It’s How We Play the Game, That Really Counts
By Carlos X. Guerra
A properly managed show heifer project can be the most productive extra curricular activity that a 4-H or FFA member can have if they are the ones that want the project, do the work and invest the necessary time to optimize the benefits. It can unite a family and create lots of travel and fun opportunities. It is amazing the number of hours that a family will spend together both at home working as a team on the project and on the road. Many priceless memories will be created. It will also teach a junior all about responsibility, how to win, how to lose, how to work as a team, how important we are to animals and they to us.
We sell an average of 50 show heifer prospects per year at La Muneca. The first questions I ask the parents are if the child is the one wanting the project and are they ready for a large animal project. When a parent is trying to relive their childhood through their children or when a child is not quite ready for a heifer, it may not work out as expected for the family. A bad experience will take time to get over.
I have talked several families that came to buy a heifer into buying a goat or hog project so that their child can gain experience and confidence because without confidence, a person will always find a way not to win. I also encourage parents to visit several ranches and several breeds before investing in their first heifer. These visits are both fun and educational. You will know when you are comfortable with the people selling you a calf. There is no grey area in the marketing of a junior heifer, the breeder either knows their stuff or they do not. They are interested in juniors or they are not.
You can tell by asking them what they do for their junior clients. As a potential client, you must ask all of the right questions – 1. Is her DOB accurate, 2. Is she guaranteed to DNA to her recorded parentage, 3. What happens if our heifer never breaks, 4. Has she had all of her shots, 5. Has she been OCV’d, 6. Will you help us get her bred, 7. Will you give us semen from your best bulls to breed her to when the time comes, 8. Do you have any junior benefits that your competitors do not offer, and 9. Do you have any way of helping us sell her when she is no longer eligible to show?
It is important to know how much you are willing to invest in a top quality show heifer before you set out to shop for one. You should inform the breeder you are to visit next what your budget is in case he or she does not have any show quality heifers in that range so that you do not waste your time and theirs. I recommend that you buy the best heifer you can afford because in essence you are buying a factory that will produce for you for ten years or more depending on how much Brahman blood she has in her as that breed is known for it’s longevity. It costs the same to feed an average one as it does a great one. Always remember that The Bitterness of Poor Quality Is Remembered Long After the Sweetness of Low Price is Forgotten.
At La Muneca we green break every one of our show prospects that we sell. We walk 75% or more on the trailer for our juniors. We feel that it is important to do the tough work to keep the heifer from getting hurt by someone with no experience and to keep someone with no experience from getting hurt. We normally will process calves the day we wean them. We will put rope halters with a ring where the rope can have some slack and not tighten on the calf’s throat.
We let them walk around for at least two days so that they can break themselves as compared to tying a calf to a fence right out of the chute. This is when they can easily get hurt because they have not learned that the rope is stronger than they are and might break a leg or their neck jerking on the rope. Our calves are guaranteed to break if they are not broke when you pick them up.
I do not recommend that you buy a calf from a breeder that will load it on your trailer without it never having been processed, haltered, de-horned or worked with. Even though many breeders think that a junior should do it all, some simply cannot do it due to their age, size or lack of experience. The more of the above that a breeder can do for his junior clients, the better chance they have of getting referrals or repeat business from this family. It is very easy for a heifer to create bad habits from a new family that has no experience in halter breaking. A breeder should do all they can to insure a successful transition period of a calf from mama to weaning to its new owner.
Try and buy your show heifers from breeders who have a good reputation of having honest birthdates and pedigrees. It is sad but true what some people will do to try and win a buckle or championship. Some birthdates are altered as much as six months or more. They may start out making December heifers January’s and before they know it are making summer heifers January’s. A lie is a lie whether it is one day, one week, or six months. What a cheater may think he won by cheating is worthless when our day comes and we are judged on how we played the game of life. If you cheat on birthdays and pedigrees, you will cheat on everything else from your relationships to your business to yourself. It is not worth it.
