Category: Birth Weights

America 4-circle cattle. What? How?

Is it possible to combine all economic relevant traits in one package? Maybe so.

Aug 22, 2019

By Tom Brink

Thirty years ago, the beef cattle industry debated whether calving ease and growth could be decoupled. Some animal geneticists shrugged and said “no way.” If we are going to have fast growing cattle, we’ll have to stand more birth weight. Circa the 1980s, many believed that situation to be a permanent predicament.

Fast forward 15 to 20 years of active selection using EPDs, and the industry did produce many bulls in multiple breeds that offered both superior calving ease and excellent growth. The old paradigm was shattered forever.

That reminds me of a quote by James Baldwin: “Those who say it can’t be done are usually interrupted by others doing it.” This quote speaks to the issue of impossibility versus possibility.

In many areas of life and business, there’s an ongoing debate about what is and is not realistic. What cannot be done pitted against what can. Just like the value of EPDs.

There’s yet another can versus can’t discussion active today. Can we truly breed cattle that do almost everything well? Or is doing so impossible?

To break the argument down into simple terms, we will group the economically-important traits into four categories—calving ease, maternal, growth and carcass. These trait groups are presented in the illustration below, with each concentric and larger circle encompassing more traits.

Some breeders today stop at just a couple of these trait groups and suggest that going further in one animal or one herd is just not possible. Others take a different, less limiting view, believing it realistic to combine all the economically relevant traits.

Tom Brink4 circles of genetic success

Stepping through the circles

To get our minds around this subject, suppose, for example, a certain bull is being marketed based solely on his merit for calving ease (represented by the small black circle). He’s being sold that way because that is all he offers genetically.

Will the seller receive a reasonably high price for this bull? Unlikely, because he only brings one trait to the table and commercial cow-calf producers are looking for more.

We move next to the green circle, which encompasses both calving ease and maternal traits. There would be additional value in a 2-circle bull that fits this description. He would be more marketable than the 1-circle bull, but probably still wouldn’t bring a high price on sale day, because, again, most producers are looking for more.

The red circle encompasses calving ease, maternal and growth. A bull that legitimately covers those bases is going to attract a lot more attention. More interest = more bids = higher selling price.

Commercial buyers are also going to be more satisfied with a bull like that, and satisfying customers should top the list for seedstock breeders.

Finally, we come to a 4-circle bull that offers a tremendously complete package genetically speaking. Assuming he also has good structure, good feet and a favorable disposition, he should sire both great steers and replacement heifers. He just might top the sale, because he fulfills more commercial cattlemen needs.

The critical question thus becomes: Are 4-circle cattle even possible? Can such cattle be intentionally bred and should they be pursued as part of your seedstock breeding programs?

The 45 highest-selling bulls in the Red Angus breed so far in 2019 tell an interesting story in that regard. These bulls all sold for a $23,228 average and undoubtedly combined phenotypic excellence with a strong package of EPDs. They were indeed 4-circle cattle as a group, averaging in the top 30% for Calving Ease Direct, top 35% for Heifer Pregnancy and Stayability, top 10% for Yearling Weight and the top 10% for Carcass Weight, Marbling and Ribeye area.

The take-away message is that buyers (especially premium bull buyers) are seeking more than one or two areas of genetic competence. They pretty much want it all, which is more closely aligned what 4-circle cattle have to offer.

The human element is always interesting insomuch that what some people believe can’t be done often becomes a motivator for those actively engaged in breaking old paradigms. Creation of 4-circle genetics may be scoffed at by some, but for those making it happen, such opinions are little more than background noise.

Brink is CEO, Red Angus Association of America (RAAA). Source: RAAA, which is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.

Bull Buyer’s Guide: Beef2Live.com

Are you sifting through stacks of bull sale catalogs looking for your next bull? While bull selection can be a daunting task, your choice will impact your herd for years to come. Thus, taking some time to think about what you need from your next herd sire is important.

Here are some points to emphasize when it comes to bull selection.

