In Jamieson, it’s definitely a . . . BULL MARKET

The 20th annual Maag/Oft/Vallad bull sale drew spectators and customers from across the region. The event not only showcased prime stock for sale but also a free lunch and plenty of conversation for those who journeyed to Jamieson in March.
(The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell)

By Pat Caldwell

The Enterprise

JAMIESON — Everyone goes to the bull sale.

Or so it seems.

Men and women from as far away as Nevada and Washington – and many from right here in Malheur County – converged recently at the Maag/Oft/Vallad bull sale in Jamieson.

Pickups and cars and trucks with trailers lined the gravel roadway at Bob and Mary Ann Maag’s Angus Ranch for a mile or more against a backdrop of corrals and loading chutes.

The atmosphere resembled that of one big barbecue but the feast prepared for sale attendees was but the prologue to an event where big money and a year’s worth of work is at stake.

In a Roman-style arena packed with a crowd lounging in school bus seats, first-class Angus bulls drew bids with a nod, a twitch of a finger or a raised hand.

Within a few minutes, thousands of dollars transacted as the auctioneer – situated above and behind the arena – delivered a fast dialogue of prices.

The bull sale isn’t really an event but a relaxed yet serious experience highlighted by a free banquet of certified Angus tri-tip beef, salad, baked beans and desert.

“This is my paycheck for the year,” said Deanne Vallad, one of the organizers of the event, said.

The annual bull sale is the effort of Bob and Mary Ann Maag; Terry and Susan Oft and Vallad and her husband, Jason.

“I haven’t slept in a week,” Vallad joked as she rushed from one errand to another. “You wonder if your bulls will make all the grades and cuts.”

Grades and cuts and a host of other statistics – many of them as minute and complicated as batting averages in pro baseball– are the heart of the bull sale. Yet it is big cash payouts that put the exclamation mark on the sale.

“You got to know all the numbers,” Payette County rancher Josh Horst said as he chipped away at plate of tri-tip steak just before the bull sale kicked off.

And to “know all the numbers” a prospective buyer must study a 60-page glossy catalogue where each bull for sale is listed along with a photo. Below the photo is a sequence of abbreviations and numbers that – to the uninitiated – appear meaningless.

Yet those numbers and abbreviations are critical for buyers.

Each bull is evaluated for a host of attributes such as birth weight, calving ease, and the weight of the animal when it was weaned, its rib fat and what is known as “marbling.” Marbling is the amount of fat within the muscle of a slaughtered bull.

The amount of marbling governs the quality of the grade of beef.

Rib eye area is another statistic assessed in the catalogue.

If a bull has a high rib eye area – or REA – its sire will typically be better muscled, which pays off when those progeny are slaughtered because it signals the red meat yield of the carcass. A higher red meat yield is better and translates into better meat that, in turn, means more money for a producer.

“I won’t buy one unless I’ve looked at the catalogue extensively,” Horst said.

Terry Oft said the bull sale is a big deal.

“This is one of the largest bull sales in the West,” he said.

More than 250 Angus bulls – and a small number of Herford bulls – trotted up the chutes to the sale arena during the sale.

Deanne Vallad said the sale can bring in anywhere from $750,000 to $1 million in sales, depending upon the year and market beef prices.

“We send out about 3,000 catalogues, mainly in the western U.S.,” she said.

While the sale attracts buyers, it also entices spectators eager for a first-rate lunch. Others are on hand as second-hand buyers, making bids for customers unable to make the sale. At the same time as the sale rolled on, offers were made via an on-line auction.

Ken and Paula Kerfoot – Terry Oft’s cousins – journeyed from Redmond for the sale.

“We’ve been coming here for about 10 years,” Ken Kerfoot said.

Mike Oft, Terry’s brother, traveled from Boston to help out. He said he spends about a month helping his brother prepare for the sale. He said the sale is a community event.

“I’ve been coming here since 2000. Everyone comes and you get to see family and friends,” he said.

Ontario resident Stennett Eberly wasn’t at the sale to buy bulls.

“I’m here for the lunch and all the people,” he said.

While the sale is about friends and family and good food, all of it is underscored by breeding.

Besides the statistics, there are intangibles a prospective buyer looks for. Sturdiness in a bull is one of those intangibles, Horst said.

“Good cattle come out of here. They come off this country and when they go to feed they gain really good. I like their bulls. They are bred for rough country,” he said.

In the sale arena, the pace is fast.

As the sound of bulls pounding against the chutes situated outside the arena echoes through the arena, an animal is pushed into the small ring and the auctioneer begins to call out prices.

At the same time three ring-men stand and carefully eye the crowd, searching for a bids. As the bidding begins, the ring-men – all wearing black Stetsons – point when they see a bid and shout to signal an offer. The entire process lasts perhaps 30 seconds to a minute. In one sequence of a few minute,s nearly $16,000 was transacted. The first Angus bull to auction was sold for $6,500.

Mike Oft said the auction may look simple but is complicated and crammed with subtle nuances.

“It is like being a coach. It is about timing,” he said.

Mike Oft said he enjoys the event.
“I come to this and help all I can but I am a bystander. It is kind of like when my kids were born. I was in the room, but I wasn’t doing much,” he said.

By around 4 p.m. the sale – which kicked off just after 1 p.m. – is over and the bulls are either loaded up by the buyers or are segregated to loaded later.

Yet when all of the done there is still more work to do, Mike Oft said.

“Terry, Deanne and the Maag’s will finish out everything else about 1 a.m.,” he said.

Deanne Maag said more than 200 bulls were sold.

“It has kind of become a community event, kind of a way for everyone to kickoff to spring,” Maag said.

Maag said the sale proved to be about average in terms of success.

“It wasn’t what we would call a barn burner. But it wasn’t the worse sale we’ve had,” Maag said.