Mastering Marketing: Students host bull sale through unique class

Farm Forum

BROOKINGS – A well-known proverb suggests “There’s no substitute for experience” Students in the Beef Seedstock Merchandising class offered through SDSU’s Animal Science Department can readily agree.

Through the class each spring, students are gaining firsthand experience by organizing, promoting and conducting the Department’s annual bull sale featuring progeny from the SDSU cowherd. This year’s sale included 33 Angus and SimAngus bulls and was held on Friday, April 5 at the Cow/Calf Unit near campus.

Taylor Geppert, a senior animal science major from Kimball, SD, says she has enjoyed the class this spring because of the opportunity to learn about putting a successful bull sale together from beginning to end.

Geppert’s family holds their own private treaty club calf sale each fall, so she had some knowledge of the livestock marketing process. But through the class, Geppert says she gained a new appreciation for “how much planning needs to be done in order to get everything ready.”

Animal Science professor Cody Wright oversees the students in the Beef Seedstock Merchandising class. He explains that the student’s role includes everything from designing ads and creating videos for YouTube to promote the bulls, as well as creating a catalog with each animal’s pedigree and performance data. Students also contact past and prospective buyers and handle selling details on the day of the sale.

The class averages 12 to 15 students, which allows for three committees to be created and each student to get ample hands-on experience. This year’s committees included catalog, video and customer service.

Throughout the semester-long class, Wright also uses guest lecturers – some who visit the classroom, some via distance education – to expose the students to industry experts on the topics of advertising, cattle marketing via video, cattle catalogs, and sale management in general.

Jamie Lewis, an animal science major from Rapid City, S.D. who participated in the class in 2012, has now graduated and returned to his family’s seedstock operation. He values the knowledge from top industry leaders and the perspective on marketing options that were provided.

“It was a very hands-on class. I gained new insight as a merchandiser,” said Lewis, who notes that the social media aspect and information on the importance of good photos are what stuck with him most. He is now applying his marketing knowledge to his family’s own production sale.

This year, Geppert was a member of the video committee which was responsible for creating 30 second videos of each bull. The videos were then put on YouTube for prospective buyers to view prior to the sale.

On the day of the sale, a limited auction is held. Students work with Wright and SDSU Cow/Calf Unit manager, Kevin VanderWal to set minimum prices on each bull and interested buyers list their names beside the bull they are interested in purchasing.

If more than one buyer is interested in a bull, a bid-off auction is held.

The rewarding part of the class is evident on sale day, says Wright. “Seeing the students talk to customers and seeing the bulls sell completes the process of these students becoming livestock marketers,” he said.

He adds that many students are eager take the marketing skills they’ve learned back to their family operations.

Another highlight for the class is seeing the bulls go on to be successful in the beef industry. The top selling bulls from the 2011 and 2012 sales – both of which sold in the $10,000 range – are now in stud with two prominent artificial insemination companies. S D S Graduate the top selling bull at the 2011 sale is in stud with Genex and S D S In Force the top selling bull at the 2012 sale is now featured in the Select Sires AI catalog. Both are SimAngus bulls, and both were purchased by Gibbs Farms of Alabama and Cow Camp Ranch from Kansas.

This year the bulls averaged $4196. Proceeds from the annual SDSU bull sale go into a revolving account used to support all of the livestock owned by SDSU. When the new Cow/Calf Unit is built north of campus, the sale will be moved to that location.