The next-generation beef producers is getting hands-on experience in cattle marketing and conducting a major bull sale.
At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, professor Matt Spangler teaches a cattle merchandising class each spring that culminates in a bull sale, which is set for April 10 this year. Throughout the semester, they work to collect data on the animals and prepare bulls at the university’s seedstock unit located at the Eastern Nebraska Research and Extension Center located north of Lincoln.
“Their ‘homework’ is to get them to think about marketing the right product to the right person,” said Spangler, who serves as extension beef genetics specialist.
He gives his students scenarios in which “customers” articulate their production environment, marketing plans and production goals. Students learn how to best match the bulls to those needs. For example, he might ask: if I’m a commercial cow-calf producer on the front range of Colorado, and I sell my calves at weaning and retain my own replacement heifers – tell me what three bulls would fit me.
“That’s real world,” he said.
The students have told Spangler how much they enjoy the practical, hands-on nature of the class. It’s a unique experience – not just at UNL, but at land-grant institutions in general. And students have found the information valuable as they start their careers.
“We’ve had several students go back to family seedstock and commercial cow-calf operations. Others went on to management roles at seedstock operations,” Spangler said. “It’s been nice to see students take jobs where they can use this knowledge in their everyday activities.”
The beef cattle merchandising class is being held virtually this year, due to COVID-19. Between their first meeting the week of Feb. 1 and the April 10 bull sale, there’s a lot of work to do and a lot to learn.
They cover beef cattle genetics, EPDs (expected progeny differences,) Selection Index and heterosis. They spend time discussing applied beef genetics concepts in preparation for working with potential customers who need to know what bull to buy.
“Students need to understand these tools,” Spangler said.
He also invites several speakers, including staff from beef breed associations, seedstock producers and cow-calf producers. They share practical experience with the students.
The balance of the classwork is centered on getting ready for the sale. Students contribute information and designing the sale catalog. They collect yearling data on the bulls and conduct breeding soundness exams (BSE). The students are in charge of conducting sale-day activities and interacting with the bull sale customers.
“They do everything except the auctioneering,” Spangler said.
The philosophy for this unique class is twofold, Spangler said. He aims to prepare students whether they plan on being involved in the seedstock sector or cattle industry more generally. He wants them to know how to use genetic selection tools and to understand the seedstock industry’s role in improving commercial-level profitability.
By preparing for the bull sale, students work both independently and as members of a team to accomplish a relatively large task.
“This hands-on and task-oriented approach will hopefully prove beneficial as they enter the work force,” Spangler said.
Class enrollment traditionally is 10-to 20 students each semester. Historically, the students come from a range of backgrounds – from seedstock operations, and also commercial cow-calf or fed cattle operations, and some join because they have an interest in marketing.
“It’s a mixture of students,” Spangler said, “but, the commonality is they at least have a curiosity about what seedstock marketing is all about.”
To learn more about this year’s sale, visit .
Reporter Amy Hadachek is a two-time Emmy Award winning meteorologist and a storm chaser who earned her NWA and AMS Broadcast Meteorology Seals of Approval. She and her husband live on a diversified farm in Kansas. Reach her at email@example.com.