Reputation Selling Heifers

March 26, 2010

“Would you take 650 a head for the entire group?” Greg said.

“We would,” Dad said.  “But we’ve got guys coming to the sale. And I told Kevin I’m bringing them.  And Bloomington advertised already.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “I wished we could have talked a week ago.  We’ll definitely call you next year.  I didn’t realize you bought cattle in the spring.”

“Whenever.  Whenever there are good cattle to be bought,” John said.

“Do you think we made the right decision,” Dad said.

“Yeah, it’s our reputation,” I said.  “It’s probably going to cost us about 2,000 dollars, though.”

“How do you figure?”

“I figure they’ll bring about 600 dollars net at the sale barn.  So 50 dollars a head times 40 head equals 2,000 dollars.”

“I guess that sounds about right,” Dad said.  “Would could we do?  We’ve made a commitment.”

“And we’re in this business for the long haul.  So even if it costs us a couple thousand short-term, we can make it up long-term by having consistently good cattle that people want to buy.  Let’s call it an investment in our future.”

As our hay supply dwindled and the groundhog didn’t see his shadow, we thought about selling our yearling heifers.  We planned to select the heifers we wanted to breed and keep for cows and then offer the rest privately for farmers to add to their cowherd.  Whatever was left would be sold at the local livestock auction.  We have been doing this ever since we improved our genetics using Red Angus bulls and have always had a positive response from farmers.

We placed an ad in the local Shopping News.  It read, “Yearling Red Angus replacement heifers for sale.  Matthew Walter, phone number.”

We ran the ad for three weeks and I received no calls the first week, two calls the second week, and four calls the third week.  Nibbles, but no bites.

It appeared that our price was a little high.  We were asking $700 a head.  The feeder calf market was soft in January and the first half of February.  Our best estimate was that we would get $500 to $550 a head at the sale barn.

One guy stopped in a couple of times and told us we were $100 too high.  We thanked him for his interest and told him we would tell him when we took them to the sale barn.

Dale stopped in and walked through them.  We could tell he was impressed when 978 walked up and licked his arm.  People are impressed by quiet cattle.

Dale was interested, but in the whole group.  He wanted us to call him when we took them to the sale barn.

We called Kevin at Bloomington a week in advance of the sale so he could advertise them.  We contacted a trucker to help us haul them.  Everything was lined up for the March 12th sale.  And then John and Greg stopped in and made us a great offer.

The very night after we declined Greg’s offer, Kevin called us to make sure we were bringing our heifers.  He said they had received calls and there was definitely some interest in them.  Dad and I were glad we weren’t going back on our word.

We sat and watched cattle sell.  There is always tremendous variation in the prices.  Four red heifers averaging 666 lbs., brought 95 cents per lb.  Five black heifers averaging 632 lbs., brought only 88 cents per lb.

Thirteen red heifers averaging 656 lbs., brought 99.5 cents per lb.  I hoped ours would bring that much.

Our heifers came in the ring.  They looked good.  Thirty-eight heifers averaging 666 lbs., brought 102.5 cents per lb.  Two small heifers averaging 420 lbs. , brought 112.5 cents per lb.  Dale was the winning bidder for all of them.

They averaged $672 each.  Even after commission and trucking was paid, we still made well over $650 each.

We were happy.  We made some money.  And more importantly, we stuck to our word and kept our reputation intact.

March is the Mud Month

March 11, 2010

March is the mud month.

Returning geese, melting snow.

Rubber boots, wet gloves.

Pictured is our cowherd on their winter quarters.  We had them down to Dad’s most of the winter.  It was closer to the hay supply.  But as the weather warmed they started to damage the hay strips with their hooves.

We moved them to my contour strips which will be oats and no-till corn this year, so there is no hay ground to damage.  I am worried about them damaging the waterway which is a grass sod, but I think it will take the abuse from their hooves and spring back eventually.

Here is a picture of my contour strips last summer.

We are buying time until the frost goes out of the ground and the soil dries up, hopefully by April.  Because they will be moved into the calving pasture by April, regardless of conditions.

And this brings me to my point.  If you have animals year-around on your farm they always have to be somewhere.  And some days, even months, are not much fun to farm with livestock.

So if you are a beginning farmer here is my advice.  Stick with seasonal production until you know exactly what you want to do.

Broiler chickens, feeder pigs, lambs, calves, young cull cows, even year-old laying hens are all available in my area in the spring.  Only purchase what can be marketed by fall and have everything gone by Thanksgiving or Christmas.

And then you will enjoy beautiful down-time.  Down-time is even more valuable when you’re trying to figure out what you want to do.

2010 Wisconsin Grazing Conference

February 2, 2010

I am looking forward to the Wisconsin Grazing Conference in Wisconsin Rapids, February 18-20.  The theme is “Pasture, People, Planet, Profit.”  Here is the schedule of speakers and entertainment.

I will report on some of the more interesting speakers  and any other scuttlebut I hear.  I have attended this conference several times and have always learned something and been rejuvenated by talking with my peers.  I hope to see you there!

Salvage: A Junk Run to Belmont

October 15, 2009



Loaded for a junk run to 1st Capitol Salvage in Belmont.

As we accumulate trash on the farm, we sort.  Recyclables, trash, and metal.  We take the recyclables and trash to our township pickup point in Calamine, open two days a week.   This is a service paid for by our property taxes. 

The metal is thrown into an old wagon and when the wagon is full we make a junk run.  This happens a few time per year.  The fun part about this is that scrap metal is actually worth something.  So as we get rid of what we consider trash, we have a payday.

