Capitalizing on Value Through Cooperation
Owners of various sized Beefmaster herds band together to test and market bulls.
By Maggie Malson, photos by Derek Frenzel
The Beefmaster breed, founded in 1931 on 6 essential traits — fertility, disposition, weight, conformation, hardiness and milk production — remains the focus of purebred breeders like Temple cattleman Derek Frenzel.
He has devoted his career in the cattle business to finding the best of the best when it comes to Beefmaster genetics. Derek’s dad, Gary Frenzel, started the family’s Beefmaster cow-calf operation more than 35 years ago.
“My dad saw a neighbor’s bull and the resulting calves from mating him with commercial cows,” Derek Frenzel says. “He made the decision to start using Beefmaster bulls on our own commercial cows. Then in the process converted the cow herd over to a purebred operation.”
Change is constant
As the elder Frenzel developed his cow herd and more bulls, he realized the potential for creating more value for Beefmaster genetics by cooperating with other producers. He created a cooperative with other like-minded breeders to test and market their genetics. The business has changed and grown through the years under the management of the Frenzels.
Today, Derek brings together purebred cattlemen to test Beefmaster genetics, then markets them to commercial cattlemen through the Beef on Forage and Texoma bull sales. Gary managed the Beef on Forage test until his retirement in 2016, when Derek, who was managing the Texoma Sale, merged the programs.
The first sale was put together in 1987 where 27 bulls were sold to 18 buyers across Texas. VHS videos and complete carcass data were taken on all bulls in 1998. The first year of a video-only sale and live Internet bidding was marked in 2015, and in 2017, 187 bulls sold to more than 50 buyers from 11 states.
“We’ve always tried to be on the cutting edge of what we do with technology, like ultrasound and EPDs (expected progeny differences),” Frenzel says.
“We feel we’ve come a long way. To help our customers make better decisions, we felt the next step in the industry that may be more important than anything is the feed efficiency of our cow herd. Our breed itself is known to be efficient, but now we’re going to find the outliers in the breed and capitalize on that even more.”
In December 2016, a GrowSafe Beef system was installed to test bulls in a feedlot setting for feed efficiency and residual feed intake (RFI), in addition to gathering other data. Since then, the Frenzels have collected data on all their replacement heifers, and approximately 800 bulls have gone through the GrowSafe system or are on feed through it now.
“We’re really learning interesting things with this system,” Frenzel explains. “By monitoring eating habits of those animals, the system will red flag a calf if it’s feed intake decreases by 15 to 20 percent, so we can start watching him for sickness. Because of the millions of data points it collects, in the future we might find some variation of cattle that can’t handle being in a feedlot situation.”
The GrowSafe Beef system also takes a weight of every animal when it goes to water and steps on the scale.
“That really increases the accuracy of what we’re doing and cuts down on the days we have to have them in the feedlot,” Frenzel adds. “We run a 55-day test with a warm-up period and 49 days of good data collection.”
After being weaned and preconditioned on their home ranches, all bulls go to PX Feeders, Evant, where the GrowSafe system is. Once the test is finished, yearling weights and scan data are collected on the bulls, and sale selections are made. The keeper bulls go to pasture in Northeast Texas, near Greenville.
“It’s really hot during the summer and really cold in the winter,” Frenzel says. “It’s a lot of grass, but poor forage. This helps us develop bulls who can go into any environment. They learn to eat grass again and are fed to maintain condition.”
Bulls that don’t make a sale are castrated, fed and processed. Carcass data is collected and shared with breeders as another way of letting them know how their genetics are working.
“Our claim to fame is our fleshing ability scores we give,” Frenzel says. “That’s why buyers keep coming back, because they can turn them out and they just work.”
Benefits to breeders
“The bull business isn’t for the weak of heart,” Frenzel admits. “It’s a tough deal, and you can take losses when you start commingling these bulls. It’s really for the progressive breeder who wants to know where his or her program stands compared to everyone else and help him or her improve. It also enables owners of smaller herds to have a place to develop and market their bulls.
One such owner, Mark Blau, of Menard, began raising purebred Beefmasters in 1985. He had learned about the 6 essentials on which the breed was founded and felt Beefmaster bulls would be a good fit since he was new to the cattle business. Prior to that he had purchased bred commercial cows and calved them out.