Know your market. Understand what traits are value added-traits for your market. One of the best parts about the cattle industry is the different ways producers achieve their goals. While selling calves at weaning into the commodity market is the majority, some cattlemen are marketing in very creative ways. Local freezer beef, retained ownership, alliances, branded beef programs, video sales, or fitting the production environment to a consumer demanded practice are all ways farmers are adding value to their calves. Your bull selection should be based on traits that are profitable in your market.

Don’t sacrifice functional traits or adaptability to your production environment. It is really easy to get caught up in the data, but remember these critters need to be sound and function in the pasture. Good feet and legs, a strong libido, and docility are all imperative. Masculinity, big testicles, and a tight sheath are good phenotypic indicators of the right kind. Buying bulls that are raised in similar conditions to your farm is preferred. You can buy someone else’s genetics, but you can’t buy their management.

Require a passed BSE (Breeding Soundness Exam) and farm herd health protocols. I also suggest a quarantine period for new purchases. A minimum of two weeks will allow time for potential pathagens to break without exposing your herd. Lots of times cattle coming from a sale have experienced elevated stress. It is important to keep them on good feed, in a clean pen, and allow the quarantine period to run its course.

Identify and understand Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs) and phenotypes that signify value added traits you are seeking. Calving ease (CE) is an important and valuable trait. Sometimes when talking to producers I hear them stressing CE and birth weight (BW). BW is an indicator trait for CE, but you don’t get paid for light birth weight calves. You get paid by not having to invest time and labor in pulling calves. So, avoid putting too much downward pressure on BW, especially if the bull will breed cows. Another mistake I see is purchasing low BW bulls for cows. This is not necessary. Many times you can purchase a bull with average or better calving ease for cows at a discount to “heifer bulls” with comparable growth. Smooth, flat shouldered bulls with decent CE EPDs are good value bulls for breeding mature cows.

If you sell your calves at weaning through the salebarn and keep your own replacements, traits of priority should be CE, heifer pregnancy, stayability, and weaning weight. Selecting for more yearling weight, too much milk or too little milk, or cacarss traits are much less important in this scenerio. If you retain-ownership in you cattle through the feedlot and market to the packer, then yearling weight and carcass traits become more relevant to your bottom line. Your ultimate goal should be to produce the most profitable product, thus seek traits that add value without increasing cost of production over the value of the trait.

Utilize appropriate multiple trait selection indexes. Find the sweet spot/ profitable window in milk, YW, and carcass EPDs. Avoid putting too much emphasis on one trait. Nearly all breeds now have dollar index values that help put economics to trait selection. These can be extremely effective tools if the index scenario matches your operation. Weaned Calf Value ($W) is a dollar value used by the Angus breed. It is an index that is designed for cattlemen that primarily sell calves at weaning. This index also assumes that replacement heifers are retained. EPDs for birth weight, weaning weight, milk, and mature cow size are focused on. Lower birth weights, heavier weaning weights, and lower mature cow size are desirable. Milk production is weighted both positively and negatively as it directly impacts calf weaning weights, but also increases cow maintenance requirements. A more detailed description of economic selection indexes is available on my blog

Don’t be fooled by index names. Beef Value ($B) is a terminal index. It is a great tool for cattlemen that are not keeping replacements. This index will increase profitability of cattle in the feedlot and on the grid. Unfortunately, I have heard $B referred to as a comprehensive EPD several times which it is not. It is vital to understand that $B is a terminal index. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The breeder or an Extension specialist will be able to help explain the numbers.

Demand higher accuracy for traits. Technologies are available for seedstock producers to increase the accuracy of EPDs on yearling bulls. Genomic-enhanced EPDs result in less risk, less change, and more predictability in how a yearling bull will sire. A bull buyer can feel more confident now than ever in EPDs when they are backed by genomic testing.

Heterosis. Crossbreeding systems are hard to deploy and maintain in small herds. However, leaving hybrid vigor on the table in a commercial herd is a big loss. Otherwise lowly heritable traits like reproduction, health, and cow longevity are best improved by crossbreeding. Crossbred cows and maternal heterosis is a key to profitability on commercial cow/calf operations. Studies have shown net profit per cow is increased by $75/cow/year as a result of maternal heterosis.

