by Garrett R. Thomas, Owner of Hi Point Sales and Marketing
Almost everyone reading this article has been asked the simple question, “How do you market your cattle?” It’s a valid question to us all, as the methods of marketing have evolved over the years. I am here to make the case for marketing by the numbers. Personally, I have had the opportunity to work across several breeds, and it is interesting to see how each breed and even breeders within the same breed can weigh the value of expected progeny differences (EPDs).
Generally speaking, and at the risk of stating the obvious, seedstock producers that have cattle with great performance numbers have worked at it for decades and have come to rely on the power of genetic estimates. Those who haven’t placed EPDs near the top of their priority list, and over the years have fallen further and further behind from an EPD standpoint, typically don’t recognize their value. I am not advocating for anyone to select cattle solely based on their EPD profile. As many naysayers will be quick to point out, there is no direct EPD for structural soundness. It’s true, there are, also, no style points in EPDs either. I would agree with both points. As much as anybody, I like to look at the cattle and I have to like what I see when I look across the front pasture. However, denying the power and accuracy behind the science of EPDs is a losing battle.
When it comes to marketing, there are so many tools to base your plan around. To list a few, some focus on phenotype and a great photo, some operate solely on reputation and perhaps they have been in business for over 25 years and they have a customer base with undying loyalty. Others base their marketing plan around having a level of customer service that separates them from the rest. Finally, many successful programs across the country have made performance data and EPDs the focal point of their marketing.
Much like selection, I think the sweet spot lies in a combination of all these options with performance data and EPDs as the top priority. Phenotype is imperative, but in many cases is subjective. Not everyone likes the same phenotype. Basing your marketing program solely on your years of reputation is great if you can do it, but ultimately there are limits if the cattle can’t perform in a manner that meets the customer’s needs or environment. Customer service is a great piece of marketing but simply cannot be the only aspect of a successful marketing plan.
Performance data and EPDs are the palatable and concrete way to market cattle to both seedstock producers and commercial cattlemen. Having had the opportunity to work in other larger breeds and working with large commercial operations, who by most standards are the sought after customers, these larger operations are more often using the data and EPDs to make those purchasing decisions.
Marketing cattle by the numbers is a relatively easy method if you have a solid foundation of knowledge about how EPDs, ratios, and contemporary groups work. As a seedstock producer, it is your responsibility to not only understand these things, but to continually educate your customer base. If you can educate your customer base over time, get them to buy into the value of genetics, and make progress through genetic selection, selling cattle using EPDs becomes quite easy.
Often times, customers struggle with making selection based on phenotype; this can be for one of several reasons. Perhaps they don’t feel like they have the knowledge to make a decision based on phenotype or they are concerned their priorities might not align with the seller’s opinion. But if you take the time to educate your customer base about EPDs, they are likely to lean on that knowledge during the selection and buying process. The basic concept is easy to grasp. If you are comparing two bulls, one with a 40 weaning weight (WW) EPD and one with a 60 WW EPD, assuming there is a relatively high-level accuracy you count on, the bull with the higher WW EPD will, on average, wean calves weighing 20 pounds heavier. Ultimately, even at its most basic level, pounds equal dollars to nearly every commercial cattleman.
In closing, I would like to make clear my position when it comes to EPDs, their place in the seedstock business, and, more importantly, across the industry. If you are in the seedstock business and don’t utilize EPDs in some way, you are an anchor simply holding your fellow breeders back in a fast-paced industry. As a seedstock producer, it is your obligation to collect and submit quality data to your breed association. It’s imperative to understand at least the basics of EPDs, ratios, and contemporary groups before you enter the conversation of whether or not EPDs have value.