Hereford progress, Association board member speaks of demand for black baldies
Bridger Valley – In the first year of his four-year term on the Board of Directors for the American Hereford Association, Hereford producer Dale Micheli of Bridger Valley says the experience has been both interesting and frustrating.
“Some things are pretty good for the Hereford business right now. Demand is up, and there are a couple of exciting studies on heterosis,” says Micheli of research initiated by the Angus breed. “We cooperated with those studies, which show a benefit for black baldie females throughout their lives.”
Micheli says Hereford bulls are selling well this fall, particularly in the eastern and southern U.S. “We were a little slower going to black cattle in the west, and maybe we’ll be a little slower going back to black baldies,” he notes, adding that some of the south’s interest in Herefords is a Hereford/Brahma cross. “They’re really popular down there, and are selling really well. A friend of mine sold two $9,500 bulls to a Brahma outfit there, and those kinds of things are exciting.”
The Certified Hereford Beef Board oversees the Certified Hereford Beef (CHB) brand, and Micheli is a part of that leadership. “That’s been a little disappointing,” he says. “Business all the way around is a little disappointing, because there are cheaper proteins available.”
The CHB Board works with staff on promotions and developing new products, like the recent Western Ranchero – a marinated Spanish line that Micheli says is selling well.
“We have two packers that slaughter and cerfity the carcasses, and there’s an online CHB, from which anyone can order, and we have several stores and distributors with the CHB brand,” he explains, adding that black baldies can go into either the Certified Angus Beef (CAB) or the CHB programs – they qualify for both.
Micheli is also a part of the Breed Improvement Committee, which he says is another exciting aspect of today’s Hereford breed.
“There’s excitement, but also frustration with genomics and DNA markers,” he says. “Some companies are getting ahead of the game, and selling packages to breeders for genetic improvement, even when there’s no accuracy. We’re not finding consistency for marbling and other traits we already have some EPDs for, but they’re selling them to breeders, and the accuracy is around .0006.”
However, he says the Hereford Association is heavily involved, and he thinks Hereford genetics have a great future. “We have more testing on individual cattle than anyone else, but there’s nothing yet to suggest we have enough accuracy to count on. We’re still doing research and gathering data.”
Micheli says the association’s goal is to have data on every walking herd sire. “We’re asking breeders to send in samples to gather information,” he notes. “If we could find a marker for cancer eye, for example, and eliminate that slight problem in Herefords, that would be great. But for right now, the accuracy is so low and they haven’t found enough common ground yet.”
In addition to his committees, Micheli says the Show and Sale Committee does a lot of work, as well as the association’s Marketing Committee. The association spent three days in Kansas City, Mo. last spring to develop a strategic plan for the next five years.
“We brought in outside help and other breeders to brainstorm and come up with a good plan for the next five years,” says Micheli, who will again head to the 2010 annual meeting the day after the Micheli Ranch’s bull sale in late October.
“The board is made up of a really good bunch of guys, and you’ve got to appreciate them,” he says. “They’re all producers, but one is an attorney, another is a retired three-star general who owns a few cows and is very smart, and another breeder used to sell tires as a huge distributor, so there’s diversity to the board.”
Micheli says he’s attended the Hereford Association’s annual meeting off and on for 30 years, but he’s only been in leadership since he was elected to the board in November 2009. He’ll serve his four years on the 12-man board, which replaces three members each year. He says being elected to the board was a nerve-wracking experience. “I had to give two speeches in front of 500 people, telling them why I was better than the other guy,” he recounts.
In addition to face-to-face meetings, Micheli says he participates in conference calls generally twice a month – one for the whole board and one for CHB.
“Marketing is always the biggest issue,” he says. “I feel like our job as a board is to help the association help our membership sell their cattle, and to get the market share back that we have lost in the Hereford business. The Angus people have done a good job, especially with CAB. They are, by far, the biggest branded product, and there are 40 different Angus lines. We are the second biggest branded program, but Angus just trained sales staff and sent out 300, and we have four or five.”
“My grandfather started with Hereford cattle in 1917, and we’ve had them ever since,” says Micheli of his personal involvement with the breed. “I’m very partial to them, have grown up with them and love them. They’ve been awful good to us, and we still sell our Herefords very well, but not as many as we used to.”
Micheli’s grandfather also started the Southwest Hereford Association, and the family sold their bulls at the Kemmerer sale for years before starting their own sale at the ranch in 1988.
“We prefer their attitudes and disposition,” says Micheli of the breed. “That’s the number one thing. Nothing, no matter what they say about any other breed, can compare to the dispositions of the Hereford. Very rarely will we get a bad Hereford. They’re easy to handle, and they’re good cattle.”
“When we were on top of the world, we were probably guilty of not being hard enough on the bottom end. Probably the best thing that has happened to us is that we’ve had to be very selective, and as a result the Hereford breed has made great strides in quality,” says Micheli, who says he sees the breed’s comeback happening by region. “We’ve seen demand pick up, and we’ll see here in a couple weeks at our own sale. The Angus are still very popular, and they will be, but most herds across America are now black, and they need to look at crossbreeding for black baldie females. There are not enough black baldies out there, and you can about name your price right now. That’s a benefit to us. In our experience with desert cattle, I think that’s still the best cow out there.”
Micheli says he’s pleased that George Oschner and Marvin Berry were nominated for the Hereford Hall of Fame during his term on the board. The two Wyoming producers will be inducted into the hall of fame in November at the annual meeting.
“It is a big honor, and they’re good people, both of them. I’m tickled that it happened while I was on the board, they’re very deserving,” he says.
Of serving on the board, Micheli says, “It’s a real honor, and something I wanted to do. As I watched, I thought I’d like to be involved, help out and do what I can to promote the Hereford breed. I don’t have an agenda – I just want to promote the Hereford cattle that I love.”