Some Fort Hays State University students and faculty in the agriculture department hit the jackpot over spring break. And they didn’t have far to go to claim their prize.
In fact, they didn’t even leave campus to punch their winning ticket in FHSU’s inaugural bull sale on the university farm Monday.
Sparked by a $30,000 winning bid on the very first animal sold, the Round Up sale totaled more than $230,000. FHSU will receive a percentage of that total, with the rest going to the Mann Ranch.
Most of the 60 bulls sold were Red Angus and SimAngus from the Mann Ranch, located about 45 miles east of Wichita in the Flint Hills. Several were Stabilizer bulls from the FHSU farm. The event was part of an initiative through a partnership between Mann Ranch and Fort Hays State.
Fort Hays State students fed and cared for the bulls at the university farm for several months leading up to the sale.
While organizers thought the sale’s signature animal, the 1,700-pound Red Angus named Mann Wideload 800 55C, was well worth the amount he brought, they were cautiously optimistic.
“You’re pretty nervous with an inaugural sale; you just want everything to run smoothly,” said Larry Garten, a veterinarian in the Kansas City area who is a consultant for Mann Ranch. “Did I think that was a $30,000 bull? Yes, the quality was there. Did I think he would bring $30,000 at an inaugural sale? Probably not.”
Don Benjamin, interim chair of FHSU’s Department of Agriculture, agreed.
“We were hoping around $15,000 to $18,000 on our number one bull,” Benjamin said, a smile still plastered on his face at the conclusion of the sale. “That sets the tone for the sale. If your first one goes like that, $8,000 doesn't sound like so much.”
Nine other bulls brought at least $5,000 each to help raise the sale average to nearly $3,900 each.
Potential buyers from five different states, and even one from Canada, got in on the bidding -- both in person and online.
DVAuction out of Norfolk, Neb., was in charge of the sale and featured real-time bidding and proxy bidding. Those present were able to view the cattle -- which had been videoed beforehand -- on three large monitors set up in the front of the showroom of the beef barn on the university farm. The same videos were available for online bidders.
“That’s what these bull sales have evolved to, where they are videoed, and people can evaluate them on their own time in their pens ahead of the sale,” Garten said. “They have time to study those bulls weeks ahead of time on video, so by the time the auction comes around, you know just what you’re looking for.”
Numerous sponsors were solicited to help with in-kind donations, including a lunch just prior to the start of the auction.
It was a nervous and exciting time for the agriculture department as students and faculty glanced at each other as a half dozen bidders carried the bid up past $25,000. The final duel featured bidders from Canada and Hobart, Okla., with the Oklahoma buyer claiming the highest bid -- and becoming the new owner of Wideload.
As the bidding moved past $20,000, Benjamin couldn’t wipe the smile from his face, especially as the bidding kept climbing.
“We would have been pleased with $20,000,” Benjamin said. “To have a bull sell for that much ($30,000) is very pleasing.”
It was an invaluable experience for numerous other students, in addition to those who cared for the animals.
Judging teams from FHSU and area high schools came through to practice their skills by visiting the university farm and viewing the bulls. About 10 FHSU students helped care for the animals from start to finish, ranging from feeding and watering to preparing them for the video process by DVAuction.
“We were able to put together a number of classes for our judging team,” Benjamin said. “Some high school FFA teams and college teams came through, too, and were able to see a quality class. That’s been a huge benefit. That probably involved another 150 additional students.”
In addition, “the exposure for the university is great,” said Mike Stoppel, manager of the university farm’s beef unit. “Don has brought a lot of prospective freshmen by the farm, and they’re able to see the kinds of things we are doing in the unit. It helps with exposure and recruitment.”
All in all, the sale was deemed a huge success and still has those close to the project shaking their heads as to the degree of success.
“With Mike’s contacts and the people he knows in the industry, it was a perfect storm,” Garten said.
Thane Barker, a senior animal science major from Lebo, said he is pleased to be a part of the resurgence of several programs on the university farm.
Barker had grown up showing sheep, so he decided to get involved with the beef unit at FHSU to widen his experience.
“I like the hands-on, applied aspect at Fort Hays State,” he said. “I thought the best part of all this was the marketing aspect, letting people know what we’re doing here.”
Garten said that while the bull sale “was kind of a trial,” he plans to continue his association with FHSU.
“I’m going to keep working with Mike,” Garten said. “I could not be more pleased with the professional job that was done with everyone involved with Fort Hays State. Our goal is to make that cow herd out there for Fort Hays State a top-notch cow herd through the influence of my herd.”
Final numbers still are being calculated from the sale to determine how much FHSU will receive.
“Let’s put it this way,” Benjamin said. “It’s been well worth our effort. This definitely will be a shot in the arm for our beef unit and some of our other units as well.”
And he wasn't just talking about the monetary benefits.
“What the students learned from all this was invaluable,” Benjamin said. “With all the planning of the sale and taking care of the animals, learning about feed bunk management, how to torch and clip the bulls themselves. It's an experience they'll never forget.”