On the road

Performance testing for profitability

Week before last, I traveled to Montana for the Midland Bull Test sale, a great place to talk to a lot of folks and share some information about raising cattle that will reach the Certified Angus Beef® brand specs.  CAB sponsored a portion of the CAB® Smoked Brisket that was featured at lunch on Friday and made possible through our friends at Sysco Montana.  It was a useful and worthwhile effort with several hundred commercial and purebred cattlemen in attendance.

Steve and Lindsay Williams operate the nationally known Midland Bull Test just outside of Columbus, Montana.  It’s a business model that cropped up at the dawn of performance testing of cattle in Montana.  Leo McDonnell Sr. was the first in the family to get the structured bull test up and running with the help of like-minded purebred breeders.

Since that time Leo Jr. and wife, Sam McDonnell, spent many years refining the test center and building a solid reputation with consignors and buyers alike.  In recent years adding the GrowSafe feed intake technology to the roster of performance measures, giving buyers the chance to select bulls with a myriad of tools including EPDs, Indexes and Residual Feed Intake measures. 

Ten breeds were featured in the 2011 sale, each with their own section in the sale schedule.  Angus bulls are the most numerous with 47% of the catalog (653 bulls) and the final day of the sale committed to Angus.  

It’s not a place to pick up a bargain, as discerning ranchers have come to know that good bulls are brought to the test from across the country, and they will pay a good price to own them.  A number of the breed’s heavily used A.I. sires have been purchased at the Midland Bull Test sale. 

The Angus portion of the Midland Bull Test sale. Check out the Montana Stockgrowers' facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Montana-Stockgrowers-Association/121110932058) for more sale photos.

During the Angus sale this year I spoke to Jason Harrison, Montana Angus breeder and long-time consignor who’s had a number of notable high-selling graduates of the test. I quizzed him a little on how he’s managed to fare so well,so frequently with his bulls at Midland.  He humbly mentioned that it’s no accident and his family has “worked at it quite a while to try to build a good reputation.”  He’s among good company at this popular and progressive test center.

Midland Bull Test provides smaller breeders a chance to have their bull calves evaluated for performance and efficiency against a large cross-section of peers.  Consignors gain access to a competitive and well-attended auction at the conclusion of the test,a draw that larger, established breeders also take advantage of. 

Do you have an opportunity to test your cattle for performance markers like this? When you’re buying bulls to build the genetic foundation for your herd, what kind of performance data is most important to you? Go ahead and leave a comment below and let us know. We love hearing your ideas!


[Paul Dykstra is a beef cattle specialist for Certified Angus Beef LLC. He works out of a home office in Western Nebraska, helping licensed feedlots and cattlemen in the Northwest and Great Plains focus on quality beef production.]

Ride along with the Certified Angus Beef supply development team as we work to help cattlemen put more black ink in their record books with cattle management news, tips and ideas to profitably improve quality. CAB is a nonprofit subsidiary of the American Angus Association. It was founded in 1978 as the first fresh beef brand based on specifications, and remains the largest in the world. We spend every day working with cattlemen and women across the country to help them better supply the CAB brand with high-quality beef. Join us for a view from many a pickups' passenger seat.
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