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Customer Connection | March 2024

By Cheryl Kepes

Photos courtesy Breeder Link

Two lifelong cattlemen, with decades of experience in the AI industry, startup a unique bull stud business.

Leaders in the AI industry for most of their lives, business partners Lex Carter and Robert Whitacre know the ins and outs of the bull stud business. For many decades the two have been dedicated to working in the AI industry as well as being active cattlemen in their own operations.

The combination of their passion for fellow cattle producers and expertise in beef genetics serves as the foundation for their up-and-coming business, Breeder Link. Lex and Robert launched Breeder Link in 2020 with the goal of serving cattle producers who may fall off the radar of traditional genetic services companies.

Breeder Link aims to promote semen sales for elite Angus sires and to work with commercial and seedstock producers to find the right genetic combinations for their operations. The sires in Breeder Link’s lineup differ from bulls found in many mainstream bull stud offerings – and that’s intentional.

Breeder Link Beginnings

As teenagers, Lex and Robert both attended AI school in their local communities. Through the years they worked their way up through separate companies within the AI industry. Then, 30 years ago, the two cattlemen’s paths crossed while working together for a genetics services company.

Lex and Robert’s experience working for different AI companies opened their eyes to an area in the industry they felt was being overlooked. “What brought us to Breeder Link is that through the years we felt like there were a lot of good breeders getting left behind, in the sense that traditional AI studs weren’t paying any attention to them, maybe because their numbers or EPDs weren’t quite where the traditional studs felt like they needed to be. But we saw value in those cattle,” Robert Whitacre, co-owner of Breeder Link, said.

Robert and Lex sought to create a platform to market proven genetics from solid operations with “real-world” type cattle that performed well in their environments. “We felt like the industry had become very terminally focused, it zeroed in on terminal traits. We certainly understand those traits are important and that the industry needs cattle that feed and grade well, but at the same time, we felt like to some extent that sometimes the cow/calf guy gets left behind,” Lex Carter, co-owner of Breeder Link, explained.

Bridging the Gap

Breeder Link’s owners work to offer genetic solutions for cattle producers needing something different than what the traditional AI companies are offering. The genetics offered by Breeder Link focus on maternal traits such as fertility and longevity as well as attributes unique to an animal’s environment.

Though the business partners appreciate and utilize EPDs and genomics (even incorporating the technology in their own herds), sometimes chasing the highest EPDs fails to pay off. For example, commercial cattle producers running cattle in difficult environmental conditions may experience a higher percentage of their cows being open if they push too hard genetics focused on milk and growth.

“Right now, one of our highest selling bulls is one that is less than 100 on yearling weight, that’s because there are some commercial cattlemen that realize those limitations and they have experienced what happens when they use genetics that are above and beyond what their environment will support,” Lex added.

The company promotes a broad array of bulls in hopes of helping customers find the right sires that are adapted to the limitations and strengths of their operation. “We don’t feel like there is any bull out there that’s perfect. They all have strengths, and they all have weaknesses,” Robert said. “The art of cattle breeding is trying to match a bull’s strengths and weakness with the cows they are breeding. We feel there are some very valuable tools out there that we can use in our arsenal that maybe the traditional bull studs would walk away from.”

Proven Bulls

The majority of the bulls in Breeder Link’s lineup are proven. “The one statement you always need to remember is - the proof is in the proof,” Robert shared. The founders of Breeder Link travel many miles to see the “proof” of potential sires. They want to evaluate a bull’s dam, granddam, siblings, and progeny.

Robert and Lex place high value on cow families. The approximate average age of the dams of the sires in Breeder Link’s inventory is 7 to 8 years old. “We want to bring in bulls that are out of cows that have had several calves and bred back on time every year, because we feel like that is a good indicator of fertility,” Lex stated.

Lean Operation

Their experience in the AI industry taught them they must keep overhead to a bare minimum if they expect Breeder Link to succeed. That means the two are responsible for everything. They acquire bulls, ship product, coordinate advertising, create the directory, counsel customers, and anything else needed. The duo does it all.

Cattle Producers to the Core

Both men devoted their careers to different companies in the AI industry working at a variety of levels, but they have always kept their roots in cattle production. Robert and his dad, operate a purebred Angus herd and a commercial herd in Winchester, Virginia. Lex and his brother, Val and Val’s son Colter, manage Carter Cattle Company in Pingree, Idaho. Carter Cattle Company runs a registered Angus herd and a commercial herd.

Robert and Lex attribute their lives entrenched in the day-to-day operation of their own cattle businesses to their ability to better meet the needs of their Breeder Link customers. The positive feedback on their sire directory and customer service helps fuel their mission. The duo’s next steps include expanding their genetic services to producers in other countries as well as branching out to other breeds.

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