Iowa’s Seedstock Producer of the Year: Lenth Herefords
Lenth Herefords has been in operation for almost 50 years, but the business is far from old fashioned. Doug and Marilyn Lenth, of Postville, emphasize high quality seedstock, detailed record keeping and online marketing, creating a unique experience that draws in repeat customers and new prospects from across the country.
The Lenths have 110 cows in their breeding herd, and focus on Hereford cattle intended for production purposes.
Hereford cattle are known for their docility and fertility, and many producers are breeding their Angus cows with Hereford bulls. “More and more people are realizing the heterosis effect when you put Hereford bulls on other breeds, particularly with the black cattle, and the dynamic performance you get out of them, so the Herefords have become more and more popular in recent years.”
“Studies have shown fertility advantages of the having the Hereford bloodline. Anytime you take a straight continental breed with another continental breed, that first cross is going to get your maximum heterosis. The heterosis is a jump in growth and a jump in performance,” she says.
One of their customers with a registered Angus herd wanted to increase the size of his calves and finished slaughter cattle. After breeding a Lenth Hereford bull to his black Angus cows, the first dozen black baldie calves had a weaning weight 108 pounds heavier than his black Angus calves. The baldie calves also had a noticeably milder disposition.
Feedback like this is important to the Lenths, helping them to make decisions on what kinds of bulls or bloodlines to add to their program. “If we don’t get that feedback and we don’t see those repeat customers, then we don’t know if what we’re doing is working or not,” Marilyn says.
The breeding herd has both fall and spring calvers, and about 35% of the cows are bred using artificial insemination (AI) after being observed for their natural heat cycles. The Lenths sell about 35 bulls and 35 heifers each year. The vast majority (95% of the bulls and 90% of the heifers) are sold to commercial cattlemen, with the remaining going to other seedstock producers.
Two herd bulls (JJ L1 Homebuilder 706 and J&J M33 Marshall TIII) have reached “Sire of Distinction” recognition with the American Hereford Association. Nine cows have reached “Dam of Distinction” status, and the herd contains 22 daughters of “Dams of Distinction.”
The Lenths keep detailed records on their cattle, organizing more than 130 fields in a database Marilyn designed. The database allows them to sort cattle based on a variety of factors, from coat pigment to birthweight and everything in between. Birthweight, weaning weight, yearling weight and average calving weight have been recorded on every calf in the 47 year history of Lenth Herefords, and scrotal circumference and frame score data has been added in recent years.
The records allow the Lenths to improve their herd through careful breeding decisions, and help them choose the bulls and heifers that best meet the needs of their customers.
The Lenths use the American Hereford Association’s EPDs and performance data, combined with actual physical and structural attributes and soundness in their selections. Primarily, Doug and Marilyn look for structural soundness, growth and performance, low to moderate birth weight, fertility and conformation when making selection decisions. Docility, they say, is a given with the herd they have built.
Over the years, the herd has documented substantial improvements across the board, going from less than breed average to better than breed average in all key EPD categories.
The Lenth Hereford website (http://www.breedingcattlepage.com/hereford/LenthHerefords/) is always up-to-date with information about every animal for sale, pictures, and video. “People know that when they go to our website, it will be current, and that has been dynamic for us,” says Marilyn.
The Lenths sell more than 95% of their animals in private treaty sales, and in 2017, around 89% of their sales were due in part to the website. Customers used the information online to compare the available animals and make purchasing decisions, sometimes without ever actually seeing the livestock in person.
In recent years, the Lenths have had customers from as far as California and China purchase seedstock after seeing it online. With both of these customers, Marilyn communicated via email, telephone and text messages for several months before putting together a “package” that included several bred heifers and a bull. Without the website and the follow-up communications, these sales would have never happened.
One helpful piece on the website is a chart listing every bull for sale on one sheet. Customers can sort the chart based on a variety of characteristics and traits, and the records are color-coded to show prospective buyers how well the bulls rank against their peers within the breed. The system makes it easy to see which bulls are above or below average, or even in the top 25% or 10% of the breed.
The website takes a considerable amount of time to keep updated, but the Lenths believe it is completely worth it. “You have to promote your product and market it,” says Marilyn. “You can have the best product in the world, but if you don’t get it out to people, you’ll go out of business!”
Although most of the Lenths’ animals are sold through private treaty, they also take part in breed association sales, and are active in the Iowa Hereford Breeders Association (Marilyn is the current president) and American Hereford Association.
The Lenths are also active members of the Winneshiek County Cattlemen and the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association.
Lenth Herefords offers an “early reservation” process and a custom bred heifer development program. Customers place a down payment on bulls or females they want for a future breeding season, and Doug and Marilyn develop the animals until delivery. The early reservation process, combined with both spring and fall calvers, means that there are cattle available for sale nearly year round.
New customers really appreciate the time, effort, and knowledge Doug and Marilyn put in before and after a sale. Their bred heifer program has helped several cattlemen begin or grow a Hereford based herd, and those new customers often become repeat customers. The Lenths’ records allow them to help their clients choose their next herd bull or females, because they know exactly which bloodlines are already present in the herd.
Although the Lenths have no plans to increase the size of their operation, they are committed to increasing the quality of their seedstock and their services. They recently visited several other registered Hereford herds, a bull stud station, and a large commercial herd to learn from other producers and improve their own seedstock operation.
All aspects of their business lead to one overarching goal, according to Marilyn, and that is to “help our customers achieve their own unique, personal goals and be as efficient as possible, one sale at a time. By doing those things,” she says, “we can build on our long-term goal of maintaining a sustainable Hereford seedstock business that both Doug and I love and continue to have a passion for.”