Today, there are scores of preconditioning programs with essentially the same purpose - to verify that calf health and weaning rules have been followed. But too often producers don't get paid for extra costs involved, and one thing is still missing - a way to identify genetics back to the farm from the retail counter. That's an important ingredient to assure product consistency, a major concern today in the beef industry.

The Nichols Farms Genetic Source Feeder Calf & Bred Heifer Sale ties it all together. The second annual sale Dec. 3, 1997, at the Creston Livestock Auction, Creston, IA, featured 1,400 calves, all sired by Nichols' bulls, consigned mostly in 20- to 70-head lots by producers.

The event was the brainchild of owner J. David Nichols and market owner, the late Dick Myers. It was their answer for small-volume producers who wanted to get paid for the superior genetics they produced.

Buyers filled the stands. Bidding was brisk with steer sales in the low $90s. Black heifer calves sold from $79.50 to $84.50 with the top lot bringing $90. The 360 bred heifers sold mostly in the $700-800 range.

Calves were weaned 30-45 days before the sale and went through a complete preconditioning program with booster shots, pour-on and dewormer, and were certified "weaned" by area veterinarians. Each animal carried a special Nichols' tag number that stayed on through the feedlot.

The day before the sale, each calf was weighed and scored, based on a predicted outcome group, and measured for condition, frame and muscling. Cattle were commingled into 50,000-lb. lots, and sold with no "outs" to farmer feeders, custom operators or investors. Each consignor was paid based on the lot price prorated to the individual weight of each calf.

Nichols estimates that sales returned over $60/head premium over what they'd have brought if they went to a sale barn. "It's the most rewarding thing I've ever done," he says. "We're helping our customers precondition, wean, give shots, use good bulls and sound crossbreeding to give them a chance to get some value back for their inputs."

The one-source genetic sale is part of Nichols Farm's Genetic Alliance involving producers who buy the company's Angus, Simmental, Salers and composite breeding stock. The alliance targets heavier-muscled, high-cutability cattle. Last year, Nichols sold 400 bulls and boasts one of the largest carcass EPD databases in the country. He collected information on 5,800 head last year.