Private treaty bull sellers across the region report that prices remained steady this spring.

Sentiments expressed generally echoed those of Stan Cline of Wiley, who sells about 30 Hereford bulls a year. “We’ve had a pretty good season,” he said. “We got the price we wanted for our bulls.”

There are concerns looming, however, that might be reining in potential buyers as the market season tails off. “Price-wise, we’re holding steady with the last couple of years, but I think the market is slowing down a little bit right now,” said Hampton Cornelius, who runs Coyote Ridge Ranch at LaSalle, an outfit that sells polled and horned Hereford bulls.

“Everyone’s pretty nervous about the weather and that might be lending to some of the price resistance and to some ranchers hanging on before they buy the last of their bulls, because they’re not sure how many cows they’ll have,” he added. His immediate area has had “a little moisture but not enough,” he said.

“We’re not to a critical point, because the grass season is just starting, but the moisture from here on out is pretty crucial,” he said.

Bull buyers to the north and in eastern states like Missouri aren’t in the same predicament. “Central Wyoming is extremely wet, but down here people are just kind of crossing their fingers,” Cornelius said.

Trade uncertainty is also likely weighing on the market to some degree. “If we lose export markets due to tariffs and trade wars, obviously that will flood the domestic market and fat cattle will go down,” he said. “Right now I think people are being pretty cautious.”

Joe Frasier, who owns Solid Rock Red Angus of Limon, got into selling bulls about six years ago after running commercial cows for the past 40 years. “Whether you’re going to get any moisture is kind of a perennial thing we deal with,” he said.

He said 80 miles north of him Ft. Morgan has had twice the precipitation of his local area, while folks he knows in Walsenberg have only received a quarter of normal.

While Frasier sells bulls by private treaty, he also goes in on an annual production sale in December with Cross Diamond Cattle Co., of Bertrand, Neb. That sale falls at a good time because it allows buyers to make purchases prior to year’s end and also helps Frasier get his name out in other geographic regions, which diversifies his weather risk.

He’s been hearing from ranchers looking to buy bred heifers and cows, which leads him to conclude that, drought aside, most are feeling pretty optimistic. “We’ve had a lot of reasons for a depressed market, with heavier weights and bigger supplies, but that hasn’t done it, so it’s kind of out of our control the demand that has pushed the market along. It’s hard to know what factors to read something into and what factors not to,” he said.

While sellers have largely been pleased with sales, they all say producing and selling herd bulls is a competitive and demanding business.

Rod Ahlberg, of Longmont, Colo., was in the horse business before he got into producing a few choice Simmental, Angus, and SimAngus bulls with his daughter Cashley, an avid junior showman, and his wife Vicky, who grew up on a ranch in Canada.
They started by keeping back some of Cashley’s show heifers, including the grand champion heifer at the 2010 National Junior Angus Show, which is now being used as a donor cow for their embryo transfer program.

While Ahlberg said he has heard other breeders describe having strong production sales, even in drought-stricken Southeastern Colorado, he was disappointed by prices he got for two bulls he sold at the Kearney Classic in Nebraska.

“We’re the new kids on the block. We’ve only been at this for five or six years,” he said. “It’s no problem selling a heifer, but with bulls you either have to sell them cheap or get to know people out there who will trust you and buy from you on a regular basis.”

Paul Redner, of Trinidad, who sells Wagyu bulls, also said it takes time to build up a reputation with customers. This is his third year of marketing bulls. “I expected the prices on our bulls to go up over time, but they’re staying about the same,” he said.

He has 30 full-blood Wagyu cows, which are DNA verified and traceable on both sides to the original shipment on Wagyu cattle imported from Japan. He and a business partner age and source verify all of their cattle through IMI Global and target the specialty market for natural cattle never treated with antibiotics or growth enhancers or fed animal by-products.

They buy back the calves from about eight different ranchers they sell bulls to as part of a direct marketing program but are highly selective in setting up those arrangements. “Calving ease is a lot of the reason commercial guys get into the Wagyu, and if you have a good solid Angus-based cowherd, you can get a little premium for the F1 calf,” he said.

Their set-up requires lots of genetic testing, recordkeepin,g and third-party audits, which Redner described as “kind of a pain in the neck” but also as “a fact of life today” for producers hoping to earn a premium from meat purveyors.

He added that, at 78, he was ready to slow down and pass along more of the work to his younger business partner.
“Through the partnership I will still be selling bulls, but I plan to tone things down a bit,” he said.