Of cattle, people and why we're in this crazy business

The beef business is really the people business, and it’s the people we meet and become friends with that turn making a living into a life worth living.

Burt Rutherford, Senior Editor

July 11, 2018

5 Min Read
Of cattle, people and why we're in this crazy business
Getty Images/John Moore

Why are you in the cattle business?

The answer may not be as simple as it appears at first blush. There are many motivations and reasons that people raise cattle, and profitability isn’t always first on the list. Years ago, I ran across a guy who raised cattle because he wanted to be horseback all day. My only thought was I hoped he made enough money on the cattle to support his horse habit.

I am prompted to think of all this by an email from Jeff Springer, a Simmental breeder in Iowa. Jeff and I occasionally swap thoughts, ideas and random observations about the cattle business, and his most recent missive made my day. With his permission, I’ll share his thoughts on why he’s in the seedstock business.

Finished supper last night and while Lynda was cleaning the blackberries we picked just before dark, or as I call it feeding the mosquitos, I sat down to go through the mail with the TV going in the background. They were playing quotes from Judge Kavanagh’s acceptance speech, so I turned to look. I could immediately tell I would like this guy, just by the way he looked and spoke about his wife and kids. He spoke of what he believes his job is and spoke of his passion for it. That made me think, Why do I do this? Why am I in the bull business?            

So I woke up this morning thinking about bull deliveries, my favorite job of the year. I remember the young couple that was just getting started with a tiny baby in hand and smiles that truly shot the moon. They had obviously studied semen catalogs, other bull sales and yet landed on this bull.

Their excitement was undeniable and it made me realize that we don’t just sell bulls, we have a role to play in their future! If that bull does not produce growthy, trouble-free calves, it will adversely affect their ability to succeed. With the demands of agriculture currently, it would not take many hiccups to force them to exit agriculture. It was extremely rewarding to me to be part of their future and it made me realize why we guarantee the bulls as we do.

Read: What's a bull really worth?

I dropped off three bulls to a gentleman in a wheelchair and his son. The father obviously didn’t get outside much and it was a beautiful day. He was in a mood to visit and talk cattle, so it turned into a 3-hour stop.

As we walked around and viewed their operation, it became clear to me that these bulls needed to [produce daughters that] calve without difficulty, grow fast as money didn’t appear plentiful, and disposition was hugely important. Their cattle were fat as pigs and every one had a name. The pride this pair had in their cattle was fun to see and they were already talking about bull names like the bulls were part of the family. Again I realized I wasn’t just selling bulls but have the responsibility of making sure their bulls keep them in business by doing what is necessary for them to profit.

I dropped off a couple bulls to a middle-aged couple just before dinner. Kids, grandkids and maybe even some of the neighbors were there to see the new bulls arrive. Cars just kept rolling in .  

By the time we took a tour of their cows and facilities it was dinner time. Over dinner, we talked about the waterers they installed back in the pastures, the change in fertilizer they had made and the newer seedings they were trying. Pictures of their kids and grandkids were everywhere and you could see the pride they had for their family as they talked about each and every one. I realized there were two more generations that are depending on our bulls to be a benefit to their operation for long-term sustainability.

Related: Cattlemen's Stewardship efforts highlighted in new report

Lastly, I remember the two seemingly crusty older gentlemen. I don’t think they had ever sold anything since they had started farming, so getting in was backing down a half-mile driveway cluttered with everything they no longer used. They didn’t have a gate without twine, string or number nine wire on it, even though at their age, opening them was sometimes a feat.

Their cows were the fattest I had seen and the quality was exceptional. You could walk within 2 feet of every cow and it was as though the cows looked at the brothers with compassion for taking such good care of them. I told them how much I like their cows and their faces lit up and just beamed. A couple hours later, after discussing everything from politics to how those new-fangled EPDs were going to ruin the cattle business, I realized these bulls were probably the last bulls that these two would need. I realized again just how important disposition, calving ease and the need for fast gaining calves was to sustain this operation for as long as they were needed.

Related: BEEF Seedstock 100

We don’t just sell bulls, we impact families young and old. We provide bulls that are safe and easy to be around, that calve without problems and produce calves that provide enough growth to keep all of those operations in the cattle business. Put a bit more skip in my step this morning.

Mine, too. Jeff is like other seedstock producers I’ve been blessed to know—he knows the beef business is really the people business, and it’s the people we meet and become friends with that turn making a living into a life worth living.

In that regard, we all are truly blessed.


About the Author(s)

Burt Rutherford

Senior Editor, BEEF Magazine

Burt Rutherford is director of content and senior editor of BEEF. He has nearly 40 years’ experience communicating about the beef industry. A Colorado native and graduate of Colorado State University with a degree in agricultural journalism, he now works from his home base in Colorado. He worked as communications director for the North American Limousin Foundation and editor of the Western Livestock Journal before spending 21 years as communications director for the Texas Cattle Feeders Association. He works to keep BEEF readers informed of trends and production practices to bolster the bottom line.

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