COLUSA He was just a baby, about a year old and weighing 1,312 pounds.
He also had a "tremendous look, tremendous shape, a good length of body and all the carcass merit you would want," according to the silky sales pitch of the auctioneer.
Seasoned cattlemen sat tensely, eyeing the lines of the coal-black Angus bull pacing in the pen.
The auctioneer's hum fell into a lulling rhythm, and ring men scanned the crowd for the slightest movement, shouting when buyers gave an almost-imperceptible nod.
As the bidding reached a crescendo, nods and shouts pushed the price upward until the auctioneer boomed with satisfaction, "Sold, for $20,000."
It was the most expensive sale of the afternoon, and the bull, O'Connell Right Answer 1823, was loaded onto a truck bound for Tehama County and launched into his new career as a high-class stud.
He is expected to produce up to 40,000 offspring over his lifetime, many of which will wind up as the increasingly popular Black Angus choice meat cuts and rib-eye steaks in grocery stores and restaurants throughout the country, and possibly the world.
One of the best-known registered Angus auctions in the region, the 17th annual Black Gold Bull Sale, drew about 65 buyers from all over the western United States and the Midwest to the Colusa County fairground Thursday to look over pedigreed Angus and Charolais bulls from four prominent ranches.
In about two hours, 131 Angus bulls from Wulff Bros. Livestock in Woodland, O'Connell Ranch in Colusa and Donati Ranch in Oroville, as well as 15 Charolais bulls from Broken Box Ranch in Williams, were sold to commercial beef cattle producers, registered breeders and artificial insemination businesses.
"This is one of the best Angus sales around," said John Dickinson, a Sacramento-based Angus breeder and president of the California Angus Association. "There's a lot of action, some large producers and some high-quality bulls."
With up to 300,000 head a year being added to the nation's beef cattle herd, Angus beef cattle introduced to the United States by a Scottish cattleman in 1873 are now the world's largest beef registry by far, said Dickinson.
The American Angus Association has been keeping tabs on ancestry and traits of the animal for more than 100 years. With DNA testing and other technological advances, breeders are better able to predict any number of traits for boosting the quality of beef cattle.
Bulls can then be ranked for predicted performance and meat-quality traits, such as disposition, calving ease, weight gain, milk production in daughters, carcass weight, marbling and rib-eye area.
Carl Wulff, owner of Wulff Bros. Livestock and a registered Angus breeder since 1989, said the registry is used to crossbreed traits to get the best bulls and choice meat.
"Over the years, we've increased the quality of the animals by far," Wulff said. "We can see that in our own herd. They're better performing, have a better disposition or docility, they gain (weight) better and all of that can have an impact on quality of meat."
Al Kuck, vice president of the beef program for Genex Cooperative, came to the sale from Shawano, Wis., for one particular bull, D R Right Answer Y209, which was sold to Genex for $13,000.
Genex is the world's second-largest marketer of beef and dairy cattle semen in the country, and markets to 57 foreign countries.
Each year, the company collects and sells about 10 million units of bull semen. Each unit is enough to breed one cow.
Kuck is hoping the new bull, which is headed to a ranch in Billings, Mont., will produce up to 250,000 units of semen a year. Progeny could be produced from about half those inseminations, he said.
"We liked this bull because of calving ease, it rates high on carcass weight and marbling and rib eye," Kuck said. "We have high hopes for this bull."
Editor's Note: This article has been changed from an earlier version to delete a reference that bulls sold at the auction might be used for steaks. Corrected on Aug. 14, 2012.