The cows in our pastures don’t look anything similar to the cows in most pastures in our area. There are many reasons for this but the main one I guess is that we are not willing to pay for the “good kind.” So consequently, our cows are every color that it is possible for a cow to be. there are black cows and red cows, and black and white spotted cows and red and white spotted cows and gray cows and white cows. My wife, Betty, Betty calls them our Easter eggs. It would be correct to assume by looking at this conglomeration that hide color is not very important in our scheme of operation. Color is not he only criteria we give little consideration when we buy cows. The breed is of no importance to us other than we stay away from dairy breeds. I haven nothing bad to say about a good milk cow. After all we milked cows for a living. But this is not our business any longer.
The philosophy of our business came about from necessity. After we sold out of the dairy business and were introduced to management intensive grazing, our start-up funds were limited to say the least. We managed to put together enough money to build electric fence and buy the energizer to enclose 8 acres, to plant it in ryegrass and to put out a little fertilizer. But at that point our funds were very short for the purchase of calves, so we had to be very careful in our choice of calves at the sale barn. We realized early on that we would not be able to get in a bidding contest with the order buyers. After all, they were spending money that belonged to someone other than themselves and the money we were going to spend, such as it was, was ours. Fortunately, we realized that there were calves that these folks were not interested in at all: the poor and mistreated, the off-colored ones, the long-eared ones, or in other words, the ones that did not fit. This is where we believed we could get in the game, by buying what the big boys didn’t want.
Now understand the calves we ended up with were not all bought at one sale. We might get 3 or 4 at one sale and a few more at another. If memory serves, the largest number bought at one sale was 14. When I came through the gate that evening with those calves in the trailer our son Donnie looked at them and said, “Daddy, don’t bring any more of those things home in the daylight. We don’t want anybody to know where they’re going!”
Long story short, those rejects paid for all of the electric fence, the energizer, the seed and fertilizer and left us with a few hundred dollars. This, without question, sold us on and got us to continue management intensive grazing, but it also made us look at things a whole lot differently. There is money to be made with what other folks don’t want.
Our Lesson Is Reinforced
After we had been in the stocker grazing business a couple years we were approached by this old boy who wanted us to sell our calves on the video sale. We thought we would give it a try, so he came out to our place with his camera and videoed the calves and we made the deal. This set of calves numbered about 60 head and did OK. So a few weeks after the sale the video guy called and wanted to know if we would sell our calves with him again. Having no reason not to, we agreed to do it again. Then he said if we would try and do a better job of buying calves we would make more money. He went on to explain they should be the same color and size, in other words each calf should look like the rest of the calves.
So here we go, making two sales each week, bidding on the good calves, doing what we said we would not do and getting in a bidding contest with the order buyers. These calves made us less money than any of the other calves that we had grazed before. We had to spent too much to get them bought and to be honest they did not do any better on the grass than the rejects had done.
After that year we war offered the opportunity to graze a man’s replacement heifers and this led us into the custom grazing part of our our business. We would graze replacements during ryegrass season and cows during the summer and it worked well for all concerned parties. But we wanted to own some cows and with limited land we knew we could not do custom grazing and have a cow herd of our own. So we fell back on our experience of calf buying and began to buy cows that were the wrong color or had been mistreated, you know, the kind that weren’t taken care of as they should have been.
The whole idea behind our cow buying is simple. We believe that there is more genetic potential in these old common cows than will be realized if they are managed poorly. It is quite evident by some of the results that we have gotten that they will do a good job given the opportunity and resources that will let them do their work. We buy cows with calves or bred cows and use a Charolais bull. We have found that the calves from this cross of common cows and Charolais bulls will produce the quality and consistent kind of calf that will work well on the market. It will still amaze me to walk out in a pasture with cows of many colors and see a bunch of white or cream colored calves.
We love our cows but this is not intended to be a hobby. If the cows cannot support themselves and turn a profit we don’t want or need them. We have been in this business one way or the other since 1956 so we don’t need the practice. There are many things that cows need to be productive and profitable: good grass, clean water and a good mineral mix. But the one thing that we have found to be lacking and the thing that makes our outfit work is TLC. And this by no means to baby them, just give them what they need and a place to do their work, and you will be amazed at what rejects can accomplish.
There is a certain amount of ego involved in this, the idea that you can take something that someone has determined to be useless and make it productive once more. It leads to a certain amount of gratification. But there is a real risk involved. The reason that cow is at the sale barn today may be more than poor treatment and neglect. There is always the chance that you are making a bad choice. But even with this risk, we have managed to win more than we have lost.