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I was recently asked to speak to the Casper Chamber of Commerce “Leadership Casper” class during their Agriculture day. I had the pleasure of speaking at the same event last year and really enjoyed it. I tried to keep my presentation simple and straightforward both times. Last year, I walked the class through a flow chart following the cattle cycle from the cow-calf producer to consumers. I then explained why beef prices had gone up in the grocery stores and figures showing that cattle producers were still not getting rich because their input costs had also gone up. I concluded with a general, “Hoorah!,” please-don’t-forget-those-of-us-involved-in-agriculture-have-to-feed-the-growing-world, go-hug-a-farmer type finale to my presentation. I thought it went well. After I was done the class had a number of questions, and we had what I felt was a good discussion. Overall I thought the class enjoyed my presentation.

This year I followed much the same strategy – a cattle cycle flow chart followed by Natrona County agricultural statistics that would give the class an idea of the impact of agriculture and the cattle business here locally. I concluded with the same “Hoorah!” ending. What followed was not the same friendly questions and discussion that occurred last year. 

It all started innocently enough with a question about where grassfed beef fit into my cattle cycle flow chart, which led to further discussion of grassfed beef and natural versus organic. Then it happened, seemingly out of nowhere – she struck me like a cow kicking a gate – I get lambasted with a question or accusation, I am not really sure which, regarding what one young lady felt was the cold hard truth – that our industry in general, and at the time it felt like maybe even me in particular, was having an unprecedented negative impact on society at large by unjustly treating food animals with hormones and antibiotics. 

Looking back now, I know I needed to have facts, figures and a well thought out argument to even attempt to address her deeply held opinions on the matter. I should have tactfully and respectfully tried to side step the issue, maybe even referring her to experts who might be able to offer concrete facts to dispel what I personally believe to be lies spewed out by the various anti-agriculture acronyms. 

Me being me – stubborn and somewhat hard headed – I instead just tucked my chin and charged right out into the middle of the minefield. It is all kind of a blur from there. My response was filled with hastily recalled facts that I tried to muster into a coherent argument, which I fear failed to even make a dent in her strong beliefs on the matter.

In the end they did applaud me for my presentation, but I can assure you that in the future I will be more prepared to handle these kinds of topics, if I ever have the opportunity to address a similar group. 

I don’t know if any of you have had similar experiences, but I caution you to be ready to address these kinds of topics when you are addressing the general public, regardless of what you are planning to talk about.  Hopefully, if you get ambushed the way I did, you will be prepared to defend our industry.

See you down the road,

Curt

I have had the opportunity to attend several bull sales already this year, and to visit with a number of people along the way. In the course of our conversations, everyone continues to ask me: What will the cattle market do?
    While I, by no means, consider myself a cattle market expert, I do interact, on a weekly basis with those whom I consider to be just that. The honest answer they keep giving me to that question is that they just don’t know. The crystal ball is foggy right now, so until the picture clears up we are forced to live in the present, which, if you are a cow/calf producer, the present isn’t a bad place to be – $1,000-plus calves, and all!
    Around this time last year I wrote a column and shared the observation that it appeared to me that bull buyers were willing to pay extra for what they considered to be high quality bulls, but they had no desire to even bid on bulls that weren’t exactly what they wanted. This year I am seeing the same thing, but the demand for the high quality bulls has just exploded beyond what it was at that time.
    Without many exceptions, any structurally correct bull with moderate to light birth weight, coupled with above average performance and eye appeal, has been bringing $5,000 to $7,000-plus. This fact means that bull sales have been averaging in the neighborhood of $1,000 more this year than last. I know that, for many of you who need to buy bulls this year, this is not welcome news.
    I do have one other observation that may help ease your minds a little. Over the past couple of weeks I have been able to evaluate around 1,200 head of bulls between the herd visits I’ve made and bull sales I’ve attended. From this I have noticed that the percentage of bulls available, and that match the description I just gave, has really increased over the past number of years. It seems to me that the consistency of high quality bulls just keeps getting better and better every year. At many of the stops I make these days, it has come to the point where I note the couple of bulls that have a few flaws, because the majority of the group is just flat out good.
    Not everybody has the same criteria when it comes to selecting bulls. If they did, it would make for rather short bulls sales. Understanding this, I am doing a lot of generalizing, but I hope you have all noticed this same trend in bull quality as I have. It is good to know that there are a large number of bulls available today that will allow you to improve your calf crops over the coming years.
    When you break it down and each extra pound of calf you market has the possibility of making you upwards of two dollars, depending on the weight of your calves at market time, having access to these kind of genetics en masse is a good thing, even though they cost you more now than in years past.
See you down the road,
Curt

After thinking all day, that is all I can say about the start of the 2011 bull sale season.     

It’s still early in the year, but without exception every bull sale that I have been to has had larger crowds than past years, and they haven’t been coming for the free lunch. They are there to buy, and they’re willing to pay for quality, calving ease and performance.

Bulls are averaging from $500 to $1,000 more than last year, and don’t seem to be cheapening up any as we get further into to sale season. It is completely understandable, considering the cattle market could hold this spring and into the summer, and at fall calf sales a live weaned calf could bring in the neighborhood of $750 to $800 or more per head. That is a nice neighborhood I think we’d all like to live in.

The commercial female market is just as wild. I don’t know if you’ve tried to buy bred cows this winter, but I know at least some of you are, because I am, and most times when I call on a group of cows they’re already sold. The guy on the other end of the phone always talks like he was paid exactly what he asked for his cows, too. An auctioneer friend put it like this: “When I’m selling bred cows I don’t even think they’re listening to what I’m asking for, they just want them, so they bid.” He was kidding, but optimism is definitely in the air and economists predict these price levels to remain for the foreseeable future. Once again, I’m left sitting here shaking my head and saying, “WOW!”

I would like to take this opportunity to invite you to visit the Roundup’s website wylr.net and my “Ramblings from the Road” section. The Roundup staff has grown tired of me returning from a long bull sale road trip and walking around the office rambling about random things I’ve picked up along the way. In most cases these outbursts contain thoughts, ideas and facts that have no bearing on, well, anything really, and in most cases contain a plethora of unrelated topics. The staff hopes you will help share the burden as my audience, thus helping them avoid my meager attempts to enlighten and enrich their lives. It will be on the website within the next few weeks, and I will update it as often as I can. It goes against my better judgment to give advice unless asked directly, so I will warn you going in: you will get what you pay for, and access to our website is free.

I am excited to have this opportunity, because one of the things I enjoy most about my job is getting to know all of you and visiting with you about what is on your mind. If you see me at a bull sale, gas station, restaurant or anywhere in between, please say hello. As you can tell by the bull sale ads in the paper this week, I will be traveling to many sales in the upcoming months. I also invite you to get in touch with me if I can aid you in finding a breeding program to fit your seedstock needs, or if you need someone to represent you at a sale. I am more than happy to assist you in any way I can – just let me know.

Until next time,
Curt