68 bulls sold at 30th annual SIU bull sale

By Gus Bode

Farmers from all over Illinois packed the parking lot with trucks toting trailers at the SIUC Beef Evaluation Center in hopes of buying a bull at the 30th annual SIU bull sale Saturday.

An advisory board led by Karen Jones, animal science professor, organized the sale, which contained 68 performance-tested bulls from nine different breeds.

Livestock pens normally reserved for cattle filled with people as several of the farmers strained to get a closer look at the animals.

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Leonard Froemling of Ava opted to view the bulls from outside the pen. Froemling came to the sale in search of a Charolais bull. He said his family has always had Charolais cattle because they are generally good-natured animals. As he looked over the large white animals, a characteristic of the Charolais breed, Froemling said everyone looks for something different in a bull.

“I look a lot for the low birth weights,” Froemling said. “Also disposition, ones that are easy to handle.”

Inside the pen, Craig Pirtle of Fulton, Ky., was looking at the Angus bulls. Pirtle said he likes to have the Angus breed on his farm because their calves sell for high prices.

“Those black cows always seem to bring a better price,” Pirtle said.

Unlike Froemling, Pirtle said he doesn’t necessarily look for a bull to be too tame. He said he just wanted a bull that gains weight well, converting its food efficiently.

“We don’t want them too wild, but that doesn’t bother us too much,” Pirtle said. “We just want something we can put on a cow.”

Pirtle, like many other farmers, traveled a considerable distance to come to the sale. He said his 100-mile trip is worthwhile because the SIUC bull sale is the only sale in the region that has actual tested numbers for the bulls.

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The University’s Animal Science Department recorded statistics from each of the bulls and made the information available to all of the buyers before the sale. Some of the information included the average daily weight gain, birth weight and body measurements of the bulls. They also provided a score of the different cuts of meat in each animal.

The bulls were given an overall rating called an index score, which is based on all of the bull’s information collectively. This score told the buyer which bulls were technically the best. The highest indexing bull had a score of 149.7 and sold for $4,500.

Dr. Gary Minish, dean of the College of Agriculture, said he attended several bull sales when he taught at Virginia Tech. He said something that sets the SIUC sale apart is the faculty takes a more one-on-one approach with the animals. The department used a new feeding ration this year and kept track of how much each bull ate.

“One thing that is unique about this sale is we individually feed the bulls,” Minish said. “The new ration worked well; the bulls gained well.”

During the auction, the bulls were led one by one into a holding pen in the middle of the arena for everyone to see. The auctioneer, Monte Lowderman of the Lowderman Auction Company, started each bull at $1,000. Once the bidding started, Lowderman spout out prices at breakneck speed. Three people stationed around the pen would shout out every time a bid was made and urged the bidders to go higher. Once the buyers reached their limit and nobody else would bid, Lowderman would exclaim, “Sold the bull.”

Lowderman said his company does 50 or more cattle auctions per year, and at the SIUC sale, it seemed the buyers were looking closely at the physical makeup of the bull. He said this cased for better prices overall.

“Prices were good,” Lowderman said. “Buyers were paying attention to the bulls’ phenotype.”

All of the bulls come from consignors who enter their bulls into the bull test program in hopes of bringing higher prices for their bulls. The money brought by the bulls goes back to the consignors, but the University subtracts out feeding and boarding costs.

Every bull was sold at the auction, which Jones said made it a success. Last year, there were 30 fewer bulls in the auction, and not all of them were sold.

The average price for a bull was just under $1,800. The highest grossing breed was the Angus, which took in the two top prices. Out of the 35 Angus bulls in the auction, the average price was $1,900. Lowderman said the success of the Angus breed could be attributed to the marketing of their breed association.

“Their breed association ought to be given a Nobel Prize for marketing,” Lowderman said.

Pirtle ended up buying two Angus bulls to take back to his farm in Kentucky. Sitting in his truck waiting to load up his new bulls, Pirtle said he might not have gotten the bulls he wanted, but in the end, he was happy with what he did get.

“You always want to go for the best ones, but it doesn’t always end up like that,” Pirtle said. “I still think we got some good bulls.”

Reporter William Ford can be reached at

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