This is why my ole buddy, Jim Theeck, who I had a lot of respect for would tell me that he would not show his cattle until they were two years old. At that age all of those out of age cattle did not look so out of place and did not have that size advantage. To support this, take photos of those young heifers that look so much bigger when they are lined up in class early on in their careers and then do it again one year later. You will find that there will not be near the difference, with those bigger heifers that were so much bigger as weanlings sometimes not even being the biggest at two years of age. What is really sad is when an honest kid and family buy an out of age heifer not knowing any better and then get accused of being part of the problem.
When anyone teaches a child how to cheat whether we are talking about birthdates, pedigrees, showing a calf in a breed that it is not, painting, pumping, injecting, surgically altering their animals – you name it – all you have done is teach that child how to cheat in everything else they will do. When they get caught, who is to blame ? When that kid starts lying to the person that taught him how to lie is when it hits home because what do they do next to correct that kid.
I predict that there will be more and more of the big money shows having proof of parentage as a requirement for their champions.
Be careful of your thoughts for your thoughts become your words.
Be careful of your words for your words become your actions.
Be careful of your actions for your actions become your habits.
Be careful of your habits for your habits become your character.
Be careful of your character for your character becomes your destiny.
This is a lot bigger problem than what we may think and it needs to stop or our industry is going to lose the integrity that our forefathers worked so hard to establish. It is good to buy a heifer from a breeder that will guarantee her to DNA to her pedigree. I predict that there will be more and more of the big money shows having proof of parentage as a requirement for their champions.
You should also try and buy your show heifers from breeders who have good cattle with well known pedigrees as the pedigree is the only constant in the cow business that only you can change. The rules, the people, the fads, the markets, the frame scores will always be changing. Start with a solid foundation (pedigree) and work on making it the best it can be. It takes a long time to breed consumer demand into a cold blooded pedigree. It is also good to invest in cattle from breeders that promote their product whether it be through their field days, advertising, websites, the show ring, or their experience and leadership in that breed. Their investment in promotion will always make it easier for you to market your cattle.
One of the major advantages of a breeding heifer over a steer project is that she can be a two year project so make sure to buy a heifer that fits the window where she can be shown for two years. If you breed her to calve at two, she might produce your next show calf. If you are lucky, breed her to the right bull, you just might have produced your next show heifer which will turn that initial investment into a four year project. Another reason to buy the best you can afford. If it is a bull calf, and you do not want to sell it as a bull, you can sell it as a steer project if born at the right time to a fellow FFA member or 4-H’er.
Always try and have your heifer either 60 days away from calving or have at least a 60 day old calf at the show that means the most to you as this is when they will look their best. One never knows what the cow’s disposition will be right after birth, how her udder will look, how much swelling she will have, how good the calf will look and how strong the baby will be. Prior to all of this it is important to document when the heifer is cycling as this can determine how she will act at a show if it is that time of month prior to her being bred.
Try and buy your heifers from a breeder that will help you to get her bred at least the first time around. Also prior to buying find out what kind of semen they will offer to you to AI her to and if there are any restrictions if you want to ET her with it. We offer to breed our juniors heifers the first time and then give them free semen from any of our bulls that are available for free until they sell her or graduate from high school. Many of our juniors have been very successful with this. As a matter of fact, one of our top bulls right now, LMC ATZ Dr. Feel Good was bred by one of our juniors, Jacob Atzenhoffer. Her next calf won two big SYNERGY shows for his little sister. This cow is indeed helping this family to build a solid college fund..
Always ask what kind of benefits every breeder or breed offer their junior clients. I have always been impressed with the fact that the junior Santa Gertrudis kiddos compete for a show quality heifer at every class at their National Junior Show every summer. The Simbrah breed is one of the more creative and supportive when it comes to offering junior benefits to their juniors.
I know for a fact because my family has either created or been a co-sponsor of most of them. Our LMC Juniors compete every year for over $100,000 in extra premiums offered at both LMC shows (LMC Futurity & LMC Jackpot) and LMC co-sponsored shows like the Simmental-Simbrah Super Bowl, MAS, SYNERGY, Heart of Simbrah and the LMC $ellabration. Any group of breeders from any breed can do the same and I encourage you to do so.
