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Marketing program brings identity to New Mexico's best calves

TUCUMCARI, N.M. - A group of New Mexico bull producers is optimistic a new calf marketing program will add more value to New Mexico calves - an important process as premiums for calves has become increasingly competitive with the vertical integration the beef industry is experiencing from the ranch to the retail market.

The New Mexico Gold Calf Marketing Program ensures that calves in the state meet the highest standards in health and nutrition programs. (Photo courtesy of Manny Encinias)

"For years, producers throughout New Mexico have annually invested in numerous management practices with hopes of improving the value of their calves," said Manny Encinias, a beef cattle specialist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service.

But according to Encinias, simply implementing value-added management practices alone is not the secret to achieving premium prices for calves.

"Marketing a reputable set of calves today is like putting together a complex puzzle," said Encinias, who is working with the New Mexico Beef Cattle Performance Association (NMBCPA) to run the new program. "You can see the end result on paper, but do you, and can you put all the pieces together to produce the desired package?"

A successful marketing strategy for calves requires thoughtful planning several months in advance of the actual marketing of calves. Because most cow-calf producers do not have a formal marketing strategy, the New Mexico Gold Calf Marketing Program is designed to assist commercial cattle producers assemble their calf crops into a more desirable marketing package for cattle buyers.

The program is not reinventing the wheel, but rather combining multiple aspects of other successful national value-added calf marketing programs and also adding new key elements into a comprehensive marketing strategy. Historically, the industry's most successful value-added programs have been driven by adhering to vaccination and preconditioning protocols for calves, and/or by specific breed type.

"The program is focused on a high set of standards across the board," said Encinias. The New Mexico Gold program combines genetics, a series of best management practices, and a proven marketing strategy.

The primary driver of this program is a strong genetic foundation in the calves. For calves to be enrolled in the program, they have to have been purchased from bulls from an accredited approved group of genetic (seedstock) suppliers who are active members in the NMBCPA.

The NMBCPA is one of the nation's oldest organized groups of seedstock producers focused on developing industry-leading genetics for the commercial cow-calf industry. Since 1956, the membership of the NMBCPA has developed an international reputation for their centralized performance testing facility, in Tucumcari, and most recently the nation's highest altitude performance test at the Valles Caldera National Preserve, in central New Mexico.

"The seedstock segment of the beef industry is the driving force behind genetic improvement in commercial cow herds," said Encinias, "and therefore has a great responsibility to their customers."

Multiple times per year, the membership of the NMBCPA gather throughout the state to discuss critical issues facing the seedstock industry as it relates to the present status and future direction of the local and national beef industry. The birth of the New Mexico Gold program was ratified by the membership after a February 2009 meeting in Tucumcari identified the need to provide the service.

Encinias and other members of the NMBCPA are hopeful the calf marketing program will develop more industry coordination, strengthen old relationships and improve marketing opportunities for New Mexico calves.

Encinias said New Mexico producers presently utilize many outlets to market their calves, ranging from traditional auction facilities to marketing on-line.

"The Gold program is not meant to change where New Mexico calves are marketed but how they are marketed," Encinias said. He has been overwhelmed by the support sale barn owners, industry leaders and the allied industry have given the program in its infancy.

"The bottom-line is we need to build identity and a positive reputation for quality New Mexico calves and the family ranches where these calves originate," said Encinias.

Calves enrolled in the marketing program will be easily identified through a visual "NM Gold" ear tag.

Encinias is excited about how the New Mexico Gold program will create an even larger educational outreach network for both seedstock and commercial producers to tie into educational programming offered by NMSU and its partners.

"Having NMSU rooted into the programs of the NMBPCA has been vital to our past and recent successes," states John Heckendorn, NMBCPA board of director and owner of J-C Angus Ranch in Moriarty, N.M., "and we are excited to have them on board with the calf marketing program."

With bull buying season in full swing, cattle producers interested in participating in the New Mexico Gold program are encouraged to obtain a list of current genetic bull suppliers for the program. A contact list of genetic suppliers is available on the Internet at http://nmgoldcalves.nmsu.edu or by contacting Encinias at (575) 374-2566. Seedstock suppliers not presently members of the NMBCPA, but interested in becoming a NM Gold genetic supplier are also encouraged to contact Encinias.

When a producer buys a bull from a genetic supplier, the genetic supplier will submit the contact information to the NMBCPA, and the NMBCPA will mail out a program qualification notice to the bull buyer with information about the NM Gold program. It is then up to each producer whether to go through the process of becoming certified. Producers who purchased bulls from New Mexico Gold genetic suppliers in 2009 are eligible to enroll their 2010 calves into the program. Bulls purchased in 2010 will qualify calves for the following year.

The NMBCPA is hosting its 49th Annual Performance Tested Bull Sale March 19 to conclude the Tucumcari Bull Test. This year's sale will include 95 performance-tested bulls representing numerous industry-leading sires and seedstock programs in the Southwest. A fajita lunch will be sponsored by Purina Mills at 11:30 a.m. and the bull sale will start at 1 p.m.

In addition to the standard performance and ultrasound data compiled on each bull, members of the NMBCPA have embraced DNA technology as part of the data collection process at the bull test. This year's sale offering includes DNA trait leaders for feed efficiency, marbling and tenderness.

The DNA technology is rapidly evolving and improving our ability to select genetically superior bulls, Encinias said. "We have bulls in this year's sale offering that are as high as the top one percent of their breed for one or more of these traits."

"In specific cases that computes to these elite individual bulls at the bull test being one of 120 bulls out of more than 12,000 tested," says Kevin Milliner, regional sales manager for Pfizer Animal Genetics.

In addition to the sale, the NMBCPA also hosts a popular Pre-Sale Bull Session, Social and Supper. This year's event will held at 6 p.m. on March 18 at the Tucumcari Convention Center. The event is open to all cattle producers and potential bull buyers. This year, those in attendance can enjoy a free beef supper, sponsored by Pfizer Animal Genetics, a presentation on DNA technology by Milliner entitled DNA Technology: The Future is Now, a bull development and nutrition presentation by Chris Forcherio, beef research manager for Land O'Lakes Purina Feed, and more information on the NM Gold Calf Marketing program.

For information on the spring sale events sponsored by the NMBCPA go to http://aces.nmsu.edu/ces/beef/ or contact either Encinias or a New Mexico Gold genetic supplier.