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Bull run: Prestigious auction draws many buyers
A bull sale that began as an idea in the 1990s in the parking lot of Bill and Kathy's Restaurant in Dunnigan is now a prestigious auction in the Western market, offering 130 Angus and 15 Charolais with good DNA data.
About 80 buyers from Nevada, Oregon and California filled the stands to outbid each other, while some buyers participated online, at the 18th annual Black Gold Bull Sale at the Colusa County Fairgrounds on Thursday.
The top selling bull was an Angus fall yearling, O'Connell Right Answer 2717, that went for $12,500.
"There's only one bull in the state that had better DNA data," said Dan O'Connell, referencing a statement made by the auctioneer when the bull entered the pen.
Dan O'Connell has been putting on the sale with Carl Wulff since its inception.
The bulls were offered by O'Connell Ranch of Colusa, Donati Ranch of Butte County, Wulff Brothers Livestock of Woodland and Broken Box Ranch of Williams. "This is a really great sale. It's in the top 10 percent for quality and top 10 percent for price," said auctioneer Rick Machado.
Machado, 51, does about 80 auctions a year and has been auctioning for purebred sales of bulls and horses since he was 19.
He knows what buyers are looking for: Pedigree, DNA enhanced genetics and phenotype, and he knows how to sell the goods.
A good bull will look thick and have a moderate frame, said Machado.
A bull with a large frame will produce a large cow, which won't be as productive.
"You want naturally thick cattle that are athletic. They've got to go out to the range and make a living," Machado said.
It's in the DNA
DNA testing has been around for five to six years, but sellers have been using it for about two years, according to Machado.
O'Connell said having the DNA data is kind of like having insurance that the bull's progeny will gain weight.
Machado said the sellers at the Black Gold Bull Sale are good progressive breeders who are forward thinking in their genetics.
"They don't go in on extreme fads. They just go with the very best."
O'Connell said the day of the sale is when he puts everything on the table.
"When people accept your genetics, that's a great tribute. Especially when you get repeat buyers," said O'Connell.
Matt Macfarlane, who managed the sale, said this sale has a good reputation and the sale did better than expected, especially in a drought year when cow numbers are down.
"Some of these areas haven't had rain in I don't know how long," Macfarlane said.
Back at the ranch
A few days after the sale, O'Connell began to travel to Oregon, Susanville, Hollister and all over the west to deliver the bulls.
"Now, the road trips begin. I get to see nice people and see their ranches," he said.
Before he left town, in the mornings following the sale, O'Connell visited cows at his pasture to feed and check on the new calf.
A new calf was born on Saturday morning in one of his pastures in Colusa.
He said the high selling O'Connell Right Answer 2717 was 70 pounds when he was born.
"He sold at 1,425, at one year," O'Connell said.
That is what cattlemen are looking for: "Reasonably low birth weight, and a cow that will grow," he said.
"It's very expensive to raise good bulls," he said.