“I liked a number of things about the Beefmaster cattle over the cows’ previous calves,” says Blau, who used the Beefmaster Breeders United breeding-up program to convert his herd to a registered operation.
Blau subsequently joined the cooperative and started testing his bulls. ➤
“The bulls I initially put in the test made the sale, but they didn’t perform good enough,” he admits. “I started buying bulls out of the Beef on Forage sale to increase the performance on my calves, so my bulls would sell better. Putting my bulls in the test helped me see what I had. It’s also a great tool for evaluating your individual cows.”
Blau continues to put his bulls in the test and says it gives him confidence he is selling a good product.
“If you pay attention to how calves are doing through the program, get feedback, and make adjustments, you can continue to improve your own program,” he says.
Another cooperative member is John Pierson from Vacaville, Calif. John and his wife, Susan, have owned and operated Cherry Glen Beefmasters since 1989. A retired school teacher, Pierson came to raising Beefmasters after inheriting some cows from his father. He, like Gary Frenzel, saw what the neighbor’s bull was able to do on commercial cows and was impressed with the Beefmaster signature traits — docility, feed efficiency, mothering ability, bone and depth of body.
“They are all-around good cattle,” John Pierson says. “Some people don’t think they perform well in colder climates, but they do. We sold a bull out of the Texoma Sale that went to Minnesota. He walked off the trailer from Oklahoma right into a snowstorm and went to work.”
As owners of a smaller herd, the Piersons understand the value of belonging to the cooperative and marketing their bulls in a large group. Pierson illustrates this point.
“We had a buyer from Oregon purchase some of our bulls from the Beef on Forage and Texoma sales, and I thanked him after the sale. He said he’d driven by our place but never stopped. We have bulls for sale, but at our place, he may find only 2 or 3 that fit his criteria because we have 40 mother cows. At these sales, he’ll find a great number because we’re offering 150 to 200 head from a variety of breeders. This cooperative enables you to market your cattle in a much bigger arena than if you stayed home.”
Benefits to buyers
“We’re finding from a bull selling standpoint that the industry has gone to a predominantly black cow herd,” Frenzel explains. “They’ve lost a lot of maternal traits in their cow herds, along with losing heterosis and weaning weights. By coming back with our cattle, they’re able to get a lot of that back, which is making our breed stand out more in the recent years.”
The Beef on Forage Sale is held in October in Brenham with mainly spring-born calves selected to fit producers in the South and East, who calve in the fall. The Texoma Sale, held in March in McAlester, Okla., has mainly fall calves, which are tailored for cattle ranchers in the Midwest, northern states and the West, who calve in the spring.
Last fall, 100 bulls were purchased out of the fall sale and destined for Florida.
“Producers there went the black hide route for so long, they weren’t getting the weaning weights, so that’s what they were looking for,” he explains. “We’re seeing our bulls thrive the most on the east and west coasts in harsh environments. The harsher the environments, the more the bulls stand out. Guys in Oregon and Nevada like them because the bulls will go to all corners of the pasture to graze and utilize what they have.”
Frenzel attributes this ability to do well on the muscling and the genetics in the breed.
“We’ve concentrated on ribeyes and natural thickness,” he says. “A lot of what we do is to document how easily they can stay in condition. Determining fleshing ability scores along with feed efficiency testing will make a really easy-keeping, efficient type of animal. The fleshing ability score was made for the ranchers in the Gulf Coast area, where there are poor grasses.”
Buyer education remains top of mind for Frenzel and his cooperative members. Providing as much data as possible in the catalog, as well as giving pre-sale presentations explaining feed efficiency and EPDs help with the learning curve.
“By using GrowSafe and the data collected from these tests, we’ll be breeding more efficient cattle for our buyers,” Frenzel says. “We’ll do the work on our end, then the commercial guy doesn’t have to do as much work on his. We want our buyers to have confidence that we’re trying to do the next best thing to help them on the back-end and add value to their cattle.
“Not all bulls are created equal and it’s our job to separate out the superior genetics,” Frenzel concludes.
Value Through Cooperation is excerpted from the March 2018 edition of The Cattleman magazine.