Top Dollar Angus offers marketing options for top tier Angus calves
Mariah Weiler, a fourth generation cattle woman who operates the Upper Keyser Creek Ranch near Columbus, Mont., was tired of watching her preconditioned, top-notch Angus calves sell for the same price as the neighbors’ n average commercial calves.
“Every year, we use high-quality Angus bulls on our commercial Angus cows. We vaccinate and precondition them, and I felt we should be getting paid for the added value we were placing on our breeding program. However, every year, we would sell our calves and get the same bid as the neighbors’ mediocre calves down the road.”
Frustrated and looking to add some dollars to her calf crop, she started looking at qualifying her herd with Top Dollar Angus — a genetic certification and marketing company launched by Tom Brink in August 2014.
“I was invited to a Zoetis meeting by my veterinarian where Brink was speaking about his program, and it really got me interested in learning more about it,” said Weiler.
Brink spent 14 years in the cattle feeding business at JBS Five Rivers Cattle Feeding and ContiBeef, one of its predecessor companies. He also served as president and COO of J & F Oklahoma Holdings, Inc., the cattle ownership sister company to Five Rivers. Recently, he accepted a position with the Red Angus Association; however, Brink says Top Dollar Angus will continue to offer opportunities for cattlemen raising top tier Angus genetics.
“I’m looking forward to serving as CEO for the Red Angus Association,” said Brink. “Of course, the particulars are still in the works as I pass on some responsibilities with Top Dollar Angus, but for the company, it will be business as usual.”
Brink has taken his experiences in the cattle feeding business along with his extensive network of cattle buyers and feeders to create a window of opportunity for Angus breeders, both purebred and commercial, to capture extra dollars in the marketplace.
“Top Dollar Angus focuses exclusively on Angus and Angus-based cattle with top 25 percent growth and carcass traits,” said Brink. “I want cow-calf producers to be able to add value to their calves and earn extra premiums for their efforts, and in turn, the cattle feeder also benefits because he knows he’s buying high-quality Angus genetics. It’s win-win for both parties.”
In order to qualify, Weiler DNA-tested her replacement heifers to get an idea of whether or not her calf crop was in the top 25 percent of the breed.
“I chose to test the heifers, so I could use the information to better select my replacements,” said Weiler. “Obviously, it also gave a sampling of the quality of steers I would be selling. What really surprised me is that sometimes a heifer wouldn’t visually catch my eye, but based on the DNA results, she would actually make a good cow to keep in the herd.”
The GeneMax Advantage test, a DNA test developed by Zoetis, Certified Angus Beef and Angus Genetics, Inc., cost Weiler $44/head, and results were delivered to her within a five-week time frame. From there, certification costs $2.50-$4/head depending on volume, and an optional Top Dollar ear tag is offered to qualified producers at cost.
“Tom was so great to work with, and he explained the program every step of the way,” said Weiler. “We received an average of $55 over market price on our calves. The sign-up fees and DNA testing costs were well worth the extra dollars we gained.”
Weiner sold her calves by private treaty in early October, and she said Brink’s network of buyers helped bring premiums to her calf crop.
“Tom brought new buyers to the table that I never would have gotten in touch with otherwise,” she said. “One piece of advice I would offer other producers interested in doing this program is to DNA test early like at branding time. I waited until we preconditioned in late summer, and then I was anxiously waiting my results before I could sell. Next year, I’ll know to get an earlier start.”
Weiler uses a wide battery of proven Angus sires, but she has also raised some of her own herd bulls.
“Next year, I won’t have to DNA test everything again, but I will have to qualify my herd bulls,” added Weiler. “I’m excited to work with Top Dollar again next year.”
For Brink, marketing the top 25 percent of Angus calves just makes sense.
“After my years in the cattle feeding business, I know that these animals consistently yield well and go high Choice or Prime,” said Brink. “Cattle feeders are looking for these calves, and by identifying the high-quality calves, it benefits the cow-calf producers who go the extra mile to raise the genetics that will perform well in the feedlot.”
While Top Dollar is still a young business, Brink has already qualified calves from 10 states and has a network of 100+ buyers working for various feedlots across the Midwest.
Of course, there are some producers who don’t qualify for the program, and Brink says for most of these outfits, the cattle are only one generation away from qualifying.
“A lot of guys spend big bucks on high-end bulls, but they tend to keep a few mediocre bulls around, too,” said Brink. “Once we evaluate the registration papers on these bulls, I can advise these producers on which bulls to cull and what they can do to bring their next calf crop into the top 25 percent. It’s exciting to see producers make these changes to improve their herds, and it’s fun to see these efforts pay off with premiums on their calves.”
For Shane Spanel of Burwell, Nebraska, the proof of the added value Top Dollar Angus brought to the table was evident when he sold his qualified steers through the Burwell Livestock Auction Market this year.
“We received $52-$57 over the average market price,” said Spanel. “We didn’t have a large volume of calves, but it’s nice to be paid a premium for our emphasis on quality we place on our breeding program.”
Spanel was able to qualify his calves with Top Dollar after Brink evaluated his bull battery via the Angus registration papers.
“We use a lot of Krebs’ bulls, and it was a quick and easy process to get qualified,” said Spanel. “Tom was so great to work with. He’s very easy to talk to, and even though I’ve never met him, it felt like I was visiting with a neighbor or an old friend.”
Spanel’s purebred Angus operation has always focused on using top tier Angus genetics, and he said it was a no-brainer to market his calves through Top Dollar, so he could earn a premium on the calves.
“We will definitely be working with Top Dollar again next year,” he said.
Both Weiler and Spanel will also have the benefit of learning more information on their calves and how they perform in the feedlot. Brink provides data on the premiums of the sale and the connections made with the feedlot are beneficial to the cow-calf producer because of the information they will receive back on the calves.
Similar to someone who retains ownership, sellers through Top Dollar will receive numbers on the in weight of the calves, the out weight, days on feed, death loss, average daily gain, feed conversion, cost of gain, and average daily feed intake. Additionally, producers receive carcass results, including percent Choice or Prime, number of head qualifying for Certified Angus Beef, yield grade, and dressing percentage.
“Feedlots are more than willing to pay extra money when they know the cattle have the potential to return more dollars because of their high-end genetics,” said Brink. “On average, most of the calves sold will receive a $50 premium. This program offers an avenue for cow-calf producers raising these higher-value cattle, and allows feeders to have more information about the calves they are buying.”
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