It's designed to move the industry forward by merging the interests of seedstockers, commercial producers, feeders and packers. It involves two of the biggest names in the cattle business - Vann-Roach Cattle Company of Ft. Worth, TX, and Leachman Cattle Company of Billings, MT.

The Vann-Roach/Leachman joint venture seeks to market bulls in the southern region of the U.S. and Mexico, filling the demand for quality English-base cattle of known quality and genetics.

"We feel bulls over the next five years will play a major part in changing the cattle industry," says Dan Leddy, manager of the joint venture. "There's a trend toward using more English-type cattle in the southern U.S., and buyers are demanding bulls of known background."

The new program is the first of its kind, Leddy says. The bull breeding program in Texas and a handful of other states where Vann-Roach concentrates its business will be patterned after the Leachman program in Montana. There, the Leachmans work with 52 cooperative breeders, some in the program for as long as 15 years.

The Vann-Roach/Leachman program will be a year-round process, Leddy says. The aim is for everyone involved to derive the benefits of quality and genetic improvement.

Each operator owns his cattle and is financially independent," Lee Leachman explains. "They keep the records and do the management. We provide the genetic and marketing expertise.

"Because of their size, most operators don't have a marketing plan. We help them through the scale of volume. In this system, they produce the bulls and we focus on the genetics and marketing," Leachman adds.

How Do Cooperators Benefit? Lee Leachman says the partnership will allow the development of more of the kind of bulls that are in demand. During the next year, Leddy anticipates marketing several hundred bulls - Black and Red Angus, South Devon, Charolais and four composites, two each with Bos taurus and Bos indicus backgrounds.

Initially, he expects to have 10 cooperator herds involved in the program. They'll be selected on the basis of herd size (200-cow minimum), history of the herd, health programs, genetics, quality and management expertise of the owners. Most of the cows will be bred artificially.

"We need to add more progressive cooperator breeders as the program expands," Leddy says. "It will be a long-term relationship, and we know things won't happen overnight. We want slow steady growth by pushing three things - quality, quality, quality."

Evaluating Bulls Bulls from the cooperating herds will be evaluated. Only those meeting the standards for quality, genetics, weight, hip height and other factors will go on test in San Angelo, TX. Culls will be steered, fed out and carcass data collected.

Qualifying bull calves will go on test at seven months weighing 550-700 lbs., on a growing-development ration designed to prevent over-conditioning and leaving them "ready to work" when sold at 13 months of age. Prior to sale, either by private treaty or auction, bulls will be fertility tested, frame scored, weighed and scrotal measurement taken. Only those meeting the established standards will be sold.

Sale bulls will weigh 1,100-1,350 lbs. and be offered with the normal Leachman guarantee. Two tests per year are scheduled. In addition, data will be gathered from steer and heifer contemporary groups. Prices for herd and commercial bulls will be based on their quality, genetics and EPDs.

"The cooperator herds are all people focused in the same direction," Leddy observes. "It's sort of a vertical integration as a group. It gives them the advantage of sharing ideas with other cooperators and opens up the world market to their bulls.

"We see the cooperator bull business as just another change in a changing industry. As the premium on quality becomes more evident, quality improvement will trickle down to the smaller producers," he says.

Plenty Of Sales Potential With 5.8 million cows in Texas alone, the potential to sell a lot of top-quality bulls is huge, Leddy says. But the program is more than just selling bulls, he adds.

Great quantities of performance and quality data will be generated, and heifers from cooperator herds will be available as replacements for both seedstock and commercial herds. By utilizing these bulls and heifers, a producer could have his herd completely rebuilt in four to five years with the quality and genetics demanded by the market, Leddy says.

"It's a program really directed at the commercial producer," Leddy says. "After a bull purchase, our people will work with the producer in marketing the calves."

Marketing can take any form - auction market, video auction, futures contract, etc., Leddy says. "The producer will have uniform calves of known quality and genetics that will be worth more. The goal is to provide the most money possible on the whole calf crop, whether for bulls, replacement heifers, stockers or feeders."

Forming the joint venture with Leachmans was a customer-driven decision, says Roger Vann.

"Our customers are demanding better-performing cattle," he says. "They realize the quickest, least expensive way to improve their cattle is bull selection. Finally, the seedstock producer, the commercial producer, feeder and packer will see the value of each other."

Long-Time Commitment Vann-Roach was established in the 1940s as an order buying firm by Dallas Vann after the demise of the Ft. Worth Stockyards. Today, it's operated by grandsons Roger, Weldon and Gary Vann.

The Leachman organization traces its roots back to Ankony Angus in which Lee Leachman and son Jim were involved. For over 25 years Jim has headed up Leachman Cattle Co., in Billings, MT, a firm that's developed a reputation for marketing genetically proven bulls internationally. Jim's sons (Lee and Seth) are now also in the firm.

Roger Vann says both parties discussed and studied the advisability of such a move for about 18 months.

"We feel our experience and size gives us a good perspective on the industry's problems and the capability to actually help change the industry," Leddy adds.