With the number of alliances growing, producers are finding healthy competition.
When it comes to targeting your cattle to a specific grid, a little healthy competition among alliances is good thing. That's been the experience for Jim Price, Miles Land & Livestock, Alcova, WY.
He and wife Peggy have been marketing their mostly Charolais/Limousin-cross cattle to Laura's Lean Beef, Lexington, KY, for more than 12 years. But last year, they marketed a few to Future Beef Operations, Parker, CO.
“We don't just wait until the time comes and sell our cattle. We try to market them where they'll fit,” Price says.
Heavy-muscled, lean cattle are the specialty at the Prices' 1,300-cow operation on 50,000 acres. Last year, about 90% of their calves went to Laura's Lean, an all-natural, branded beef company that started in 1985.
“After handling these cattle all-natural for about 10 years, I have no qualms about not medicating the cattle and not implanting them,” Price says. “It requires a little tighter weaning management. You've got to watch those cattle pretty close. But with the right vaccination program, you can get along fine.”
And, he says, Laura's Lean pays a premium that covers the gain lost by not using implants.
Of course, not all of Price's calves hit Laura's very specific target. The calves he treats and those with English breeding don't fit Laura's all-natural, exotic-breeds-only program.
Fortunately, with the increasing number of alliances in the industry, Price can now try to market these calves to fit another value-based grid.
Last fall, Price marketed a few calves to newcomer Future Beef. Rather than the all-natural emphasis, Future Beef's focus is providing one retailer a safe, consistent product and a system that's source-verified all the way back to the cow/calf producer.
Since they are so new, Price says it's too early to say how much business he'll do with Future Beef down the road. But, he certainly welcomes the competition.
“We're looking forward to doing business with both outfits,” he says. “In this day and age, if you can find a home for your cattle… it's good to have some competition in that market.”
He recommends that producers feel secure about how their cattle will perform on a particular grid.
“If your cattle won't work on their grid, you can get crucified on it,” he warns. “But if you can get your cattle to fit, grids really offer premiums.”
Selling to Laura's has been beneficial for his operation, especially in those years when the market wasn't very good, Price says.
The cattle bring $40-$70 more than conventional markets, he says. Plus, at about 120 to 180 days after he sells the calves, Laura's pays a cow/calf bonus — a percentage of the profits they make depending on how well his cattle did. In addition, Price receives carcass data.
“If you're making genetic changes, you can see where your cattle are going,” he says. “We're trying to grow cattle for a specific market — heavy muscled, lean cattle. And we try to pick our bulls that way.
“We can't specifically identify each cow individually and what she's doing. But, we do know which groups of bulls we turn out with our cows, so we track our genetics that way,” he says.
Having the carcass data up front also helps make dealing with Laura's a good experience, Price says.
“They know what your cattle will do, and they know that you know because they feed the data back to you,” he says. “It's been a win-win deal for us.”
Future Beef also plans to provide carcass data to its suppliers.