Anyone who’s bought cattle from BRC knows that honesty and transparency is a big part of our sales process here at the ranch. In fact, lots of times we’ll tell prospective customers what’s WRONG with the cattle before we talk about what we like.
But, sadly, often we get a calls from breeders in some sort of pickle in the cattle business. They’re asking if what they are experiencing is “normal” and most of the time, it isn’t normal at all. And while we don’t comment on what you might experience with other ranches, we CAN tell you what you can experience with us: honesty, fair pricing, transparency, and accuracy.
But, after talking with lots of breeders, and ways they’ve gotten ‘burned,’ we have put together this list of things to consider BEFORE you buy cattle.
1. The Base Value – While purebred seedstock tend to have a higher value than commercial cattle, there are still some basic principles to consider.
A good rule of thumb is that you should be able to see a return on investment through selling four to six calves. So, if your embryo calves average $5,000 – theoretically your budget for a replacement donor might be $30,000.
Then, there’s that little “unknown” valuation which we’ve described as “The Fascination Factor.” This is the part you can’t put a price on. This is that feeling you get when a certain calf walks right up to you in the pasture and licks you. Or, the feeling you get when your child walks into the ring that first time with a show calf. Or, the pride you get when you have that amazing Brahman bull grazing in your front pasture. I’ve been offered over $500,000 for Boom Shaka Laka, and that answer was a firm “No.” But, even using that rationale, that’s a pretty fair valuation. Her first daughter sold for $80,000 and won Grand at Houston. She has produced Dutton, Boombox, Boomtown, Rip, YetiStone, (that’s 5 AI sires for us) along with bulls that are AI sires for other breeders like Boomer and Big Boom. So even though that half-a-million figure seems insanely high, when you look at what she did in her first flush, it’s actually not that insane.
Do your math when you’re making investments in cattle. And, if there’s something that captures your eye, and your heart (that fascination factor) – realize there are some things you just can’t put a price tag on.
2. Their Age – Brahman cattle are in extremely high demand, and for that reason, it’s pretty rate to find 3-4 year old Brahman cows for sale. Which means, you’re investing in your future donors when they are 6 months old in some cases. And, it can be hard to visualize what that 6 month old heifer will look like when she’s 3 years old. We get that. You have to take that into consideration. Investing in proven pedigrees can help you have confidence in how the calves will turn out. It is also helpful if you can look at the sire and dam, and any full sibs too. This will help give you a good indication of what the genetics can do.
3. The Investment in Developing Them – Along with buying younger cattle, this means you will have a little time and expense in developing them. If you decide to show, that investment will be likely 5x the cost of developing one simply in a grass pasture or non-show development program. With a bag of feed costing sometimes $15 each, you have to realize that you will have some extra expenses that go into developing the animals.
Similarly, if you’re purchasing an AI sire, realize you will have up front semen collection costs before you can start seeing a return on investment. And, a semen sire may generate royalties for a ten year period. So, keep these timelines in mind.
4. Future of the Genetics – The key here is FUTURE marketability of the genetics. Not the current marketability. Because, truthfully this is where a lot of inexperienced buyers can get caught up in hype and get burned.
Think about the time frame for when you will be marketing YOUR genetics. If you buy a weaned heifer, you’re going to be marketing her calves 3 years down the road. If you buy a flush or donor, it’s still going to be at least a year down the road if not more.
Then, think about where this animal is on their “bell curve” of popularity. Every AI sire and donor has a bell curve associated with where they are in marketability. For example, a young bull like Dutton or Captain is just starting his rise in popularity. Noble, while he’s been on the market for years, is still growing in popularity because he is continually siring champions and winners around the world. But, bulls that have been on the market for 8 to 10 years, may be on the decline of their use, because over time, the genetics are pretty widely out there, and newer, better bulls have been produced.
However, just because a bull is old doesn’t mean he doesn’t have marketability. In fact, sometimes older bulls can be even MORE marketable because their genetics may be limited. For example, bulls like 259 and 279 are deceased – so there’s no more semen. These genetics would be more valuable over time because it’s harder to get. Think about the market climate in three years, and where your animal will fit into the marketplace.
5. Expectations vs. Reality – With a lot of buyers buying off photo and video, and in online sales, this is another area where inexperienced buyers can somewhat fall victim to scammers in the business. First of all, we always like to picture our cattle where preferably their brand, or at minimum their ear tag, is clearly visible. This way people can clearly see the animal’s identification and be confident they understand what they are buying. If an animal has distinguishing marks, – like a red spot on one side – or something like that, make sure to photograph the animal on the side that depicts this so the buyer is fully aware. If at all possible, we recommend visiting ranches in person to visually look at cattle. Or, if you can’t do that, send a trusted friend to the ranch to look.
If you are ever interested in our cattle, but can’ t make the trip, we have a team of several outside cattle evaluators we can recommend to you who are willing to travel here and give you an un-biased opinion of the cattle. These are people who we do trust and have confidence in their eye for cattle – but ultimately they are working for YOU, not for us. We are happy to pass along their information. If you can’t have someone see the cattle in person, video is the next preferred method of looking at the cattle, or finally a photo only. However, we have little faith in photos only, because a lot of people do a lot of photoshopping. We don’t. But we know a lot who do.
6. Overall Quality and Breed Character of the Animal – Again, if you’re new to the breed, this is an area you might not know about. I’m talking split noses, poor pigment, small humps, poor overall quality, cow headed bulls, structure issues, bad feet disguised by hoof trimming, etc. So, you might have a seller tell you “Oh yes, a pink nose on a Brahman is totally rare and really cool!” when in fact, it’s a disqualification issue from the registry. This is where again, a trusted advisor can be of assistance. There are a handful of “wolves” out there who purposely seek out, and prey on a customer base that is new in the cattle business because they may be inexperienced or too gullible to recognize true quality (or lack thereof) in the animals they purchased.
