MRW Memo: September 22 "Inside the War Room"
In the professional baseball world, the war room is where team executives, coaches, and scouts gather for the annual draft to decide which amateur players will join their organizations. Why the war room? Maybe it’s the pressure of the situation to pick the right players to build a future winning team, or maybe it’s because disagreements and hostility when not everyone believes in the same prospect to add to the team.
Last month, we stepped into our own war room for the cattle operation. Erika and I have discussed the desire to add more Hereford genetics to our herd, both to build a commercial baldy female program and to have a registered set of cows to keep me sane and occupied. When Stacie Buzanowski called me to let me know their entire bred heifer group would be for sale due to drought, I saw the opportunity to add a couple nice pieces to build on. My wife saw it differently. In her words, “If we’re going to do this and you’re going out to look at them, we might as well load a trailer, not just buy a couple.” I knew already, but this confirmed that I found the right woman.
The chance to pick a set of bred heifers from a breeding program you’ve long admired is exciting, yet also a bit nerve wracking. I hope I don’t get this opportunity again (because I hope it rains in Arthur, NE next summer), so I really wanted to get it right. Let me take you inside our war room on what led to the selection of eight heifers to join the Hereford herd at MRW.
- Pre-trip scouting: Once I had the registration numbers of all the heifers, I tore the AHA database apart studying. Pedigrees, dam’s production records, her dam’s production records, and EPDs were all added to a spreadsheet that looked like it should be in some Wall Street bank instead of a farm office in southwest Iowa. I wanted to add females that had phenotypic quality, with strong production records behind them from their dam and granddams. Through that study, I had several heifers marked to pay extra attention to when I got to Snowshoe.
- The drive out: While traveling I-80 across Nebraska, I talked to several friends and trusted cattlemen, getting their thoughts and wisdom on what they valued most when they bought sets of females in the past. To trim 25 head down to 8 was a little daunting, so learning from others’ past experiences was certainly beneficial.
- In-person scouting: On the ranch, the first stop was the bred heifer pen to see the offering. I studied and took notes, mainly marking females at this point that I didn’t think were fits for us. Then we toured all the cow-calf pairs, this time noting which cows really stood out as the kind of cows we want to have in our herd. This drive through all the pairs cemented some of their daughters in the heifer pen as high priorities. Another trip to the heifer pasture to mark down some favorites and enjoy the sunset ended the scouting mission.
- Draft day: When I got home, my list was still longer than we have room for in the heifer pasture. So, I sat down with my spreadsheet, my pasture notes, my phone (for pictures), and my wife to whittle this shortlist of 13 down to the 8 we wanted to bring to Adair. I left the ranch confident of four selections, leaving four spots to fill and more than four heifers on the list! Then, we took the mindset of “who to cut out” instead of “who to pick”. After erasing a couple later calvers, one that didn’t pass photo inspection, and then two more that didn’t have as strong of production in the females behind them, we found ourselves with a list of eight. When that list was done, I was really pleased with which heifers were still there from a phenotypic standpoint, added the daughters of some of my favorite cows in their herd, and had granddams behind these heifers that produced to an average age of 11. Needless to say, I was pleased!
- Now, we wait: Thankfully, the girls passed visual inspection and Erika did not put them back on the truck when they got to Adair. Much like drafting a first round pitcher, the impact of the heifer selections won’t be known until a couple years down the road. We will get a glimpse next February and March when they calve for the first time, but it will be a few years before we really know which ones will pan out as herd building females. Even with all the studying done, it’s still a bit of a crapshoot on these girls. We’re looking forward to seeing which of these girls help turn our herd into a winner down the road!