By Chris McClure, Contributing Editor
I write this from a motel room between bull sales. Yep, it’s that time of year. My wife tells me I should abbreviate that as BS. Oh, she knows I’m really at bull sales because she has been attending with me.
Before we checked into the motel, we stopped for dinner at a local eating establishment. I decided to change footwear before going inside because there seemed to be a lingering odor about me and the only thing likely to be carrying that odor was the pair of Twisted X shoes upon my feet. My mother raised me to be polite, so I changed into a clean pair of boots before entering, and nobody seemed to notice the odor.
I enjoy bull sales (BS). It is a place where I frequently run into old friends and acquaintances, and a chance to see the slowly advancing state of the genetic potential of the industry. After all, it will be at least a year before I see the fruits of the day’s efforts and nearly two years before I truly know whether the decisions made were good ones.
One of the challenges of a bull sale is balancing the numbers with the actual product. I guess that for me, the proof is expressed phenotypically. If what I see doesn’t match expectations based on the numbers, I draw a big X through the offering in the sale catalog and then discipline myself to ignore it when it goes through the ring. Yes, it requires discipline. Adrenaline, pride and a whole gamut of other emotions can get in the way when sitting in an auction with a bidder’s card in your pocket, or your hand.
In a way, my spouse’s wisdom of calling BS is quite appropriate. Sometimes, what you see is not what you get, and I am certain that the numbers printed on the page don’t tell the entire story. The photographs are flattering and the accompanying commentary, both in the catalog and from the auctioneer, often are … well … if not fiction, at least questionable. They are proof that the old marketing adage of “perception is reality” applies to bull sale catalogs.
Ultimately, I need to get a little manure on my boots, er, Twisted X Driving Mocs, in an effort to visually evaluate the phenotypic expression of the numerically expressed traits. Thus, the need to change footwear before entering the restaurant. I spent a good deal of time in the pens with pen (of a different kind) in hand, looking at each and every bull. I like to use the wisdom of one of the most knowledgeable women in the industry, Mary Lou Bradley Henderson, when looking at bulls: Eliminate the ones you don’t like and then bid on the rest until you fill your ticket or the price gets higher than you are willing to pay!
So, where am I headed with this? I guess it boils down to truth in labeling. Just because it says it on the label, or in the catalog, doesn’t mean you are buying what you are led to believe. Touch it, feel it, smell it – yeah, the real deal has a distinct odor. Walk the pens, cook the beef or fake “wannabe” and experience it for yourself. It may take a while to figure it out, but there is a difference. Fake meat is just like a bull with no depth. In the end it will fall apart and you will be disappointed.
Perhaps my analogy is inadequate. I do know that you can stand the bulls in a pen and tell the difference between them. Some have quite the pedigree but may not make it through a single season. Others just keep on kicking out the kind of calves that bring top dollar year after year.
Labels are just a flash in the pan that only time will prove. If the product stands the test of time, it is hard to argue with the labeling. I know that may not be popular in the short run, but I believe in the free-enterprise system. If you want to call a dog a cat, more power to you; it just makes people wonder if you need a visit from the men with the straightjackets. I prefer to focus on my own game and make certain that I am doing the best job possible producing the kind of product in exchange for which the consumer wants to part with their hard-earned, inflation-adjusted, non-gasoline purchasing dollar.
As an industry, we need to focus on being better rather than on pointing the finger at every competitive product that comes along. Choice and Prime carcasses are making up an ever-larger percentage of production. Consumers prefer beef over every other cut of meat; the sizzle and the smell still turn heads in a restaurant. We still complain about the packers, we still complain about the government and we still complain about the “corporates.” The reality is that the only one we can do anything about in a meaningful way is ourselves and yet we never stop complaining while producing the best-tasting food product on the planet. Does anyone see the incongruities here?
Maybe it’s time we just call BS on all the complaining, accept the realities of the marketplace and figure out how to get our own slice of the pie. I like to hang out with the innovators. I’m fortunate to have the privilege of doing so most days.
Yeah, it’s okay to complain now and again as long as you keep on digging and fighting and doing everything in your power to do what you do better. But, if all you are going to do is to complain, I call BS.
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