"Eventually, we will calve all the registered cows in the fall to get a little older bull to sell," Perez says. "Two-year-olds are out of the question here. We can't afford to keep them that long. Our customers are telling us they want an 18- to 20-month-old bull, because it adapts better than a yearling or a two-year-old."

To help protect his investment,Perez vaccinates his calves at branding and weaning.

"We try to have a good vaccination program. We give a 7-way, Cattlemaster 4 and a pasturella shot at branding and weaning," Perez says. "Most years, we get along really well with this program."

Since, Perez places so much selection pressure on disposition in his cow herd, it decreases labor and facility requirements to handle them.

"At weaning, we will take our panels to the corner of the pasture, bunch the cows, pour them with Dectomax and bring the calves to the house. We will give the calves their shots and get them back out on pasture," Perez says. "This cuts down on dust pneumonia that we get when they are penned up."

To help limit the amount of distressors the calves face, the weaning preparation begins a few days before it actually happens.

"If you train the calves to eat some cake and follow the horn, it makes it a lot easier to wean them," Perez says.

Retained ownership has been utilized by Perez for seven years, but he explains the carcass data was used to help make management decisions even before he fed his own calves.

"We have been retaining our calves for seven years. Even before we started our retained ownership program, we were getting the information back on our calves," Perez says. "Each calf is identified and we follow them all the way through. The cows who produce calves that do well in the feedyard are cows whose daughters we target to keep."

Although the past history indicated profit in the Perez cattle, he was having a hard time convincing the buyers to pay an adequate premium for his product.

"Years ago, it was an advantage to have good cattle. Now, it is numbers. They appreciate good cattle, but they don't want to pay for them," Perez says.

After feeding his cattle for seven years, Perez realizes the lost opportunity he had when he was selling his calves and letting someone else feed them out. Perez believes he gets the true value of his genetics.

"For years, people were capitalizing on our hard work and it was hard to get people to pay for our good cattle. Since I started feeding my own cattle, they have made money every year, some years more than others," Perez says.

Perez, who has sold in the live and grid markets, questions if he is getting enough money either way, but feels the industry is changing and producers better be positioning themselves to take advantage of the value-based marketing system.

"I think the industry is headed in the value-based direction. The people who are paying attention to carcass right now will be in position to take advantage of the value-based market," Perez says.

Price discovery has been one of the main criticisms of a value-based marketing system. Other producers believe there still is too much variability in performance once the cattle reach the packing plant.

"A value-based marketing system will benefit us. The only problem is it depends much on the guy grading the carcasses--the grader is only human," Perez says. "If we could ever get a system worked out where every carcass was graded the same, the industry would be in good shape."

C&M Herefords prides itself in is top quality replacement heifers. The operation's long standing reputation for Hereford bred heifers traces to Perez's father-in-law, who gave Perez the opportunity to lease the land and buy his cows seven years ago.

"It was something my father-in-law started. He was losing money selling heifer calves, so he started keeping them over to yearlings. He was one of the first ones to try to do it in the area. Once he got it going, a lot of times his bred heifers would bring $100 more than the yearling steers," Perez says. "The heifers are bred to black bulls, creating a very salable product."

As cattlemen are forced to become more astute businessmen, Perez says the heifer program works well with the retained ownership program, building in some diversity and risk management to the operation.

"We sell the breds in the fall and the retained ownership calves come out in the spring," Perez says. "This helps add some risk management and spreads out costs."

Black is the dominant color throughout the industry, at this point in time, with many breeds turning their hide black to help producers turn a quick dollar. This fad bothers Perez, in the sense it takes away from the industry, because a lot of buyers become color blind. But he likes the fact his breed of choice can maintain its breed identity when crossed with different breeds of cattle.

"The bald face will tell you there is Hereford cattle some where. We can go to the sale barn today and see pens of cattle that you don't know what cross they are," Perez says. "When the majority of the cattle are turned black, they will be looking for Hereford bulls--nothing crosses better on a black cow than a Hereford bull."

Hybrid vigor is the only thing free that the cattle business has to offer. Heterosis usually increases pounds and doability, helping calves use the genetic tools they have to their advantage. Perez's straight-bred commercial herd definitely bucks the system and leaves many industry experts shaking their head.

"Some people have asked me why I don't crossbreed my commercial cows. In my herd, there aren't many advantages to crossbreeding," Perez says. "Some people like that first cross. By breeding Line 1's to Canadians and Canadians to Line 1's, I can get that hybrid vigor by watching pedigrees."

The decline in beef demand has led producers on a quest for quality to help regain market share. Perez believes if the English influence remains strong in the nation's cow herd, producers could be on the right track.

"When we started getting away from English-bred cattle, the meat quality went down," Perez says. "If you keep the English influence in your cattle, the carcass quality will be there. We have to start evaluating cattle on the rail to make them better."

The challenge comes up from Perez to other beef producers, because the industry will not survive without a strong commitment to quality from its producers.

"It is up to each individual to come up with a game plan to raise as good of product as they can. Chasing fads is not the answer," Perez says. "Develop a program and stick with it."

The playing field will not ever be level in the beef business. Perez says if he keeps his customers satisfied and keeps improving his product, C&M Herefords will have done its job. "I want to be known for a good product. A product that will help make your living better."

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