Small-scale cattle producers step onto bigger stage

The folks at the 21-cow Mi-Hud Angus Ranch in Kuna, Idaho, are taking their small operation to a much larger stage.

Owner Mike Relk and 10 of his fellow small-scale cattle producers in the greater Boise area are getting their genetically strong breeding stock in front of more prospective buyers via the internet.

The group put together the online High Desert Select Bull and Female Sale with help from JBS Auctions.

“It’s a way for the small producer to put together a number of bulls of high-quality genetics and market them,” Relk said. “It’s an opportunity for us to showcase our animals.”

The High Desert effort exemplifies the genetic gap narrowing between large and small breeders as technology and data advance. Big operators have more total chances to produce a breeding bull good enough to grace the pages of sire directories. But smaller players say they can also offer excellent genetics, in part by accessing these same superstar bulls through artificial insemination.

“We continue to improve our herd, through specific genetic matings, to have efficient cattle to bring to our customers,” Relk said.

Mi-Hud’s registered Black Angus cattle are bred from high-quality “AI” sires for calving ease, feed-to-growth efficiency and beef carcass traits. The herd originates from cows he acquired five years ago from a large Idaho breeder known for strong genetics.

“I was comfortable with the quality of the cattle right off the bat, but for the small producer, there is no platform to market these good genetics,” said Relk, who historically made most sales through word-of-mouth or advertising.

The online auction, which opened for viewing Jan. 4 and closes at 1 p.m. Mountain Feb. 25, “is a way for the small producer to put together a number of bulls of high-quality genetics, and market them,” he said, adding that the format also figures to provide “true price discovery.”

Eligible animals pass parentage-verification and breeding-soundness tests. Buyers can purchase insurance on bulls for the breeding season, and share that cost with sellers.

“I promise you, somebody from Butte, Mont., doesn’t know about the bulls we have in the Treasure Valley,” Relk said. “This gives them an opportunity to look at the genetics we have.”

Zach Raptosh, a cattle producer and veterinarian in south Nampa, Idaho, said he expects the group to field about three dozen bulls in the auction. All will be DNA-tested to give buyers confidence about parentage.

“Every bull in our sale is sired by some of the industry’s top genetics,” he said. “We are all really passionate about cattle. We are all aiming to be progressive breeders and to raise animals that are in the upper echelon of the breed.”

Thanks to available techniques such as artificial insemination and embryo transfer, “I may only have 25 cows, but my top 10 percent of calves are as good as anybody else’s top 10 percent,” Raptosh said. “That is what we are striving for.”

Dennis Boehlke, who runs about 65 mother cows south of Nampa, has been artificially inseminating all of his cows since 1979. He maintained strong genetics by consistently seeking the best sires.

Many Angus breeders run seven to eight head, he said.

“Some of the better-known bulls over the years have come out of small herds,” Boehlke said. “A good one is a good one is a good one, no matter where it comes from.”

For the small operator, online sales can be more convenient and less expensive than live auctions, he said.

Relk, who has six bulls in the sale, said organizers of the High Desert online auction aim to hold the event annually.