1st Capitol Salvage was paying $100 per ton, yesterday.  I don’t know if this is a good or bad price.  I do know that a few years ago there was a huge demand for scrap metal and prices were at least double.  I saw junk moving out of fields and fencelines that hadn’t moved in my lifetime.  People made part-time jobs out of cleaning up other people’s junk.

We never let our farm get to the point where a junk-man would salivate.   It’s a constant struggle to keep a farm looking decent.  I’m glad we have a system in place to help us.

Our small load only weighed 580 lbs.  We drove away with a check for $29 dollars.  Another successful junk run!

Money is the Only Thing That Can Be Insured

September 8, 2009


Nothing in this picture is insured, not the barn, not the hoop buildings, not the crops, not even the dog.  I only insure that which would be financially devastating to replace.   Am I a reckless wildman of the north woods?  Or am I an astute businessman? 

I go over my farm insurance with my agent nearly every year.  A few years ago he pushed a paper across his desk and asked me to sign it.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“Oh, it’s just a waiver.  The insurance company won’t insure the hoop buildings for wind or hail.”

“Hmmm,” I scratched my head and smiled.  “What else could happen to them?” I asked.

“Oh, someone could take a knife and run along them,” he said, still trying to make the sale.

I thought to myself, “If someone is doing that, then I have bigger problems than hog housing.” 

“I guess I’ll take my chances,” I said and pushed the paper back across his desk.  “Let’s go over the rest of the policy.”  Now I was in a cutting mood and starting to get the high a spendthrift feels upon finding a nickel.

“The barn is insured for $10,000,” he said.

The premium for the barn was $150.  I thought about how little economically I use the barn.  I keep a few square bales of hay and straw in the top and I keep my chickens, (which is a hobby), in the bottom.  But I love that big, old, red barn.  If I were to drop the insurance I would somehow feel like I was neglecting the barn.

“We both know it couldn’t be replaced for $10,000,” he said.

Never talk through the close.

I perked up.  “You’re right, it couldn’t be replaced for $10,000.”

“But you could build something else, like a pole shed,” he stammered as he felt another premium slipping away.

I thought to myself, “If I wanted a pole shed, I would build a pole shed.  What I want is this barn, and the only real insurance is to avoid fires, keep up the roof and structure, and pray.”

What I was in considering in actuality was a $150 lottery ticket which would pay out $10,000 and the only way to win was for my barn to burn down.  I didn’t want any part of it.

So the test I came up with is, Could I afford to lose it?  What I was left with is insurance on my house and garage and personal belongings for $200,000 for a premium of $316 per year.  $500,000 liability for $82.  $36 because I have a 4-wheeler.  And an $18 policy fee which is unexplainable and would drive me crazy if I gave it much thought so I won’t for now.

So what do you think?  Was I raised by wolves?

Health Savings Account

August 27, 2009

J9 recently commented and ask that I explain my healthcare.  Thank you for this suggestion.  This topic is timely as the country debates health reform. 

So I’m writing this on a rainy Thursday morning, trying to decide whether to eat eggs or hamburgers for breakfast.  Yes, my diet is still meat heavy.  I’m conducting a lifelong test on the question, “Does saturated fat clog arteries?”

I have a Health Savings Account combined with High Deductible Health Insurance through Golden Rule Insurance.  My insurance premiums and the money I contribute to the savings account are tax-deductible. 

Congress created this program in 2003.  I jumped on it quickly because I already had high-deductible health insurance.  It’s a burden to pay the premiums and to contribute to the savings account, but it’s nice to have money I can use for medical expenses.  And any money I don’t use for medical expenses can be used tax-free for any purpose once I reach retirement age. 

So what does this look like in practice?  I have a $3000 deductible policy.  For this insurance I pay $2223 annually.  I contribute $2850 annually to my savings account.  So my total health cost for the year is $5073.

I am in favor of healthcare reform.  However, I reluctantly admit, I am not writing letters or attending listening  sessions.  I do little more than vote.  I am waiting to see what congress comes up with and will choose the best option for me.

Kiva: Microfinance With American Ingenuity

July 27, 2009

Can a loan of $500 dollars change someone’s life?  Microfinance says yes.  Microfinance is the supply of loans and other financial services to the poor. 

Muhammad Yunus is a Bangladeshi banker and economist.  While visiting a poor village near his university in Bangladesh in 1976,  Mr. Yunus was shocked to meet people kept in virtual servitude by usurious loans.  He made a loan of $27 to 42 women out of his own pocket.  This experience caused him to realize that an organization was needed that would provide banking services to the poor.  Grameen bank was born.

In 2006, Muhammed Yunus and Grameen bank were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for their efforts to create economic and social development from below.”

Something about microfinance inspired me.  I like the idea of helping someone with their own idea.  After all, I’ve benefited from borrowing. 

I started looking for a way to get involved.  In 2007 I read that Premal Shah, the President of Kiva, was speaking in Madison.  Kiva is microfinance with American ingenuity.  Kiva’s mission is “to connect people through lending for the sake of alleviating poverty.”  “Kiva is the world’s first person-to-person micro-lending website, empowering individuals to lend directly to unique entreprenuers around the globe.”

I attended Mr. Shah’s invigorating talk.  The next day I made a loan of $25 dollars to Guloglan Agakishiev, who was running a butcher shop on what looked to be card tables.  Within a couple of months Guloglan had started repaying his loan of $1000 on schedule.  He finished repaying his loan in the fifteen months that was promised.

Testing Kiva even further, I let my money sit in their account and watched to see if they would sweep it into their coffers.  To their credit, they haven’t, and occasionally remind me that I have money in my account that could be loaned again or taken out.

Hooked, I started to give gift certificates to try to get more people involved.  And so now I am offering a $25 Kiva gift ceritificate to each of the first three people who comment.