I'm a Drover: Getting ‘em sold

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The seedstock auctioneer’s chant is a familiar sound to John Andras of Billings, Mont. He grew up in the purebred cattle industry — mostly around the chromed-out red variety — served on the Montana and National Junior Hereford Association boards, and worked his way through college at major U.S. cattle shows learning from top breeders, all while judging livestock and studying animal science at Clarendon College and Oklahoma State University.

Some say Andras was “born” to the job he holds today — working as the purebred division representative for Superior Livestock Auctions.

His seedstock pedigree runs deep. His great-great-grandfather on the Andras side started raising Herefords on the original family farm in Manchester, Ill., in 1898. On the bottom side of his paperwork, his mother’s father, George Ellis, managed the noted Beartooth Ranch in Columbus, Mont., raising registered Herefords. His parents met at a Junior National Show.

“I’ve never known anything different — there’s never been anything I’ve ever wanted to do besides be a cattleman,” Andras says.

Working side-by-side with longtime role models, he continues to learn from industry greats. But nowadays, he’s often the one being asked for advice and opinion on some of the top-dollar cattle in the industry.

As the company purebred rep, Andras’ main role is to work with registered breeders to merchandise cattle and broadcast sales — the details of which comprise more than a 40-hour week, 60,000 miles a year in road travel, extensive frequent-flier miles and cell phone minutes, and often several states a week. It’s not the ideal position for a homebody. From January 2013 to April 2013 he spent 10 nights at home.

Repping is a knowledge- and relationship-based position, and Andras says the most important part of his job is learning about breeders’ programs and goals, understanding their cattle and finding a match for a sale. He assists with marketing, advertising, broadcasting on RFDTV and Rural TV, and basically “doing as much as I can to showcase these guys and their cattle to the world.”

For most of his purebred customers, Andras visits the operation at least three times: once in the summer to review cattle and learn about their program, back again to video, and then returning for the sale. With purebred sales, although the cattle are run through the ring live as the auction streams on RFD-TV and Superior Click to Bid, Superior opts to use pre-recorded video, as they would with non-live sales, to ensure the best presentation of the cattle and marketability. He also consigns and films commercial cattle for clients.

Without doubt, Andras says, people are the best part of his job. “My dad always told me, ‘The people and relationships make the cattle industry — the cattle are just a byproduct,’ and that’s so true.”

On the flip side, Andras says, the main challenge is the large scope of his work — both in terms of clientele and geography — and the simple limitation of calendar days in a highly seasonal business.

“One of the biggest obstacles is trying to be everywhere at once and making sure you’re fair to everybody,” Andras says. “You want to be able to provide the same level of customer service to everyone.”

Video has changed cattle marketing significantly over the past several decades, and Andras says he sees it as the premier way to merchandise cattle.

“It allows for these cattle to be put in front of a world-wide audience, and the more bidders you have, the more cattle bring.”

Additionally, he feels it’s the most stress-free method of selling. “You have less shrink, less exposure to disease, no freight and those cattle never have to leave until they are delivered to the buyer’s trucks on your ranch.”

Not your normal blue-collar job, John Andras helps process consigned calves owned by BB&H Ranch and fellow Superior rep John Beardsley in September 2013. Andras says the technology of video auctions will likely not change significantly in the near future. However, the companies that support them will continue to develop better marketing methods to add value to the consignments. One example of this is the Superior Progressive Genetics program. Qualified lots of feeder cattle sired by a participating Superior seedstock customer have the logo of the breeder displayed during the sale, giving a nod to the solid genetics of the calves and adding value to both the progeny and the breeder. In the three years they have data on the program, the added premium has grown from 50 cents per hundredweight to $2.50 on enrolled lots.

Working in the heart of the purebred industry, and at the same time marketing commercial cattle, Andras sees both ends of the spectrum and admits today’s gap  between “show cattle” and “range cattle” is possibly wider than it ever has been. But he feels there is a place, a market and a purpose for both types, and purebred does not necessarily mean show cattle.

“In the registered business there’s a definite separation between the two [sectors]. Some breeders do both — they have a set of cows they use to make range bulls, and a set of cows they use to make show heifers and show cattle,” Andras says.

John Andras and Kadee Coff man, TV host and producer for Superior Livestock, get ready to film RFD-TV’s Next Stop Auction Block with Angus breeder Jim Felton of Springdale, Mont., in August 2012 at the Big Horn Classic Superior Sale in Sheridan, Wyo. The difference comes down to marketing to a target audience with an intended purpose. “The breeders all realize the difference — and they are just like any other red-blooded American, they are capitalizing on what people want to buy.”

However, he points out, despite the extremes, there is a growing middle ground of breeders making functional cattle destined for great beef steak.

“Now more than ever, purebred breeders are breeding cattle based specifically on traits that matter the most to cow-calf producers and cattle feeders than any time before,” Andras says.

Breeding cattle to function on the range then gain efficiently, yield productively and finish well is the result of tremendous efforts in today’s high-tech animal-science industry.

“The key to any business is knowledge, and our whole generation is about information,” Andras says. “This is such an exciting time to be in the cattle industry, because we have so many tools available to us. My grandfather started with just EBVs (estimated breeding values). Today we have highly dependable EPDs, we have programs like GeneMax and HD50K that help guide breeding decisions; we have information and numbers to fine-tune our outcome before breeding, and not just react to industry trends.”

Using these tools, helping breeders make informed decisions and promoting their work to an international audience are what excite Andras about his job.

“In the video auction world, nobody is isolated and everyone has the opportunity to capture every last bit of exposure of their cattle and their program and what they have worked so hard for.”

But at the end of the day, the passion, networking and hard work of the beef industry still come down to raising solid cattle and running a profitable business, so you can keep doing it again next year.

 

“You still have to look at your cattle and you still have to use cow sense, and you still have to do what makes sense for what works in your part of the world,” Andras says. “And what that ultimately comes down to is what makes you the most money.

 

“Because as much as we love the cattle industry, we only get to stay involved if we can feed ourselves off of it.”


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