Farm Online

Relationships key to the success of Circle 8 studs

GAME CHANGERS: Jeremy and Carmen Cooper have made a big impact in the Angus and Wagyu breeds.

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TAKING advantage of every opportunity to learn and build relationships with people in both the Angus and Wagyu breeds has led to the long-term success of the Circle 8 business.

Jeremy and Carmen Cooper are well-regarded in the industry as game changers, and they've established their Angus and Wagyu studs in a professional, strategic manner to best serve their clients and the wider industry.

But what they're most proud of is their strong relationships across the whole supply chain from commercial breeders to seedstock leaders, genetics specialists and lotfeeders.

A voracious learner

Mr Cooper's interest in stud cattle started from a young age, and even as an Angus Youth member, he was making a difference.

Angus Youth committee he became a key stakeholder in reorientating the program towards a more commercial beef cattle breeding and production focus, which provides young people with opportunities to grow through personal development, and build careers and relationships in the beef cattle industry.

Among his mentors at the time was Graham Truscott, the former chief executive of both Angus Australia and the Australian Wagyu Association.

Mr Truscott gave him his first real insight into corporate governance, including how to structure a seedstock business, as well as ideas such as lateral thinking through the use of Edward de Bono's Six Thinking Hats technique to improve decision making.

After winning the Michigan State University Scholarship through Angus Australia, where he studied meat science and learned more about commercial production, he became chairman of the Angus Youth committee.

"Jeremy was always a very forthright and ambitious person, with strong ideas for the Angus breed, and very much a commercial focus," Mr Truscott said.

"A big focus for him was to make sure the commercial aspect of the industry was shown to kids coming into the breed.

"He helped to pioneer the introduction of Breedplan analysis and performance judging in what they were doing in the youth program, using Breedplan technology to determine the overall quality of cattle being shown

"He understood that technology well and became one of the best in using it to select and plan his matings."

Mr Truscott said teaching Angus Youth members about leadership styles, company constitution, and even law work, helped them become leaders in the industry.

"Jeremy was always very intelligent and absorbed that information well, and he's gone on to become a very strong leader," he said.

"He built very strong approaches to the way he managed building his business and the linkage out to this customer base.

"He's very customer focused and he's into building his customers' businesses through breeding the product for them to be able to excel in their market."

Clients in focus

Producing commercially-relevant bulls that can make an impact in clients' herds has been the goal for the Coopers from the time the Angus stud was established in 1992.

Stud stock agent John Settree, Nutrien Ag Solutions, has been part of the Circle 8 team since then, after being close friends with Mr Cooper as a teenager.

"We've been close friends for more than 30 years, so we're invested in each other's success," Mr Settree said.

"I want to see his program and his results do well for himself and his family but also for the outcome that he's trying to achieve in breeding bulls for the industry.

"When I started as a commercial agent 25 years ago Jeremy and his parents were commercial clients of mine, and I was selling their surplus stock and fat lambs."

When Mr Settree moved into stud stock, Mr Cooper became one of his best clients, but his methodical approach to the yearly bull sale is what sets him apart.

"He's a shrewd businessman, a very deep thinker - he sometimes thinks so deep that I've got to shake him back to reality," Mr Settree said.

"He's always got the best interests of his own brand and what he's trying to achieve at the forefront in his ideas, policies and procedures, including getting a draft of bulls to sale day.

"He does everything - genomic testing, DNA and parent verifying - and it's this discipline in doing every step along the way which adds value for his clients.

"His goals are always customer-focused and he does everything he possibly can for a buyer to come and pick the bull that suits them."

Customer service is another area Mr Cooper is well-known for.

"If there are any issues with a bull, he fixes it, no questions asked. It doesn't matter if the bull is sold one month ago or one year ago."

That after-sales service is important for long-term success, according to Bill Cornell, a long-term mentor who works with Mr Cooper through Wagyu semen sales at ABS Australia.

"Jeremy is extremely customer-focused, and backs his product like nobody else I know with after-sales service," Mr Cornell said.

"He has a level of professionalism that a lot of breeders don't have.

"With our first program of embryos we sold overseas, we gave the client three free embryos as well, just in case there was an issue. They didn't have a problem, but we've sold them three lots of embryos since then."

Balancing data

As many stud producers were just coming to terms with the widespread use of Breedplan and other selection tools, Mr Cooper was researching them as much as possible. He wanted to be able to use data captured on-farm in an effective way, and he's been able to share his knowledge of how phenotypes work alongside Breedplan from a young age.

Mr Cornell, who has worked closely with Mr Cooper since he was a young man, and has also co-owned cattle with him across multiple breeds, said very few cattlemen understood Breedplan as well as Mr Cooper.

Mr Cornell played a major role in the development of Angus Australia over many years and is now known for his work with Australia's largest semen supplier, ABS Australia, which is the biggest supplier of Wagyu semen to the world.

"When he started with Wagyus, Breedplan was just coming in, and the majority of breeders were buying cattle based on bloodlines and reputation," Mr Cornell said.

"At ABS, we don't sell fairytales and myths - we only sell science and what we can see and believe.

"Jeremy's approach is to test everything, so when we, at ABS, select young Wagyu bulls Jeremy won't deliver the bull until all data had been collected including the 400-day weight, scrotal and ultrasound in their contemporary group - every bull has got to have a complete EBV (estimated breeding value) profile done within a contemporary group.

"Some breeders will get a calf genomically tested and away they go, but he goes the extra step to make sure all the hard work is done, and there's no guesswork."

Being able to understand and use a combination of prediction tools, such as EBVs, expected progeny differences, performance data, performance and phenotype, is rare.

"I find Jeremy to be very strategic in every selection, looking at everything in terms of what science has to offer, but also structure, docility and the type of the cattle.

