The secret to being a top genetics provider is the same as satisfying consumer demand for beef products, says Harvey Lemmon, Lemmon Cattle Enterprises of Woodbury, GA, located 60 miles south of Atlanta.
"You have to learn what your customers need and provide it, rather than suiting yourself and convincing customers to buy it," he says.
A past president of the Beef Improvement Federation and the American Angus Association, Lemmon sells 175 Angus bulls annually working with three cooperator herds in a total artificial insemination program.
He says his emphasis since beginning his business with his wife in 1971 has been to breed the best bulls available for the commercial Angus customer. He began by selecting heavily for growth, one of the shortcomings he saw in the breed back in the late 1960s.
The first Angus bull to register a 1,000-lb. adjusted yearling weight in Georgia occurred in 1970. Lemmon developed the first bull to achieve an adjusted yearling weight of 1,400 lbs. in 1983. Last year, 14 bulls at the Tifton (GA) Test Station had adjusted yearling weights of 1,400 lbs. Lemmon had two of them.
Quick growth achieved, his emphasis more recently has shifted to bolstering carcass traits to complement that faster growth.
"We started to select for carcass traits about five years ago when I noticed everyone going for black cattle," Lemmon says. With many breeds having adopted a black hide to take advantage of the Angus popularity, the color black doesn't ensure the quality today that it used to, he says.
Prove It And Be Paid For It To differentiate between the black cattle that will perform in the carcass and black cattle that won't, Lemmon says a carcass performance pedigree on bulls will soon become a necessity. "That's where the premium for the good quality black calves will soon come from," he says.
To help his clients take advantage of such shifts, Lemmon is increasingly working with them in forward planning their genetics.
It's a radical departure for most of his customers, he adds. Most tend to wait until they need a bull and then search out the closest thing available in terms of traits desired. With analysis and forward planning, the ideal bull can be custom built to the customer's needs and on the ground when he needs it, he says.
"Using embryo transfer, we'll predict and develop those ideal bulls," he says. "They'll be engineered to fit that particular customer's needs, which will cut down on the time needed to make serious genetic change in the herd." The first of those embryo transfer implantations will be done in December, he adds.
"We do everything and anything we can do to help our customers," he sa ys. For a number of years, Lemmon has helped his customers market their cull cows.
Another traditional service is assembling packages of feeder calves from his various customers' herds and brokering the tractor-trailer lots to feedlots in the High Plains. This year, he marketed a total of 500 feeder calves for his customers over a two-day period.
This summer, Lemmon is hosting a seminar on retained ownership and grid pricing for his customers.
"I see my purpose as trying to help the people I work with learn as much as they can about this business in order to give them the best shot at profitability," Lemmon says. "If I'm not knowledgeable, I don't have much to offer my customers."
When commercial cattle producers go shopping for beef cattle genetics, Lemmon has one main dose of advice - start with integrity.
"It all starts right there," Lemmon says. "You have to be able to count on those cattle being what the guy who sold them to you says they are. We've always felt that if an animal wasn't good enough for me to keep in my herd, then it wasn't good enough to sell to a customer."
The new genetics technologies under development and research, Lemmon says, are exciting to contemplate. He expects sexed semen to be a tremendous tool for selection. And further refinements in the use of ultrasound will be extremely helpful as well.
"Better ultrasound procedures and analysis will allow us to get to more meaningful, accurate EPDs for carcass quality. That will be a huge help toward producing quality cattle in a more timely fashion," he says.