7. Past Buyers from The Seller / Longevity of Customer Relationships– Integrity of the seller is always something people advise you to look at, but truthfully, most people aren’t going to openly announce to Facebook when they got “burned” by someone in the business. Because it’s embarassing! So, what happens is, people learn their lesson and quietly move on to doing business with other reputable breeders. And, the questionable sellers just keep a revolving door of the current hot new customer and the scheme just goes on and on.
But again, how do you know this if you’re new in the business?
One thing I like to suggest is to reference The Brahman Journal. You can buy an online subscription and view all the issues back to the beginning of it’s publish date. So, pick a random date 5 years ago. Look through that magazine and three or four other issues of that year. Then, pick up the most recent Brahman Journal and look through it.
What ranches that were hot and heavy 5 years ago now suddenly don’t exist? Who was their supplier? Why did they get in and out so fast? Or, if the “new” ranches from 5 years ago are still in business and if so, look at who’s been their mentor. Are they using the same genetic supplier as what they ran in their very first ad or have them moved on? If you notice an older ad for a partnership animal, step back and notice if those old partners are still friends. Look at the bigger ranches and who they are running ads thanking as their “VIP” customers. Are those people still doing business together today? Or have they parted ways?
Some ranches have built a reputation of success based on good service and a consistent repeat customer base. Other ranches work on the model of having a revolving door of “new” breeders. History can be a good indicator of the customer service level and integrity of sellers.
Also, go to events. Sit back and watch how people treat others. Or, show up at the barn at 6 a.m. and see who’s out there and who shows up 10 minutes before the show starts. See how certain sellers act in the spotlight and behind the scenes. Who is real and who is putting on a front?
8. What is the future of the seller – When you buy seedstock, you’re not just buying cattle, you’re buying the people behind a brand. Where do you see the possible seller in 2 years? 5 years? 10 years? 20 years? Do you feel like this ranch is improvement mode – in a maintaining mode – or in a dwindling mode? Who are the future leaders of a ranch? What is their knowledge of the industry? Do you like the younger generation of a business?
In our experience, there are two types of seedstock programs – one that is based on a person, and one that is based on a program.
The ranch based on a person thrives on the notoriety of a certain individual, their ability to make sales, their connections to judges, their name and face recognition, and building up that individual’s image. It’s what many call a “front man” for a ranch.
The ranch that is built on a PROGRAM – like BRC – is the ranch that will be in it for the long haul. Program based operations are based on a long term vision, it’s based on the power of a team, and it’s based on constantly looking at the needs of the customer and thinking how best they can serve the customer. If you can’t get ahold of one person at a ranch right away, it’s likely that you have 2 or 3 other contacts from that ranch that can easily answer your question.
When you buy cattle from a program, you’re getting a team of draft horses who are going to help you carry the load, help you grow your business, and help you build your dreams in the cattle business.
9. Ownership Terms and Partnerships – When you’re buying high end cattle, a lot of times a seller will want to retain some sort of stake in the animal. For example, they may retain a flush. Or, they may only want to sell a percentage interest (half interest). A partnership isn’t anything to worry about, because they are quite common. Generally speaking, I want to keep some sort of interest in the very best animals I produce. If you look at our AI sires, most every one is owned with another partner. We love doing partnerships because it helps our genetics get out into other breeders herds, and we love helping our customers make a return on their investment. And, we love building long term relationships with breeders.
But, if you’re buying some sort of partnership, what you do need to do is make sure that you understand what you’re getting into. Make sure all expectations are clearly outlined and discussed.
For example, let’s say a ranch wants to sell you half interest in an animal, but they don’t want to transfer the papers to you as a multiple owner. First, a registration paper is your title of ownership. If you own an animal, it should be in your name. Second, how do you know that the seller hasn’t sold 5 other “half interests” in the animal to other people that they also have not transferred the ownership interest to? And none of you know about each other as partners? Without your name as an owner, you have no rights to register calves by that animal. You have no proof of ownership.
Then, there’s the mysterious “freak accidental death of an animal” only to find out that animal was actually re-sold and shipped out of the country. Or, the “shared flush” scenario. When you call to find out how the cow did in the flush, they tell you she didn’t work. Maybe they even try to sell you some frozen embryos because you had your recips ready and you don’t want them to go to waste. Then, a year later, they have 5 calves out of the cow and you have none. But, I thought the cow didn’t work?
For this reason, we enjoy working with professional embryo transfer partners like TransOva or semen firms like Elgin Breeding Service or Brushy Creek. It’s super easy to carry the animal to TransOva or a semen collection center, list all the owners in their system, and let them handle the rest. They handle all the record keeping, give you an official report on the number of embryos, number of units produced, the number of pregnancies, etc. Everything is in full transparency and split in according to the % ownership of the partnership. Again, having a professional third party can be helpful to keep everyone on the same page.
There are lots of good ones out there.
While we have discussed a few possible options to think about, we do want to point out that there are so many great people in the cattle business. Truthfully, there’s never more than 2-3-4 “bad apples” within any breed. Most all of the breeders you come into contact with are trustworthy, kind, humble, and truly want their customers to success. BRC is one of those. And, the people we proudly call our “friends” in the cattle business – many of whom we share a lot on our Facebook and Instagrams – are the good ones too.
If we can help you in any way, don’t ever hesitate to reach out to us. We are here at your service!