Buy the right size, type, and demand quality. I would compare this to buying a car or truck. If you have little money for gas (feed), then don’t buy a gas (feed) guzzler. Buy a bull that fits your cow herd. Your cows will tell you the right size and milk production for your management. If they come up open… they are not the right size. Now, you also want a bull that is the right type. You don’t buy a fancy sports car for a work vehicle do you? So why buy a fancy, sexy bull to produce working kind cattle? To me there is a difference in fancy and quality. I suggest you demand quality. Select a product that will last and hold value. Look for signs that the breeder stands behind their product. That is a good sign of quality.

Seek value when buying a bull. The lowest priced bull is seldom the best valued. If you find a bull that has the traits you are looking for… buy him. Set a budget, but understand it is often hard to find everything you are looking for. Bulls with the traits you are seeking can add value to your cattle in a hurry. They can add far more value than a cow. The bull you buy this year will impact your herd for the next 5 years with his calves, but his daughters will impact your herd for the next 20 years. Make a good investment. Buy a bull that adds value to your calves and your cowherd.

Written by Travis Meteer, Extension Educator, Commercial Ag, University of Illinois, and used with permission.

How low is too low when selecting low birth weight bulls?

Gayle Smith
Tuesday, December 29, 2015 1:21 PM
An interesting question came up when a panel of seedstock producers took the stage during an open house at the University of Nebraska Gudmundsen Research facility in Whitman, Neb. A producer from the audience wanted to know if he selects bulls for lower birth weights, is he short-changing himself?
There has been a lot of buzz around the industry lately about how low is too low when selecting bulls for birth weight. No one wants to pull a calf, but is there a point where selecting a bull for too low of a birth weight is going too extreme?
The panelists seem to think so. Jerry Connealy of Connealy Angus in Whitman, Neb., reminds producers that birth weight and yearling weight are highly correlated traits. “When generations upon generations spread bulls with heavy birth weight or light birth weight stacked upon each other, we have defeated those antagonisms,” he says. “That correlation is still real, and its still there. In the Angus breed, we have conquered a lot of that. I wouldn’t recommend to anyone stacking light birth weight on top of light birth weight. Piling negative upon negative, you will eventually get a finer boned, frailer calf that will be a less rugged animal in the end,” he added.
Loren Berger of Berger’s Herdmasters in North Platte says producers should select bulls for birth weight based on what their end point is for their cattle. “I visited several feedlots who wanted to feed my cattle, and they all told me they want to take the Continental cross cattle to 1,450 to 1,500 pounds,” he says. “Most 65 pound birth weight calves will struggle to get to that, and still have an acceptable yield grade.”
Berger sees producers who are concerned about birth weight making some adjustments in their herd. “I think those producers need to separate the cows from the heifers. A cow can give birth to a heavier calf, and have the calf get up and nurse right away, and do all this in a harsh environment. If these cows are limited to giving birth to a 65 pound calf, in my mind, that calf is a loss. I think 85-90 pounds may be more ideal in most situations,” he explains. “I feel most producers are making a big sacrifice if they take low birth weight to the extreme in the mature cows.”
Connealy says too light a calf can also have more health issues. “There is certainly some buzz out there that short gestation calves have less developed lungs, causing us to see more sickness and other negative ramifications,” he says.
“In this industry, we are guilty of being plungers. We can’t moderate,” Connealy continues. “We think if a lighter calf is good, then an even lighter one is better. We have to stop somewhere. I think we are pushing that more than we need to. A cow can have a calf that weights 85-90 pounds, and we can still use the natural correlation between birth weight and yearling weight to our advantage. Heifer bulls need to be used as heifer bulls, even if we don’t like to pull calves,” he states.
Despite a trend toward lighter birth weight calves, the panelists still see cow size continuing to climb. “I see cow size continuing to increase as an industry,” Connealy says. “In the Angus industry, and particularly in our own business, we are struggling to hold cow size, and even decrease it from what it was in the 80s, when we were selecting those taller frame bulls,” he explains.
As an industry, these panelists see cow size continuing to increase unless there is a joint effort to select replacement heifers that aren’t on top or even at the higher middle end for size. “We need to select the smaller heifers,” Connealy says. “It is easy to say, but when you are standing out there selecting your replacements, it is very hard to do.”
Panel moderator, Matt Spangler, points out conversations he has had with ranchers looking to decrease the size of their cows. “A lot of the time, I talk to the rancher who wants to moderate his cowherd, and walk him through what he needs to buy for a bull. Then, at load out, I see him loading up the highest growth, heaviest muscled bull on the sale. The problem is in part what these guys put on offer, but it is also having the discipline to go to the sale and say ‘I may buy the bull that is below the breed average for milk, or above the breed average for birth weight, because I plan to use him for my cows’.”
“In the end, the key is having the discipline to buy what you truly need,” Spangler tells the audience. “That is what will have the most tremendous impact on where we go from here with cow size.”
John Odea
Conversation Starter · February 5 at 8:29 AM
Jake and I went to a Cattlemans education evening held by UNL extension. Was very interesting and educational. Some really big take a ways from the meeting: 1. The cow calf sector is a struggle for nearly all producers. I was impressed that academia acknowledged this. 2. They presented documented proof from over 4800 cows on the research ranch over nearly the last twenty years that 1000 pound cows can produce 1400 pound fat steers that gain 4 pounds per day. 3. Birth weight is a major determining factor in profitability. A heifer bull should never be used on cows after he is too large for breeding heifers. The difference in Birth weight correlates all the way to harvest. A calf born light will nearly always be behind the bigger birth weight calves.
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Ellie Ives
Ellie Ives Interested in the birth weight thing. What is considered to light for good growth? And is there a cut off as far as how big of birth weight before you no longer see increased profitability? We prefer 80 to 100 lb bw.
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John Odea
John Odea They didn’t give specifics. I think from personal experience, 1100 pound cows can have 100 pound cows unassisted. We have recip cows that have 100 pound plus calves unassisted.
I like 70 pound calves for heifers and 90 pound calves for cows.
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Chad Conard
Chad Conard In general, birthweight and yearling weight are highly correlated
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Kit West

