Crystal cattleman Michigan Cattlemen’s Association Businessman of Year

By Jessica Beery • Last Updated 8:05 pm on Wednesday, September 07, 2011

CRYSTAL – The Michigan Cattlemen’s Associaion is an affiliate of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and represents all segments of the beef cattle industry, including cattle breeders, producers and feeders. The Plank family has been recognized by the MCA for its influence in the cattle industry twice before. Brian Plank won “Young Cattleman of the Year” in 2005 and MCA named Plank Farm “Business of the Year” in 2009.

Kick-started through 4-H

Plank got his start in the cattle industry in 1983, when he showed his first heifer at the Montcalm County 4-H Fair. That continued involvement in 4-H fostered a love of cattle that has grown to a fully invested partnership in the Plank family farm.

The farm was established in 1968 by his parents, Oscar and Paula Plank. Brian Plank now cares for 60 Simmental and Simm/Angus cows on his family’s 700-acre farm on Mount Hope Road east of Crystal.

Brian Plank

If caring for the family farm isn’t enough, Plank is also an area representative for Genex Cooperative, Incorporated, which provides access to high-quality cattle semen to local dairy and beef farmers.

What makes Plank stand out from the many beef farmers in the area, though, is his contribution to the beef industry through his management of the MCA/Michigan State University (MSU) Bull Test Station on his family’s farm in Crystal.

As the manager of the only bull test station in the state, Plank assists MSU faculty in collecting data on the bulls and develops firsthand knowledge of each bull during the course of the intense 112-day genetic test.

Only about 100 top-of-the-line yearling beef bulls are brought to the Plank’s bull test station each October, where they undergo tests, including rib-eye ultra-sounding, semen testing, cattle tuberculosis testing and average weight gain. Bulls are brought to Crystal from all over Michigan and Indiana for testing, as cattle breeders seek to determine which bulls will strengthen their breeding lines.

“We’re trying to better the genetic base,” Plank said.

He said that only about 10 to 20 percent of bulls brought to the test station meet the high testing standards, but those top bulls have been sold for almost $6,500 as cattle breeders snatch up the best bulls to better breeding lines across the country and into South America.

“Brian’s familiarity with the bulls’ genetics and performance is of great value to bull test consignors and buyers,” MCA Vice President Kathleen Hawkins said.

Bringing bull research home

While much of Plank’s time from October to April is spent studying the herd of test bulls, he still finds time to encourage the next generation of cattle farmers and keep the community fed.

Every October, right before his loads of test bulls are brought in, Plank hosts a production sale of heifers and steers to local 4-H exhibitors. One of his steers earned a reserve grand champion at this summer’s county fair.

If he can’t sell an animal to a 4-Her, he sells the animal for high-quality “freezer beef.”

“I’ve never heard anyone say they got bad beef from me,” he said with a smile. “Sometimes it’s hard to sell that first beef to them, but once they taste it, they keep coming back for more.”

Plank is proud of the way he cares for the bulls who spend the winter on his farm. The bulls are only fed corn, corn silage and hay – a combination proven to produce hearty, healthy bulls.

“We’re trying to put superior product on the market,” he said. “Everything here is all natural.”

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