CM-MR-3-Buying 3by Karl H. Kazaks
WOODSTOCK, VA — Hauling. Buying. Selling. Backgrounding. In a nutshell, that’s what Daryl Bowman does. He operates two businesses, Daryl Bowman Livestock (his transport and brokering business) and Blessed Acres (his farm). But the larger picture is more complicated. What Bowman does involves managing five trucks, scheduling the transport of cattle to destinations as far as Illinois and Kansas, attending several sales per week, and running his 300-acre farm.
Most importantly, to Bowman, it also includes responding to and taking care of his customers’ needs.
Bowman learned the hauling business from his grandmother and father, starting out on straight trucks. In 1992 he set out on his own and established Daryl Bowman Livestock.
Some of his first business was hauling cattle out of the Virginias to the Mennonite community near Lancaster, PA.
At first he was moving partial loads, but over time his customers have grown to ask for tractor-trailer loads. “It’s more economical for them that way,” he said.
Today, between 30 and 50 percent of his livestock business involves farmers in the Lancaster, PA, area.
Over time, his trucking business also grew to encompass order buying.
“People knew I’d be going to sales, so my customers started asking me to buy for them,” Bowman said.
Each week Bowman attends about six sales per week, sometimes eight in the busier spring and fall seasons. He buys and sells cattle for customers throughout Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Bowman likes to attend sales in person. “I know my customers want a certain thing,” he said, and he likes personally to verify what he’s bidding on.
“Very rarely,” he said, does he use phone bidding. “I don’t like it.”
Bowman buys for customers large and small. “I’ll buy one head for someone,” he said, “and treat them the same as if they were buying 100.”
That’s not just talk, either. Bowman does buy small lots, particularly for people looking to raise freezer beeves.
When a customer is ready to sell, sometimes they want their cattle taken to a particular sale, but often they’ll turn to Bowman for advice, asking him the best place to take their cattle, since he has such a good sense of the pulse of the sales, attending them as frequently as he does.
If a customer only has a small lot of cattle to sell, he’ll match them with other small lots to put together a full trailer load.
Each week Bowman moves about 500 head. He consistently hauls cattle to Illinois (particularly heifers and colored animals) and takes a truck every week to Kansas for a regular customer.
On his own farm, Bowman backgrounds up to 1,500 head of cattle per year. It works with his limited land base. Instead of trying to keep a cow herd on 300 acres, he farms hay, corn, and small grains instead.
“I enjoy backgrounding,” he said. He buys light cattle and feeds them to 750 or 850 pounds. He retains ownership on some cattle which he sends to Illinois for finishing.
“The biggest key is keeping your cost per head down,” he said, referring to backgrounding. “At the same time you can’t cheat on quality. If you buy quality at the beginning, it treats you well at the end.”
Bowman grows about 120 acres of corn, keeping half for silage and selling the rest for cash (it went for chicken feed this past year). He plants rye behind corn as a cover crop and then chops it in the spring.
His corn silage tested out so well last year that he only has to mix corn gluten and dry hay with it.
Over the years Bowman has made a number of improvements to his farm. When he bought it, the farm had only perimeter fencing. Since then he’s added a number of barns, including the lot where he backgrounds cattle, plus a storage area and a large working area with a scale and many pens where he can work animals.
Bowman takes a nuanced view of the current cattle market.
“The disadvantage is your risk gets higher,” he said. “The advantage of a good market is it’s a whole lot easier to sell them.”
Regardless of the market, working with and marketing cattle is a natural fit for Bowman.
“I always like a challenge,” he said. “I keep my head up high and don’t look back.”
Bowman wonders about the future of cattle industry in the Mid-Atlantic. “I don’t know where it’s going to be — where the customers are going to be — in 15 to 20 years,” he said.
But he doesn’t worry about that too much, instead focusing on the business at head.