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B.j. Jones
B.j. Jones The weaning weight of a dead calf is disastrously low
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Perry Neal
Perry Neal The profitability of a dead cow is even lower.
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Bob Kinford
Bob Kinford But you can recoup some of the loss in romal reins and reatas Perry
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BenJenny Dimond
BenJenny Dimond What is the makeup of the cows on the research ranch? What kind of bulls are they bred too?
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Perry Neal
Perry Neal Bob Kinford Only if you know how to process and braid a hide. That leavrse out Haha. I’ve heard that you’re good at braiding knots maybe you could show me.
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Bob Kinford
Bob Kinford Whoever told you that was lying Perry. I’m so knot deficient I can’t tie a square knot the same way twice…Get past 3 on a braid and it looks like a pile of spaghetti to me.
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Perry Neal
Perry Neal Bob Kinford 😂😂
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John Odea
John Odea BenJenny Dimond, the cows are red Angus based I believe, but I am not positive. They keep replacements and try to run it like a real world sandhills ranch.
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BenJenny Dimond
BenJenny Dimond John Odea are they bred red angus? Did they talk about crossbreeding?
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John Odea
John Odea BenJenny Dimond, I can’t answer that. The calves were being managed in a yearling program. They were not going in as “calf feds”.
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Hazy Delzer
Hazy Delzer BenJenny Dimond If they are taking about the GSL herd they are Husker Red Composite. Which is made up of red angus, Gelbvieh and/or simmental.
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BenJenny Dimond
BenJenny Dimond John Odea. Thank you. I would have liked to have gone to that talk
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Travis Mulliniks
Travis Mulliniks BenJenny Dimond I would be more than happy to send you the slides that I presented last night that John mention
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BenJenny Dimond
BenJenny Dimond Travis Mulliniks When will you do another presentation? I would be interested in attending.
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Travis Mulliniks
Travis Mulliniks BenJenny Dimond Monday Feb 11th in Franklin, NE. It is an afternoon (1:00) meeting.
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BenJenny Dimond
BenJenny Dimond Thank you
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Kit West