"With Wagyus, I'm confident that he'll get them looking good, without losing their meat qualities. Some of them are already starting to get some shape and type into them."

Reinvigorating Wagyu

Mr Cooper was integral in the promotion of Breedplan in the Angus breed, particularly through Angus Youth, and he was able to use that knowledge again when it came to the Wagyu industry.

By the time he started breeding Wagyu cattle eight years ago, it was an industry that desperately needed to change, but had huge potential, according to Mr Truscott, who was the Australian Wagyu Association's CEO at the time.

"Jeremy came to a conference and saw the Wagyu breed as an opportunity for him to build his own herd of fullblood Wagyu seedstock and have two markets, one selling Wagyu bulls to his current Angus breeders breeding F1 (first-cross) cattle and another for people wanting to breed fullbloods.

"When I came into the Wagyu industry they were using Breedplan but it had no credibility.

"Wagyu was all about marbling, but there was no use of real data for the IMF (intramuscular fat) EBV.

"Coming from the Angus breed, Jeremy was expecting the industry to be able to provide him with EBVs from the start.

"Without it he struggled to know what to buy because we didn't have the data."

Mr Cooper made a wise decision, Mr Truscott said, to start with 30 heifers from Longford Station, which had been already supplying first-cross steers into the Japanese live market for many years.

After a few years, with help from some large Wagyu breeders who provided extensive amounts of phenotypic and genomic data, Breedplan became much more effective and better used in the Wagyu industry, with data playing a much bigger role in the selection of animals.

"Once we started to produce EBVs from real data out of the supply chain - from on farm production to feedlot growth and carcase data taken from large cohorts, that gave us confidence in the analysis, and Jeremy, with his background in Angus Breedplan, was in a strong position to use the technology," Mr Truscott said.

The Wagyu industry has gained a lot from him with his commercial outlook and his skills in using genomically assisted Breedplan analysis and GeneProb analysis.

"With Jeremy, he is breeding animals in a very strategic way, and he's quite a remarkable man in the industry - all of the work we did with him as a young man has paid off.

"He's also good at building relationships in both breeds, and doesn't see other studs as competitors, but co-operators, because there's mutual benefit in working with other breeders."

Building relationships

Making connections with other breeders and professionals in the beef industry has led to long-term relationships.

One of Mr Cooper's most important projects in his career has been establishing a partnership with Laird Morgan who owns Arubial Wagyu and the 27,000-head Lillyvale Feedlot, who he introduced to Mr Cornell, who now markets the semen for both the Circle 8 and Arubial Wagyu programs through ABS.

"Laird is a very commercial, focused breeder who is thinking years ahead and Jeremy is very similar, and Bill is also a long-term thinker who understands the whole beef industry very well," Mr Truscott said.

The three men now work very closely, marketing and distributing the best Wagyu semen on the market.

"Some of the bulls they have are breed leaders, with Laird having the number one bull for marbling with Arubial Bond, and two of the best combinations Wagyu bulls in Arubial United and Arubial Anticipated.

"We also have one of Jeremy's bulls, Circle8Bulls Rhyme R113, who's high for growth and marbling, and semen will be available from him soon, not only domestically but worldwide."

Mr Cooper's relationship with Mr Morgan began with a phone call after the 2015 Wagyu conference at Yeppoon, where Mr Morgan had purchased his first Wagyu heifer.

Mr Morgan had bred Shorthorn and Brahman stud cattle and spent time in the show ring as a young man, and like many cattlemen, wasn't keen on the Wagyu breed.

"Then a cousin of mine took me to the Wagyu conference where I ate beef for three days without having to use a knife and it was magnificent," he said.

"I bought a heifer at that conference, then bought the best three females I could from Macquarie Wagyu.

"Coop had seen that happen, gave us a call and he helped with our first big sale, an heifer in-utero that made $95,000."

Since that first purchase, Arubial has grown to become one of the biggest studs in the country, with Mr Morgan planning to join 3000 fullblood females this year, and Mr Cooper has made a big difference in the Arubial operation as somebody to bounce ideas off.

"He loves phenotypes but he's just as focused on data as well, and he uses it in a really effective way. He blends them, but doesn't let one override the other - it's a very balanced view. What he's been able to do with his limited resources is quite incredible because of his knowledge."

Sharing knowledge

Many commercial and stud breeders have benefited from Mr Cooper's knowledge of Breedplan and his ability to market cattle.

One of those is Stan Piggins, Trig Farm Wagyu, who first connected with Mr Cooper when he was looking to sell some empty unregistered Wagyu cows.

Mr Cooper convinced the Southern Highlands breeder to let him collect DNA and register the cows as fullblood Wagyus, and they were sold over AuctionsPlus, averaging $5500 a head.

They've now been working together for 12 years, with Mr Cooper registering every cow on the farm and implementing operating procedures around reproduction, weaning and marketing.

Mr Piggins now runs about 250 head, and having Mr Cooper on board to help build relationships, particularly with Queensland feedlots specialising in Wagyu cattle, has made a big difference to the operation.

"He's very good at marketing and he understands the genetics a lot more than me," Mr Piggins said.

"Because he works with feedlots, he knows where the interest is, and what direction the breed is going in.

"When the cattle leave here they're in the feedlot for a year to 18 months and they give us a lot of carcase data, which gives us the opportunity to make better breeding decisions."

A Christian ethos

It may not be widely known, but Mr Cooper's Christianity is at the heart of his operation, and it's a common thread between him, Mr Cornell and Mr Truscott.

"He is a strong Christian, as I am, and very much looks to do the right thing by people," Mr Truscott said.

"He's very aware that he's mortal. He's a very family oriented man, a caring father and husband who is looking to build opportunities for his children, but expecting them to make their way in the world too."

This is branded content for Circle 8.