Get What Your Calves Are Worth
You’ve made the investment to upgrade the genetics of your cowherd. Still, the market never seems to reward your good calves.
You’re not alone in that frustration. Why invest in high-end genetics when you don’t get paid for it?
There is help. At least two organizations – Top Dollar Angus and Angus Link – will verify the quality in your calves and promote them to potential buyers. Here’s how they work.
Top Dollar Angus
General manager: Jared Wareham
What the company does: Top Dollar Angus is a genetic-certification and market-assist company focused exclusively on the top 25% of the industry in carcass and growth traits.
As the name suggests, Top Dollar Angus works with Angus- and Red Angus-based herds. To be enrolled, females must be at least 50% Angus/Red Angus, and the sires must be registered or crossed with Angus/Red Angus with a registration number. A DNA test is another way to qualify.
“Our goal is to identify producers whose herds rank in the top 25% of the breed for traits crucial to profitable cattle feeding,” Wareham says. “We then support their marketing efforts by connecting them with a cattle feeding network that extends from coast to coast.”
Once a commercial herd qualifies for Top Dollar Angus, he says the goal is to achieve a minimum of $30-per-head premium over the average for that day. Sometimes, that number exceeds $100.
Cattle enrollments in the program are trending up for more than just purebred Angus and Red Angus cattle. Composites like CharAngus and SimAngus are also rapidly on the rise.
The company’s fees include an annual herd enrollment fee for evaluation and data entry based on herd size. It ranges from $175 to $425. There is also a $4-per-head charge for every calf sold under the brand.
“The total fee for our marketing services averages between $5.50 and $6.50 per calf sold,” he says. “We think we provide a pretty good return on investment!”
Beyond health, many cattle feeders will tell you genetics are a major component to their profit equation. One recent set of Top Dollar Angus-qualified steers received a quality grade of 100% Prime or Certified Angus Beef at harvest. “Results like this are what we strive for and why only the very best, verified genetics carry our brand,” Wareham says.
Ultimately, he adds, it’s about helping people. “We connect people to people, and people to profit. That is why Top Dollar has become the industry leader in genetic certification. We are so much more than just a number or score.”
Wareham offers two additional insights.
• The evaluation process is free, so contact him to see if you qualify. If you don’t, no worries. He will work with you and your genetics supplier to get you there.
• On their website, you will find over 70 of the most progressive and influential Angus and Red Angus breeders that support the Top Dollar program.
“Some people think you can’t have it all – terminal and maternal – in one package,” he says. “That’s not true with today’s genetic tools and breed options. You can have a herd that is balanced for both ranch and feedyard profitability.”
angus link (an american angus association program)
Director of Commercial Programs: Ginette Gottswiller
What the company does: The American Angus Association provides producers with comprehensive programs like AngusSource (angus.org/angussource/) and Angus Link to enable them to reach their maximum profit potential. This past August, the association changed its AngusSource USDA Process Verified Program (PVP) and added Angus Link. Gottswiller says it will give the genetic component that once was in AngusSource a whole new meaning.
The new feeder cattle program allows producers to benchmark genetic progress in their calf crop by using the program’s three scores – beef, feedlot performance, and grid – that work across multiple breeds and are applicable nationwide. Each is on a scale of 0 to 200. A score of 100 represents the industry average feeder calf derived from the breed composition of the U.S. cow herd. Here’s how each is defined.
1. Beef Score. Predicts genetic potential for feedlot performance and carcass value by looking at EPDs such as carcass weight, marbling, and feed efficiency.
2. Feedlot Performance Score. Signifies the enrollment group’s potential for post-weaning performance in the feedlot, and takes into account average daily gain and dry matter intake EPDs.
3. Grid Score. Predicts the enrollment group’s performance potential for carcass grid merit, referencing marbling, fat, and ribeye area EPDs.
The three scores, which appear in an Angus Link Scorecard, are determined by the genetic merit of the bulls used to sire the current enrollment group, as well as the genetic makeup of the cow herd. The cow-side contribution is based on a description of their breed composition (for example, 80% Angus and 20% Hereford), and the genetic merit of bulls used historically that have influenced the heifers retained in a herd as replacement females.
Scores can also be used to help producers identify the current strengths of their calf crop and target ways to improve their score through future breeding decisions.
“Many producers have asked why we dropped the genetic component from AngusSource. Most calves today have a portion of their genetics descending from Angus genetics. However, they are not all sired by registered Angus bulls,” says Gottswiller. “The new feeder-cattle program will enable producers to effectively communicate the genetic merit of their offering to potential buyers. In turn, it opens up an opportunity for producers to get rewarded for the investments they make in improving their herd’s genetics through the years.”
How producers get paid for quality
Triangle H Cattle near Garden City, Kansas, has been enhancing its cattle genetics for over 100 years. Recently, it used Top Dollar Angus to verify and to promote the quality genetics of its cattle.
Capturing value went in a new direction for the ranch in the late 1980s. “As we began to market on the rail, we brought more Angus genetics into the herd with emphasis on marbling, rib-eye area, and growth,” explains Sam Hands of Triangle H. “We also started to do our own finishing.”
Retained ownership and marketing on the rail, he thinks, are the best means of capturing cattle value.
“Work to be a market maker vs. a market taker,” Hands says. “Pounds pay the bills, but quality makes the difference. Develop a network with a packer as a preferred supplier.”
Meadows Creek Farm near Columbia in southeast Alabama tries to capture value through marketing practices and responding to customers.
“We developed a SAFE (Southeast Alabama Feeder Cattle) program, and through that, we interact and meet with many feedlot buyers,” says Richard Meadows. “We have accommodated many of their requests, especially on health and preconditioning protocols.”
Meadows, who has purebred and commercial cows, has worked with Reputation Feeder Cattle, which was acquired by the American Angus Association, to document the value of his cattle. “I told them that if they could bring some new bidders, they’d pay for themselves,” he says. “They’ve done that.”
Meadows has a small freezer beef operation based around his children’s 4-H steer projects. He says working directly with end users has been eye-opening in capturing more value.
His best advice to other producers: Network. “Our SAFE group started with a small core of producers and has expanded greatly. In our bull sales, we have partners who are both producers and in the livestock markets. We constantly network,” he says.
This article was written by Laurie Bedord and Gene Johnston.