By TIM HEARDEN
RED BLUFF, Calif. -- Kenny and Dianne Read have been coming to the Red Bluff Bull and Gelding Sale long enough that they don't get too nervous about sifting and grading.
The owners of Bar KD Ranch in Culver, Ore., try their best to get their bulls ready, walking them as calves on blacktop for short stretches to get them ready for the fairgrounds atmosphere and weeding out troublesome bulls.
"We have a pretty good handle," Kenny Read said Jan. 22 as he prepared 21 of his Black Angus bulls for judging. "It used to be nerve-racking, but after you've been in it and been seasoned in it and know what they're going to do, it's not as nerve-racking."
Still, having bulls disqualified from the sale because they're not structurally sound or don't grade well can cost a producer thousands of dollars in income.
"I'm a nervous wreck," said Bernie Hartman, owner of C.B. Ranch in Gerber, Calif. "If you don't pass the sift, it's over."
The sifting and grading of range-ready bulls began five days of activities leading up to the Jan. 26 bull sale at the Tehama District Fair grounds here. Calving-ease and halter bulls were set to face the same weeding-out process on Jan. 23, and various contests and judgings were awaiting horses and working dogs later in the week.
The contests precede the week's main events -- Friday's sale of stock dogs in the afternoon and evening auction of paint geldings and mules, and Saturday's sale of all bulls. In addition, dozens of feeder and replacement heifer lots were to be auctioned Jan. 24 in the fifth annual online sale.
Thousands of people come to Red Bluff each January for the week of the sale -- one of the West's largest. Attractions include a trade show, cow horse seminars, a Western art show and a bull riding competition.
This year's bull sale had 485 entrants, each of which had to be certified as healthy before they arrived. The bulls take their turns going through a sifting arena before they are weighed and graded in the Don Smith Pavilion.
As many as 10 to 15 percent of bulls can be sifted in a given year, said Bill Hooton, a Cottonwood, Calif., veterinarian and member of the bull sale committee.
"This part of the sift is (looking at) basic soundness and some conformation," Hooton said. "They're not graded at this point. We're looking for straight legs, looking at their feet, their eyes, their genitalia, that sort of thing."
By the time the bulls reach the grading arena, not many are eliminated, sale manager Adam Owens said. Qualifying bulls are graded on a scale of 87 to 92 based on their structure -- things like the distance between the underside of their chest to the top of their back, he said.
"We want to see if they can move around freely," Owens said. "With a calving-ease bull, we don't want to see one that's totally massive because their calves will be tougher for the heifers to have."
Read said judging systems like the one used in Red Bluff are the best for ensuring quality.
"You just have to realize that not every bull you put in is going to make it," he said.
Red Bluff Bull and Gelding Sale: http://redbluffbullsale.com/