by: Wes Ishmael

Hooter McCormick always loved a bull sale. At least he did when the bulls were worth bidding.

Such sales are always sprinkled with promise; new genetics spreading across commercial cow pastures, and perhaps the discovery of a new sire line or cow family. There's also the promise of continuity, one generation building on the last as seedstock producers complete another cycle of selection and management, with the understanding they were deciding at least two years earlier what their commercial customers would need today.

Then, there's the auction sale, bidding competition underscoring the dynamics of free-market capitalism.

Hooter remembered a frigid sale up North years ago when there were, literally, eight people in attendance and no one on the phone. It was exactly the right eight people, though—the bulls all sold at gangbuster prices.

Hooter also remembered standing-room only sales where genuine bids were scarcer than pliers when you need them.

His personal relationship with bull sales varied over time. In his wayward youth, he earned extra money working the ring. Along the way, he'd buy a bull for a buddy—no commission, of course. These days, if he went to a sale it was as the guest of someone wanting his input for one reason or another.

Hooter always marveled at the diversity of bull buyers, what caught the attention of some and left others cold. In general, malleable and non-specific terms, Hooter fit buyers into five main categories.

Buyers of Other Names

First, there were the Mechanics.

As the name suggests, Hooter defined Mechanics as those who understand cattle and the cattle business inside and out. They have an eye for cattle, but they also know as much about genetic selection tools—like EPDs and specific indexes—as top-drawer seedstock suppliers. They have specific goals and know how to apply selection pressure in order to move their herd in a defined direction. They are artists who understand the science of selection, along with the economics associated with incremental change.

In Hooter's view, Mechanics are the ones who sit ringside, glance at their marked catalogues from time to time and bid with confidence. It never pays to push them; they never seem to have a specific price point in mind. Tally up their purchases at the end, however, and the average price provides insight to the number they were working with all along.

Hooter's buddy, Peetie, was a living definition of the Mechanic. Hooter suspected he spent as much time on the phone with molecular geneticists and animal breeders as those who pursued the specialty for a living. At least as much time as he spent poring over spreadsheets in the name of finding added economic efficiency.

Peetie bought at least seven bulls every year in order to keep his genetics fresh and to prevent buying or selling his entire bull battery at the market high or low. Any sale Peetie considered had to have lots of bulls and lots of the right kind.

“About the only index they're missing is the one for B.S.,” Peetie would say as he slung an unwanted catalogue into the trash.

Next came what Hooter thought of as Tinkerers. They were the sort that wanted to use and understand cattle and selection tools, like the Mechanic. Despite their desire and effort, though, and by no fault of their own, it just wasn't in them. Numbers—usually the bigger the better—made their eyes sparkle like a raccoon's in the headlights. Hard as they tried to resist, the temptation to focus on a single trait or two sometimes got the better of them. In their desire to understand, they asked everybody what they thought, which only added to the confusion.

Uncas Bingelmeyer, Hooter's long-time pal, was a pure Tinkerer, but one with more confidence than a winning jockey after the race. He'd ask everyone what they thought, but already knew what he was going to do, no matter how apparently random. For instance, Uncas once spent several years trying to document, evaluate and index hide quality.

During a sale, Hooter noticed that Tinkerers often bid with gusto up to a certain price point, then stopped faster than a sprung mousetrap. Then they rifled through the pages of their note-scribbled sale book, hoping to find something they missed, something that would work in their price range.

Then came what Hooter called the Cadillacs. These were buyers who showed up to buy bulls at the top end, according to pedigree, numbers, pictures and sale order. Their philosophy seemed to be that if lots of other people wanted them, then they must be good bulls. Besides, buying at too low of a price would be like driving a rusty Chrysler to the school reunion. When they set their sights on a bull, the only one who stood a chance was another Cadillac.

At the opposite end of the spectrum came the Economy buyers, not to be confused with tire kickers or pure price buyers. Hooter reckoned that Economy buyers could be as discerning as the mechanic, but they used thresholds for minimum performance and based their economics on sheer volume. They would never be accused of paying too much for a bull.

Finally, came a subset of sorts, what Hooter called the Partners. These buyers could be mechanics, tinkerers or even economy-minded at heart. It didn't matter because they never selected a bull; they left it up to the seedstock supplier.

As the classification suggests, Hooter viewed these buyers and sellers as having formed a sort of working relationship by which each hoped to benefit. In these arrangements, buyers simply placed an order for however many bulls, at whatever average price.

Typically, in such cases, this class of buyer already had an established relationship with the seedstock producer, but not necessarily. Even if sellers were unfamiliar with the buyer's cowherd, specifically, they understood buyer goals relative to their resources.

The first part of that understanding came with the simple fact that the Partner buyers understood their specific goals relative to their resources and were willing to share the information.

“They'll always send me more bull for the money than I could accomplish for myself,” one such buyer explained to Hooter years ago. “Since I'm not sifting the bulls, they'll make doubly sure to send me bulls I won't want to send back. If you pick the right supplier, take the time to get to know their cowherd and how they manage, then it's really hard to mess up.”

As such Hooter noticed those in the Partner arena had less ego. They were confident enough to choose the supplier but felt no compunction to choose the individual bulls.

Of course, none of this explained the creation of a bull like Sir-Loin-A lot, the patriarch of the Bingelmeyer Composite II. At least a frame score 10, feet the size of a Clydesdale, pencil-gutted and slab-sided, but with a suicidal plunge between hooks and pins.

“You make up for the thickness with the height,” Uncas had explained when Hooter first eyed the beast. “Even with that sheath on him, I dare you to find a patch of pear he can't get across unscathed. I'll bet you've never seen another one like him.”

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