Glen Gordon Jr.

Glen Gordon Jr. discusses the pros and cons of 10 heifers brought to his buying station.

INA, Ill. — Glen Gordon Jr. buys cattle by the pound, but in many cases, less is more.

He believes many cattlemen focus too much on fattening up their animals without concentrating more on condition. That can be a problem for livestock destined for big feedlots.

“We’re notorious for feeding them too heavy,” he said at a beef conference here. “We’re all in the business of selling pounds. But if you get outside of this market area, our cattle will have too much flesh on them, too much condition.

“I wish that some guys could see the difference between a calf that is carrying a lot of condition and a calf that is just right. You have to have a pound to get that dollar. But you have to walk that line.”

Gordon, who owns and operates Gordon Cattle Company in Salem, brought 10 heifers to a livestock facility at Rend Lake College to demonstrate what buyers are looking for. He purchases “anything that moves,” including fat cattle, feeder calves, cull bulls and bred cows. He also backgrounds several hundred cows and feeder calves.

“He has credibility because he writes checks,” said longtime University of Illinois livestock professor Doug Parrett. “Every animal has a price. Some have more value than others.”

Gordon said livestock producers would do well to think about where their animals will eventually go, and do their best to prepare them for their final destination. One issue is bunk-broken calves.

“That’s a thing that a lot of cattle people in the commercial cow business don’t understand. This calf, when he goes to the next phase, it’s got to be able to stand competition,” he said. “You guys who are backgrounders, that’s one thing I’d be telling you: When you’re starting that calf, when he winds up out west, or in one of these monoslope buildings, they’re 18 inches. So that calf’s got to be conditioned to want to push in and eat, or he’s going to fall behind.

“If he falls behind, that looks bad on where he got the calves.”

Parrett urged producers to pay attention to data to add value to their cattle, including performance testing of bulls, with an eye on expected progeny difference, or EPDs. The more information a buyer has, the more likely he will pay more.

“If Junior’s buying finished market cattle two or three at a time, he’s going to try to figure out if they’ve been fed hard and what their genetics might be,” Parrett said. “And then he’s going to discount it, because he doesn’t know. And that goes back to building this genetic program and passing that information on.

“Somebody said, ‘Well, I’ve got reputation cattle. I always get a premium for my calves.’ The guy buying them isn’t doing that because he likes the guy. After feeding them one or two cycles he knows they’ve got better genetics. He knows the program. Anything you manage, document about, buying better bulls — that all adds up. The premium will get there.”

The Beef Quality Assurance program is another important measure that producers should embrace, said Jill Johnson of the Illinois Beef Association.

“BQA is becoming more important to our industry as packers and stakeholders are seeing the value of it,” she said. “One study proves BQA-certified producers are bringing a premium now.

“We put together training to answer these production issues. It’s become a great talking point for us when we go to consumer groups or legislators. They’re willing to spend time to get certified, and that proves they are getting it right.”

Parrett agrees, adding that such certification is not only a value to the cattle buyer, but also to the general public.

“For a person who knows nothing about agriculture, and you can document this, that creates an answer for people who don’t have any answers,” he said. “We have nothing to hide.”

Johnson and Gordon believe BQA certification will continue to grow in importance. And they would like to see the industry take ownership of it.

“If we have to do it, it should be something that we can live with, not something that other people put together for us,” Johnson said.

Gordon added, “We don’t want the regulations handed to us. We want to be ahead of it.”

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Nat Williams is Southern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.