We are big believers in showmanship because everyone has the same opportunity to win plus the kids will learn more about life as they will use these skills all of their life. At all of our shows, 50% of the premiums are awarded in our showmanship shows. We all need to encourage more shows, especially the majors to make time in their schedules and offer good premiums for showmanship. They should be held on a separate day with a different judge so as to give the kids a new outlook, a new chance to dress up, get excited, compete, show off their skills supported by their work ethic on a level playing field.
Showmanship shows are won at home with the many hours that a junior will invest in teaching their heifers how to show off and stand correctly as quickly as possible. As the saying goes no one ever drowned in sweat. Always remember that the only place that SUCCESS comes before WORK is in the dictionary. Another great saying are the ten most important two letter words – IF IT IS TO BE – IT IS UP TO ME.
We have two major LMC events at our ranch every year. We will be celebrating our 25th Annual LMC Jr. Round Up and Futurity which is an all day, family oriented, fun filled, educational field day open to the public for free. Every kid learns and every kid wins a door prize thanks to our many donors. We always have some women as speakers and judges because so many our daughters go through school being taught ag and judged mostly my men. We need to help identify some new Role Models for these girls.
We have our LMC Futurity after the awards ceremony which is followed by our Customer Appreciation Dinner where we award our annual awards for LMC Volunteer, Booster, and Supporter of the Year. This event is always held the first Saturday of October. I encourage all breeders to put on a field day as this will make you clean up your ranch plus people from all over that have wanted to visit you will attend. Remember the saying – NO SEE, NO TELL = NO SELL. Two thirds of the word promotion is motion.
Our other main event is our annual production sale, the LMC $ellabration Sale and $20,000 Junior Show. We also host our LMC Jackpot on this weekend which is always the fourth Saturday in March unless Easter falls on that date. This year we awarded over $43,000 to our junior clients on that weekend. Many of our clients are members of the LMC $ellabration with each putting up an annual $1,000 sponsorship fee. It is a team effort that creates lots of enthusiasm and consumer demand for the Simbrah, Simbravieh and Brahman breeds. Once again, I encourage all breeders to try and work with your fellow breeders to put on more co-op type events that will create interest in your cattle and show the juniors how much we appreciate their business.
One of the biggest problems juniors have is what to do when it is time to retire their show heifers as many do not have a farm or ranch to turn them out on. I guess this is why there are loaner programs which can be good when done for the right reasons. Some breeders take heifers in on trade with a little extra cash to boot on a new heifer and others like us offer our juniors a place to sell them in our annual sale. This is important to discuss with the breeder prior to you making the purchase.
In summary, I encourage all of you to do your homework and have fun in the process before you invest your hard earned dollars. If you are going to keep the heifer after her show career, make sure that she will function in your environment. Buy the best heifer you can afford from a breeder that you feel confident will always be there to make a problem right and one that supports their breed and its juniors. Get involved in your breed’s junior organizations.
Make sure to get into a breed that offers educational contests and scholarships. I just got back from interviewing this year’s crop of TJSSA and American Junior Simbrah Round Up scholarship applicants which is always so inspiring. These juniors are so polished and confident. Why – because of years of involvement with sales talks, public speaking, and giving oral reasons. When we set up our scholarship program, we made it possible for juniors in high school through juniors in college to apply so that the young ones could have the practice going into their senior year interviews. Being able to do it for four years just about insures that everyone will win a scholarship.
If you treat every day as show day, you will enjoy success with your heifers. There is always going to be someone better, luckier, smarter, or faster but if you do not let them outwork you and you give the best you have every day, our Lord will see to it that you earn your share of goodness and success. And when it is all said and done, it is not as important how many ribbons, rosettes, buckles, banners, and trophies you won but what is the most important IS HOW YOU PLAYED THE GAME !!