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Beverly Montgomery
Beverly Montgomery Hunter Montgomery
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Robert Cox
Robert Cox UNL did some kind of test on the birthweight using two groups of calves, and I can’t remember the exact details, but it essentially said that 1 pound of birthweight equaled 6 lbs of weaning weight. So calf A is born at 80 pounds and weans at 550, and c…See More
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John Odea
John Odea The figures we saw last night were not that detailed. Was interesting to see the 1400 pound cows calves were only about 70 pounds heavier than the 1000 pound cows calves at harvest. Feedlot performance was flat between the two groups.
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Robert Cox
Robert Cox I can’t remember all the details so don’t quote me on any numbers, it just makes a guy want to push the envelope on birthweight. Some calves don’t weigh 60 pounds coming out. If you can get 25 more lbs of birthweight without assistance you should.
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Kit West

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Chad Conard
Chad Conard Some articles on the topic and questions that have come up in the comments so far
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Chad Conard
Chad Conard https://cattlebusinessweekly.com/…/How…/1/456/7773…
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CATTLEBUSINESSWEEKLY.COM
How low is too low when selecting low birth weight…
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Chad Conard
Chad Conard https://beef.unl.edu/…/201…/MP106_pg018_Benell_et_al.pdf
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Chad Conard
Chad Conard https://beef.unl.edu/…/2019…/MP106_pg024_Whittier.pdf
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Carolyn Belden Carson
Carolyn Belden Carson Chad Conard very good article!
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Kit West

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Tyler Nielson
Tyler Nielson Did Travis mulinick put that on John Odea. He has a lot of really good research on cow size and milk production as well.
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John Odea
John Odea Yes
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Kit West

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Kevin Meyer
Kevin Meyer .
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Dustin Mills
Dustin Mills Do you know where i could find the research article on th this, for further study?
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Chad Conard
Chad Conard I posted in comments above
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Kit West

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Chad Conard
Chad Conard “This study retrospectively evaluated the effect of cow size on cow-calf performance and post-weaning steer feedlot performance of cows at the Gudmundsen Sandhills Laboratory, Whitman. Cows were catego- rized at small, medium, or moderate within cow ag…See More
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Chad Conard
Chad Conard Another one that interested me —- situations where March calving may be superior and require less supplementation than May calving —- which is against the common thoughts around matching up “with nature” —- cows peak lactation and rebreeding in later c…See More
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John Odea replied · 1 Reply
Dennis Glanzer
Dennis Glanzer Why shouldn’t U use low birth weight Bulls on your cows ???
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Myron Durfee
Myron Durfee Dennis Glanzer there is a direct correlation between birth weight and mature size. Heavier birth weight = larger frame lighter birth weight= smaller frame.
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Dennis Glanzer
Dennis Glanzer Myron Durfee and this is a bad thing when breeding for a mamma cow ??
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Chad Conard
Chad Conard Not sure about mature size, but birthweight and yearling weight are correlated, so there is a $ impact there. Interesting from their cow size study (linked above) — smallest cows weren’t the most profitable — 1150-1200 lbs cows (in their system) was the sweet spot
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Myron Durfee
Myron Durfee Dennis Glanzer frame 5 cow takes less groceries to produce then frame 6 cow. It is just something to consider
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Dennis Glanzer
Dennis Glanzer Myron Durfee U must have misunderstood me . I’m sure 85 percent of my bull battery is calving ease
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Myron Durfee
Myron Durfee Dennis Glanzer but the same problem exists on that end as well. When you start stacking too much light weight you can get to small of framed cow
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Dennis Glanzer
Dennis Glanzer Myron Durfee I’m still sorting off heifers too big for my liking 8 years into this.
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Kit West

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Kit West
Kit West Dallas Mount
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Todd Michael
Todd Michael I’ve said that for years about low birth weight bulls. But unfortunately alot of fellers I’ve worked for only think about the initial expense of buying bulls. I’ve tried to explain that the herd will recoup the money on the other end at sale time.
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Chad Conard replied · 1 Reply