they want, and put an order in to buy however many bulls they need,” notes Madden of additional ways to make a bull purchase.

Morece Dillon of Sundance, WY, is a producer who relies on the relationships he’s created with seedstock producers, and a good eye, to make his bull purchases each year.

“When I’ve bought bulls in the last several years, I did look at EPD numbers, but it certainly wasn’t very in-depth. They tell you all this new stuff you have to do, but the old-fashioned ways do still work. It may be getting harder, but they do still work. It’s about using tools that fit your program and how you were brought up. If your dad and grandfather did it a certain way, it’s harder to buy into some changes,” says Dillon of his thought process on integrating new technologies and tools into his selection methods.

Dillon has focused on buying bulls from breeders he knows, or at the Black Hills Stock Show (BHSS). He has purchased several bulls from Mt. Rushmore Angus of Rapid City, SD, in recent years, after first purchasing one of their bulls at the BHSS.

“I liked the first bull I purchased through the BHSS that was theirs, so I went to their sale,” he says of how his relationship with the program began.

“I believe in using people you know, and looking at their cowherds – not just their bulls. Look at their cows and their calves. Realizing the quality of cattle is pretty easy; it’s the problems that occur behind the scenes that you don’t see that are the ones you need to know about. I would say that if you buy from someone you trust and that is reputable, you can probably get those facts from him without having to be a master of numbers. Talk to the breeder about things like calving ease, and he will probably level with you, because he won’t last long by giving out false information,” explains Dillon.

“You either have a good eye, or you don’t. If you have an eye for cattle and know what you want, you can look at some of the basic, crucial numbers and the cattle themselves, and make it work,” he continues on the subject of what tools he relies on for selecting quality bulls.

“The modern numbers are a huge part of what has changed the cattle business, and probably for the better. But a lot of that technology is stuff I turn a cold shoulder too, and lots of older ranchers feel the same way. That doesn’t mean that’s a good thing, it just means that’s that way we are. Science definitely has a place, but a lot still comes down to eye, and what you like, and what you want to see in your cattle,” Dillon states.

“Our seedstock producers have done an excellent job of rising to the top of the technology challenge in recent years,” notes Madden. “They are providing that information to customers, and also hitting niches like high-elevation, calving ease or carcass-oriented programs, and that’s a big change from 20 years ago. But these people have survived in the purebred business by treating their customers right and giving them the product they want, and people of all ages always appreciate that.”


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