Guest Blogger: MPJ Cattle Co.

When our #FMGcrew is out shooting pictures/videos, there’s often a little bit of catch-up and industry talk that goes on in the picture pen or after the work is done. One “hot topic” is the WHY behind hiring a professional photographer like Focus Marketing Group. We visited with Matt Johnson of MPJ Cattle Co. recently to discuss.

The Johnson Family — Seated: Mark and Pam Johnson, with granddaughter Harper.
Standing L to R: Brad Johnson, Melissa and Matt Johnson.
  • Share some of the basics about MPJ Cattle Co — how you got started, where you’re located, how you typically sell cattle, services you provide to your customers, etc.
    MPJ Cattle Co. was started by Mark and Pam Johnson in the late 80’s.  Mark’s work with Trans Ova Genetics landed them in Maurice, IA.  Mark and Pam primarily focused on Chianina genetics early on.  Our operation has evolved quite a bit over the years, and we now focus primarily on raising elite show steers and breeding females of multiple breeds.   Brad works full time on the farm and handles all the day to day activities at our facility near Maurice, IA.  Matt and Melissa live an hour north in Garretson, SD near Sioux Falls.  That’s where all our sales are held and everything is marketed.  We offer steers and heifers for sale in an online pasture sale held in September, host an online female sale in early November, and typically have steers and heifers available privately all fall long.  Our biggest goal is to market the most elite cattle we can to the best families around and help them however we can through feeding, clipping, foot trimming, and management assistance to reach their goals. 
  • When did you begin working with Focus Marketing Group?
    We first started working with Focus in the fall of 2014.  Since then, we’ve used them 3-4 times a year for multiple reasons.  They picture babies for us in the spring for sale ads, steers and heifers for our online pasture sale in September, females for our late fall online heifer sale, and miscellaneous donors and bulls also.
  • How did you hear about us?
    We had worked with a handful of other professional photographers and just hadn’t found the perfect fit for our operation.  We knew a couple of the Focus reps and had always been impressed with their work, the first time we used them was also the first time we had an online sale.  We were incredibly pleased with how easy they were to work with and we loved the way the pictures and videos turned out.  We’ve had the Focus crew out numerous other times since then and it’s always a great experience. 
  • Why did you decide to hire a professional photographer?
    Thanks to the internet and the rise in online sales, there are more cattle selling than ever before.   Potential buyers are able to lay their eyes on thousands more cattle than they ever would have in the past.  It’s a great asset to be able to reach such a large base of customers to market to, but it has also made it a lot bigger competition to make your cattle stand out from the rest.  We work hard to get our cattle looking as good as we possibly can and offer the best genetics we can get our hands on.  Trying to do all of this stretches us thin, and being able to count on a crew of professionals that know what the cattle are supposed to look like and can capture the best picture possible that still represent the cattle takes a lot of pressure off of us.
  • Explain a typical picture/video day with FMG.
    We always start by bringing in a group of 7 head.  We like to have all 7 of these washed and blown out, hair worked and fresh clipped when Kyla gets to our place. Once she’s set up, two to three of us will go to the picture pen with her.  The rest of the crew will slowly start bringing in more cattle in groups of 2.  Usually, as long as the barn crew has a head start on having the first 7 ready to roll when the photographer comes, they are able to keep up with us the rest of the day.  If all goes well, we can typically start around 9 am and have a group of 25 head done around 2:00.
  • What advice do you have to someone who is on the fence about taking their own photos?
    It’s always hard to know what to spend your money on when marketing your cattle.  Some people have chosen to take their own photos to cut down on expenses and I’d be lying if I said the thought hadn’t crossed our minds either.  When we really looked at the costs and labor associated with being able to effectively take our own pictures, we felt our money was better spent hiring the professionals to take them for us.  Not only could we get them done in a more timely manner, but we feel that making sure we get the right set of pictures and videos is quite possibly the biggest asset we have to growing our business and getting the potential buyer to notice our cattle.  We figured if we save a few hundred bucks taking our own pictures, but it ends up costing us thousands in lost sales dollars, it really wasn’t much of a savings in the long run.
  • Please share some of your biggest success stories, and how quality pictures/videos have helped you in the selling process.
    To me, the hardest part about selling show cattle is being able to get your animals into the hands of great families.  Through consistently having high quality pictures/videos, we have been able to build our customer base and develop relationships with some awesome, hardworking families that have the same level of commitment as us.  Just last year, we were able to gain a new customer solely because of one of our pictures taken of a 3 month old heifer calf.  The customer noticed her picture, flew up to look at her, and purchased her.  She was later selected Reserve Calf Champion in the Junior Simmental show in Ft. Worth this year.  Being able to show our potential customers good, honest pictures of our cattle has allowed us to gain their trust and help take care of them as good as we possibly can.
  • Any other tidbits you’d like to share?
    Picturing and videoing sale cattle is never easy, and by no means do we have it mastered, but one thing that has helped us drastically is when we put in a permanent picture pen.  Dedicating a permanent spot to picture and video everything has made the whole process so much easier. 

We figured if we save a few hundred bucks taking our own pictures, but it ends up costing us thousands in lost sales dollars, it really wasn’t much of a savings in the long run.

– Matt Johnson, owner MPJ Cattle Co.