Introducing Tule Oaks Grazing Association

Feb 8, 2013
by WLJ

California’s beautiful San Joaquin Valley has always enjoyed a rich and diverse agricultural history. Grapes for wine production, raisins, nuts—including walnuts, almonds and pistachios—citrus, garlic, cotton and various vegetables are all harvested from the valley. In addition, cattle and sheep ranching, hay production and dairy farming are all vitally important. The valley runs south of Sacramento, past the city of Bakersfield and rests between the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the east and the California coastal ranges to the west.

Located within the San Joaquin Valley is a group of ranchers carving out a marketing plan built on cooperation and shared common goals. In 2008, three families, including Wayne and Pam Weller, Ed and Patty Carroll along with Tom and Jody Daly, formed the Tule Oaks Grazing Association. Each of the families was searching for a way to leverage the value of marketing their calves in volume, but individually they lacked sufficient numbers. By forming Tule Oaks and agreeing on shared management strategies for their individual herds, they are able to access this advantage.

Joining in the Tule Oaks effort, and helping to fill out loads when needed, are Ron and Jeanne Paregien and Tony Rabb of Rabb Cattle Co. “None of us were happy marketing alone, struggling to get top dollar. The video sales were delivering higher premiums with less commission than the local livestock markets,” said Rabb.

Working with John Rogers of Western Video Market (WVM), the Tule Oaks group has enjoyed success utilizing video marketing and the increased exposure WVM offers. By marketing in load lots, offering cattle with superior genetics and carrying added-value options, Tule Oaks has seen the competitive bidding for their calves increase each year.

“Marketing through the livestock markets in our area was a challenge because it was difficult for buyers to purchase a load from one ranch,” said Paregien. “But the video reaches buyers willing to pay premiums for cattle that they’re confident of the calves’ consistency.”

Some of the parameters Tule Oaks operates under include a shared calving season, targeted to begin around Sept. 1 and lasting only 60 days. This is vital to reduce the variance of weaning weights, ensuring greater consistency of the calves at load-out time. In addition, everyone follows the same herd health protocols such as timing of vaccinations as well as the specific products used.

“We work all the calves at branding, when they’re 3-4 months of age in January. They receive an 8-Way Clostridial and BoviShield Gold.

Then at weaning they’ll get another round of the same products, while being treated with a pour-on and/or injectable dewormer, followed by their prescribed boosters four weeks later,” stated Carroll.

“We use third-party verification on our herd health to build buyer confidence in our calves,” he added. “The most important part is to coordinate among all of us, because you can only advertise to the weakest link of the group.” Daly agreed, adding, “The strength of the group is only as strong as the weakest link,” meaning that it takes everyone’s effort to ensure the strictness of added-value programs like documented-vaccination protocols or Age and Source Verification (ASV).

And Tule Oaks isn’t alone in praising their cooperative effort. In recent years, their cattle were purchased by Bledsoe Cattle Co. of Wray, CO, a repeat buyer. “The Tule Oaks cattle work good for us and fit our program,” said Grant Bledsoe. “They are similar and fit well together. For smaller producers, working together like the Tule Oaks group is a great tool allowing ranchers to compete for top prices available only on load lots. If Tule Oaks didn’t cooperate together, we would not be interested in their calves,” he added.

However, Tule Oaks’ cooperation goes much further than shared calving seasons and vaccination protocols. To ensure consistency in their calves, each rancher in Tule Oaks utilizes Red Angus genetics to sire their feeder calves and build their cowherds.

“We like the reliability of Red Angus—the genetics are just more predictable,” said Daly. “I have faith in the EPDs because the bulls do what their EPDs say they are going to do.” Each rancher in the Tule Oaks group enjoys the benefits of two decades of mandatory Total Herd Reporting (THR), which requires reporting on all animals within a seedstock supplier’s herd, not just the “good ones.” This eliminates selection bias and allows Red Angus to produce selection tools for Economically Relevant Traits.

THR is the foundation for hard-to-measure, cowherdbuilding traits like Calving Ease Maternal, Heifer Pregnancy, Stayability and Maintenance Energy. “Using Red Angus, I’m able to buy better bulls and be confident in their predictability, which gives me greater value for my bullbuying dollars,” said Carroll.

“Using Red Angus gives us calves that are in high demand, with the ability to produce females to build our herd,” said Weller. “Our calves are uniform, the cows are easier to work because they are much calmer, and their red hides take the heat better,” he added.

To help capture the value of their Red Angus genetics, Tule Oaks has been using the Red Angus Feeder Calf Certification Program (FCCP).

“The program is easy to use and the buyers know that our tagged calves are sired by Red Angus. The FCCP has helped build repeat buyers for our calves,” said Paregien.

FCCP is the beef industry’s original USDA Verified Genetic, Source and Age program. Since 1994, FCCP has been adding value to Red Angus feeder cattle by helping ranchers build a reputation for raising quality calves and providing access for fed cattle to premium products based on genetics versus hide color. This combines with the export premiums for ASV cattle.

Bledsoe agreed, stating, “We market ASV cattle through our feedlot. Most are harvested through Cargill at Fort Morgan, CO. Initially, the Tule Oaks cattle caught our attention because they were ASV cattle, giving us an opportunity at additional premiums at slaughter. Without the Red Angus (FCCP) tags, we might have passed on the calves.”

But Tule Oaks has faced its share of challenges. “For this to work, it takes constant communication and working together throughout the year,” said Daly. “We share labor and resources to get the job done as a group,” he added.

“It wasn’t possible for each of us to have facilities to wean calves for 45 days and handle the number of trips through the chute for all the vaccinations to fit the program,” said Paregien. “But working together lets us keep our costs down and share expenses. We rely on our friends and neighbors, Fred and Teresa Gill, for allowing us to use their facilities for yarding, weighing and shipping our cattle.”

The groups can’t thank them enough for their cooperation,” added Daly. “One of our big challenges is checking weights throughout the year from each ranch to make sure we are on target for what we agreed to deliver on shipping day.”

“Each of us works hard throughout the year to raise our calves. By working together, the price difference we earn by selling in load lot sizes has been well worth the give and take,” added Weller.

The success of the Tule Oaks Grazing Association is an example of how strong communication and cooperation can deliver a marketing advantage for smaller producers. It’s a proven model that serves as an example for cattlemen looking for a competitive advantage. — Clint Berry, RAAA Commercial Marketing Director