The Texas Longhorn University

By Darol Dickinson


Doug Holden and Super FastEvery Texas Longhorn producer is conducting serious genetic testing and investment experiments, very much like a scientific laboratory -- producing good and not so good results. Consequently, a ranch visit with an experienced Texas Longhorn producer is much more than a buying event; it can be like a unique university degree. And like a university, each rancher will promote his or her own program, and types and styles of cattle. Some owners are very opinionated, some very focused, and some are very open about improving bloodlines and genetics. No matter the preferences, every ranch herd tour is a quality educational experience.

An old rancher once said, "Never had a cowboy work for me that I didn't learn some good way to do a job, or some way to never, ever do it again." And so it is with a Longhorn herd tour. Even though the owner may be paying a dear price to achieve the highest quality goals, the herd visitor can quickly learn many valuable lessons on a totally wholesale basis.

Every new Texas Longhorn aficionado should visit herds owned by experienced producers. It is the most economical, fastest way to learn the business. A herd visit will be equally profitable to experienced and new producers alike. Equipment, new sciences, fencing, vaccines, minerals, vehicles, pasture management and feed ingredients all make a difference in herd planning success.

Everyone has different ideas on methods, bloodlines and ranch management. Some are blessed with finances that allow the best equipment, ranch land and cattle. Some are very frugal and work to make every purchase very close to the vest. The combination of both types allows the herd visitor to select the genetics and methods that fit his or her taste and wallet. These opposite methods are perfect to learn from.

Most people entering the business have easy access to auction sales. The sales have been a major source of great socializing. Although sales provide a valid learning experience, they are limited in scope, considering the total picture. The fancy or shabby auction facility tells nothing about herd management. It tells very little about the breeding programs on the ranch. Some consignors sell their bottom-end culls while others pride themselves in selling their very best stock. The in-person ranch visit separates genetics and management that are not apparent at an auction.

The Texas Longhorn Journal has dozens of ads that extend an invitation to view herds. "Come see cattle for sale, etc." The response to these ads is expected and welcomed. However, here are some tips on squeezing the most out of a visit and also what is the expected protocol for visiting a private ranch as a guest.

Purchasing cattle privately is totally different from an auction. It is normal for the owner to set a price and the guest either buys or not. Private purchases do not have a competing bidder continually changing the playing field. A private purchase allows ample time to make a reasonable decision without the pressure of an instant auction decision. Private purchases may allow for terms, yet an auction is 100 percent cash only. A private purchase may include agreements to board cattle, deliver purchases, or split a pair and only buy one. Both auction purchases and private sales have specific and separate opportunities.

Here are a few tips on ranch tour etiquette to ensure that you will always be welcome for a return visit.

  1. Reporter viewing cows Always make an appointment in advance, and be there on time.
  2. Tell the rancher how you learned of his herd. Say, "I am responding to your ad in the TLJ", or whatever. Each owner likes to know which advertisements are profitable. This is your response to the producer's advertised invitation. He quickly learns you are not selling snipe hunting sacks or doing government surveys.
  3. There are no perfect ranches. Invariably, you will see things that you do better at home. You may have cattle better than the ranch you are visiting. Keep it to yourself. You are there as a guest. Longhorn breeding is extremely individualistic and reflects both skills and financial limitations of the host. Everyone lives in a glass house, so keep the stones in your tool box.
  4. Do not walk around a ranch doing "snoop inspections" when no one is home. A ranch is private property. When no one is home, it is no different than a peeping Tom standing on a bucket outside your window, unnoticed.
  5. If you ask to visit a herd, participate in the listening process. It is assumed you are interested in what that producer is doing. Invite the host to your ranch. That will be the time to show and tell about your own program.
  6. If you don't agree with the host's breeding methods, keep it to yourself. Don't come as a guest and argue with the host. A producer may be wrong. This is a business that is learned by doing. And—you could be the one who is incorrect. No one is forcing you to believe anything you don't want to believe. Great profit comes by looking and learning.
  7. Keep the visit as short as possible. Have a list of prepared questions before the visit. Tell the host what you desire to learn, buy or see. If you are a buyer, suggest what your budget is. Tell your host what your capabilities are and how much time you hope to spend making selections. A gracious host will appear as if you are the only person in their world, but rest assured, they have other people, jobs and duties important to attend to.
  8. At first contact ask if the rancher has time for you. Be aware of time zone differences. Not everyone gets up at the crack of dawn. Most producers find phone calls between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. the most convenient. Do not leave a message for a rancher to return your call without giving some clue of your interests.
  9. Never e-mail a producer requesting lengthy problem solving. Very few busy ranchers will write extensive answers to your e-mail. Respect the time and experience of seasoned producers with a direct phone call concerning management questions. If you can't afford a long distance phone call, don't expect an experienced person to dedicate his time to writing a lengthy e-mail, especially if you are not yet a paying client.
  10. Make a plan before your ranch visit. Know what you want to see. Don't ask to follow the host around all day.
  11. For dedicated assistance from a successful producer, offer a consulting fee. Most won't take it, but it is still a gesture of kindness. It is somewhat presumptuous to ask a person to give free advice in order to save you thousands of dollars, right?
  12. When a serious herd visitor makes a cattle purchase, the host will almost always become more helpful, almost instantly. Amazing! The ultimate display of good manners is a purchase. Everyone in the registered cattle business must pay their bills and Texas Longhorn sales do that very well.
  13. Ranch tours are the fastest way to learn. The ranch tour reveals which bloodlines have been chosen to retain in the permanent herd, and why. A ranch visit will show corrals designed for Longhorn cattle management. Handling systems, squeeze chutes, feeders, barns and equipment will all be as important to learn about as the actual genetics themselves. Most ranchers have developed "tricks of the trade" which are highly profitable to copy. Often, advice of what not to do is even more valuable.
  14. Don't touch another person's cattle. Ask permission first. Always take a camera, but don't take photos without the owner's permission. Some high-value cattle are advertised only with professional photography. During the heat of breeding season the owner may not want a famous herd sire photographed in a gaunt working condition for fear of unfavorable publication. Longhorn ranchers are especially known for great Western hospitality. There's none better. They enjoy showing the results of their breed improvements. On-site time as guest of an experienced producer can be very profitable when you plan on seriously building a herd. Nothing teaches better than seeing the real thing in action and personally meeting the owners. Take a short-cut through the pass and use the experience of profitable producers to speed up your own success, but... mind your manners.

Reprinted courtesy of the Texas Longhorn Journal



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