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Black is Only a Color

By   /  May 7, 2018  /  3 Comments

In a market that seems to tell us that we can only make money selling black cattle, Don Ashford has a different story to tell.

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I really appreciate Mr. Don Keener’s comments on my piece “Breeds For A  Changing Climate.” I know now that at least one person is reading my stuff. His comment brought up some thoughts to share.

Here’s an example of our “Easter Egg Cows.”

Now y’all understand most of what I write about is from my experiences. I have owned Brangus cattle and thought that they did a decent job. But when the black craze came along we thought the price that some folks were willing to pay made them too expensive for us to own. Now some would think this would be a reason to keep these cattle, but we are in the business of selling grass. And if we can keep the cost of production below the market price, color to us is not that important. We have sold cattle on video sales, private treaty sales and the sale barn. And to be very truthful we have only lost money on one deal and this was because we trusted a person that we should not have trusted. Again to be truthful some of our deals have been just above breakeven but that to us is better than no profit at all.

As far as what the buyers want, let me tell two stories about that. The first year we sold cattle on the video was OK. This set of stocker calves did well and we made money but the video guy suggested that for the next time we should try and make the cattle all look more alike. It seems that the buyers like them better this way. Now this first set that we sold on the video were every color that it is possible for cattle to be and were mostly heifers. To repeat myself color is not important to us and heifers cost less to buy and gain almost as well as the steers. Another thing about buying heifers – there are more options than with a set of steers. The way we see it there are three options with heifers. Sell them over the scale, sell them as open heifers or keep them and breed them ourselves. With steers there is one option: sell.

Well to continue, we spent a lot of time at the sale barns in our area buying calves to put together this group of look-a-likes. It took longer and we spent more money and when it came selling time we had made no more money than we had done the year before. So much for that idea.

Here’s an example of an eared calf.

This next little story will help to explain why some of these ideas of marketing are not too important to us.  We were at one of those meetings that are put on by folks selling something or trying to encourage you to do business with them. This old boy was giving us all the reasons that we should be selling our cattle with his outfit. Now I must give credit where credit is due, he was honest. He was asked why do y’all discount our “eared” calves. Now for those of you who may not know what “eared” means, this term down here is applied to calves with a large percentage of brahma breeding. This old boy thought for a second and replied, “Because we can.”

Now I’m not talking about trash cattle all I’m saying is that good cattle come in all colors and shades. I do not believe that color makes you money. Managing costs is the difference between a profit and a loss. There are two things that we will never control in this business, the weather and prices. We have come to believe over all of the years that we have been in this business the less we spend without harming production the better our chances of a profit.

Feel free to share your cattle color/ears experience in the comments below! We’d like to hear how you get over the black color hump.

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About the author

My name is Don Ashford and my wife is Betty and we live in Ethel, LA. It would be impossible for me to write a bio about myself without including Betty in it. We have been together since high school. I was in the senior class of 1955 and she was in the class of 1957. Do the math. We have raised cattle since 1959 except for a little time that I spent with Uncle Sam. We have grazed stockers, owned several cow- calf herds and custom grazed cattle for other folks. I worked as a pipefitter for more than 25 years. Until we went into the dairy business in 1977 we were as most people down here part-timers or week-end ranchers. Later after we had learned enough about MIG to talk about it so that it would be understood by others we put together a pasture-walk group to introduce it to our friends and neighbors. We belong to more farm groups then we probably should but we get great joy working with other people. What makes us most proud are our son and daughter, our 5 grandkids and our 7 great-grand kids. It has been a hell of a trip so far, but we are not done yet.

3 Comments

  1. Diann Mabus says:

    Excellent article.

  2. John Marble says:

    Thanks for this timely reminder, Don. My old friend Duane told me many years ago that you “buy” your profit when you buy the animal. He meant that if you are paying attention, you should have a pretty good idea of what kind of margin that calf will be bringing you a month or 6 months from now. He also taught me about “upgrading” cattle. If they are sick, you can treat them. If they’re skinny, you can feed ’em. If they are singles, you can sort them and group them. But if you are starting with nice, fluffy, straight black #1s, there ain’t much upgrading to do. And likely, very little margin. Consequently, I buy a lot of unusual, off-color cattle, and they do just fine for me. Plus, they make people laugh: spots, stripes, horns, laughing all the way to the bank.

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