The GREAT RECONCILIATION – Paper Cows vs. Teeth Tits & Wheels

Taken from – http://www.midlandbulltest.com/blog/

Humbled is how we come to you today; but humored as well.  We are so incredibly thankful for the beautiful illustrations of humanity that we work and walk with in this life’s business.  They are great people…the best in fact!  These folks that we admire are tenacious (or is it stubborn?), hard-working (or is it hard-headed?), convicted (or is it “strongly” opinionated?), visionary and forward thinking (unless you are looking down the road from the opposite direction; then they’re just plain backward!)  You get the picture!  These vibrant strands of humanity woven throughout our industry are as subject to perception as any other sector of humanity….and let me tell you…sometimes they really do embrace their humanity…aaahhhhum!  With that vibrant picture painted before your keenly lit eyes, I introduce you to two sectors of our industry:  the purebred/registered breeder and the commercial cattlemen.  Before I delve into the characteristics of these two sectors, I must warn you that I am going to be a bit precocious ribbing each of them as I reconcile their uniquely perceived interests into one common interest of success! (So, whichever group you belong to, please know that I intend to give you a little rub as I have a bit of fun with you!)

Introducing the purebred/registered breeder!  Our industry is truly indebted to the visionary cattlemen who are geneticists, scientists and those who have the desire to build the best bovine that has ever graced God’s green earth!  We like them round, sound and low to the ground and we like them pretty!  Nice feet, wedged just right, pretty udders, perfect angles and doe-like faces with lashes like Bambi!  These cattlemen are generally plagued with passion that cause wives and daughters to be envious of Lucky Lucy Loo #302!  These folks are some of our brightest and best on every level.  A few subtle years ago, these folks challenged heaven and earth (in and out of the show-ring!) as they began breeding for the better bovine with their eyes focused intently on quality and profitability.  That passion gave rise to relative bench-marking, tracking of statistics, creation of performance associations, development of indexes, and creation of EPD’s.  In today’s climate, many pass over the cow’s production records for gestation, weaning weights, birth weights and fertility.  Instead, they look almost exclusively at EPD’s or gnomics; and, have forgotten that “function must fit the form!” Great numbers will not result in great cows if they are not designed to thrive in the intended environment.  The notion of exclusively or predominantly looking at the numbers, which are mere expected performance guesses, has led to the eventual demise of evaluating “Betsy on the hoof” and the equally eventual evolution of the PAPER cow.

In this world of $500,000 cows, shiny auction blocks, polished people and beautiful…. beautiful papers, it seems as though the cow and her eventual offspring are oft forgotten!  Additionally, in this world, one could argue that we have moved to that precarious place where we are breeding paper instead of cows at all…and, in fact, the phenotype of the cow may in fact be a poorly conceived after-thought.  Here lies the birth of the perils that cause us to cringe.  Our industry is fraught with beautiful pedigrees accompanied by bad feet including corkscrew claw, long toes and short flat heels.  Equally prolific are structural compromises such as straight shoulders and post-y hips, bad bags, raised, sloped tail heads and small pelvises.  Lastly we have the specimen who is unable to maintain a consistent breed back or who does not display maternal characteristics that will lend to care free calving.  Based on the beauty of the pedigrees, the trendy names and novelty of the numbers, however, these characteristics are overlooked and Betsy Be Gone dodges the cull gate again and again.  On some outfits, she is excused on that occasional year when she doesn’t raise a calf; she gets a much needed pedicure each fall; and, she slowly evolves from a spring calver to a fall calver and back to a spring calver as the calving date slips ever so slightly each and every year.  But…you must understand, the numbers are simply beautiful!  Fortunately the gifted minds and convictions of our forefathers in this cattle building business have persevered! Most of our breeders are performance based cattlemen who understand what makes a cow herd work; and, what traits are important to the cattleman!

Now, before you rain hell and fire in my direction, let’s have a bit of fun with the commercial cattleman and I assure you, we’ll eventually weave this tale together in a happy way that leaves every party with their dignity in tact!

I enjoy those moments spent basking in the simple yet brilliant wisdom of the commercial cattleman.  This specimen is the most tenacious of businessmen.  The commercial cattleman is truly the most pristine picture of the west; the portrait of the free spirited American cowboy…deeply attached to the land, the legacy and the livestock.  He is the man who sells pounds for a living in spite of the market, the politics and the weather.  He operates on a larger scale and a tighter budget with a keen eye bent toward input costs as he keeps that ever-shrinking bottom line black.  All the while he supplies the world with pounds of red meat …the BEST red meat that money will buy I might add!   The commercial mind is focused on profitability and is keenly aware that the “best” cow ($$$) may not be the best investment.  He balances on the wire as he weighs capital outlay, return ofinvestment and return on investment with herd quality and cash flow.

The commercial cattleman understands real world cattle and the harsh conditions in which our stock must thrive to remain profitable.  He is keenly aware that the mama cow must take care of herself, raise a calf independently, breed back, wean a respectable calf and do it again year after year without falter.  He may breed and raise his own replacements; or his cattle may be sprinkled with somewhere upward of 6 brands….6 breeds and 6 colors.  In spite of this, he knows quite intimately that pay day is all about tipping the scale on shipping day; it’s a vicious game he plays.  He shoots for BALANCED….round, sound and low to the ground; muscle, mass, deep ribs, length like a freight train, the ability to cover country like a mountain goat all the while gaining weight as if Thanksgiving happens every day! Occasionally, however, the deals draw him into a few specimen that scream tall, flat and narrow as he attempts to balance quality with capital outlay!  The trick though, is that those tall, flat and narrow cows wean the same type of calves; and, they trip over pennies eating dollar bills as they do it.  He shakes his head as he scans the pen on shipping day knowing full well that some of those “let it slide” decisions have cost him as he overlooks a pen of uneven calves lacking uniformity, desirability….and 50 pounds.  On cull day, he has his sights set high, but in light of the slumped killer cow market and the pretty penny those shiny bred heifers will cost him…he may let Lop Sided Lucy slip by one more time noting that “she raised a whopper calf this year…and after all…she’s got teeth, tits and wheels…and she’s got a calf in her!”  What the heck…does she need teeth?

And alas my friends, this is the point when we come full circle.  While I have been incredibly sarcastic at the expense of “our people.”  These are the BEST people God created in vicious pursuit of the BEST life….building the best legacies!  The take-away from this conversation is that we must be mindful of the end game in order to be successful; and, neither segment of this industry can exist without the other.  The purebred breeder needs the commercial cattleman; he is the factory for the cattle industry!  As such, the purebred industry must be mindful that while the numbers are a imperative to continued improvement and a crucial means to the end, but they must not lose sight of those things that are essential to the commercial cattleman!  We must have sound, efficientcattle who are able to produce and reproduce year after year.  That means that our purebred cattle must be proven to survive and thrive facing the same elements and criteria as their commercial counterparts.  Likewise, the commercial cattlemen need good cattle to continue to produce the best beef that the world has to offer!  They need the design team and they look to you…they NEED you…the purebred breeder to make that happen!

Ps!  As you travel around, Midland may very well be the ONLY major sale that provides the damn dam production records!