There comes a time in the year for most commercial operators when thoughts turn to making some outside additions to the cow herd. And, how to do this becomes the question. Do I go to the sale barn? Do I look for ads in the paper? Do I contact breeders who might have something for sale? Each of these methods has its merits, but there is another, more difficult question to ask. How do I find the females I want-females that will give me high value for my money?

If you have ever asked this question of yourself, read on. This is the first of two columns in which I will examine value-based female marketing, an area that I consider to be a sleeping giant, and an area in which there may be an opportunity for you whether you are a buyer or a seller.

This column will deal with some things that are currently going on in the value-based female market. We will take a look at the approaches being taken by pioneers in this field whose programs have the potential for doing a lot of good. Next month, we'll look at some ideas on how these approaches can be applied where you live.

Let's look first at an approach adopted by the Fink family of Manhattan, Kan. Galen and Lori Fink are Angus breeders who operate as Fink Beef Genetic Systems. The Finks go after the female trade aggressively, operating a division called Genetics Plus Inc. You can buy some females just by calling Genetics Plus. The following questions would be asked:Number of head, breed, breed crosses, mature weight, service sire of choice, calving date and interval. Genetics Plus will locate these cattle, cull for quality and ship them to a facility for development and breeding. The females will come to you guaranteed safe in calf and the sex of the fetus can even be guaranteed, if you so desire. Later, you would have the option of marketing the heifer progeny of these females through Genetics Plus.

Here's an approach that's been used since 1991 by Spur Ranch, Vinita, Okla. The Hartley family has provided an outlet for heifers that are either sired by or bred to Spur Ranch bulls. The heifers are sold at Spur's annual sale in October. Many sellers are repeat participants whose offerings provide stacked Spur genetics. It's common for 800 to 900 head of females to sell at this event. The sale heifers must meet specified criteria, and all must be confirmed pregnant through ultrasound testing.

Jerry and Sharon Connealy, Angus breeders at Whitman, Neb., tried this approach for the first time last year. The Connealys organized a November sale that brought together about 500 commercial bred heifers from herds that had used Connealy genetics. Handpicked heifers from 11 reputation herds were sent to a heifer development center, Heartland Cattle Company, McCook, Neb., for culling and breeding. A strong majority of the heifers were sold in lots with calving intervals of only one to three days!

The following information was published in the sale catalog: frame score, pelvic area, conception date, conception sire and expected calving date. Other information from Heartland Cattle Company's development files was made available to buyers for $25, including: periodic individual weights, reproductive tract scores, pelvic area, average daily gain, pelvic-area growth and pelvic indexes.

This is by no means a distillation of all the ideas and concepts that are being tried. But these examples show that it is possible to purchase females and fetuses with known sires, known sire expected progeny differences, known size, known calving intervals and maybe even fetuses of known sex. That's a lot different from what we may have to settle for when we reach into the grab bag that is today's female marketing system. Stay tuned. Next month's column will show how value-based female marketing can be applied in your area.

To contact Fred Knop, write Drovers or send e-mail to: fredlyn@aol.com