He has yet to hit his prime, but SSF Corks, 5J White Squall is already racking up awards and generating buzz in the cattle industry.
The 1,700-pound bull, owned by a Harford County farmer, seems to have a shot at a national title starting today at a contest in Kentucky. Local experts say the bovine with the snow white coat can compete against the country's best.
"He walked into the barn, and I was totally amazed," said Andy Cashman, assistant manager of the Maryland State Fair. "If you are into judging, he is one for the records with all the right points. He is definitely the Mercedes-Benz of cattle."
Bred by Corks Cattle Co. in Missouri and born in March 2007, the Charolais bull has made his home for nearly a year at Shadow Springs Farm in Havre de Grace. At the state fair, he brought Harford County its first livestock state champion.
And at the Keystone International Livestock Show last month in Harrisburg, Pa., Squall, as his owners call him, took supreme champion of the show.
Some say he might boost Maryland's reputation in the national livestock market.
"Right out of the box, we know this bull will be truly competitive and a real boon for the Maryland livestock industry," said Scott Barao, chief executive officer of the Maryland Cattlemen's Association.
Owners Bob and Judy Tibbs shipped their prize bull to Louisville last week. There, he will test his mettle at the North American Livestock Show.
"That's where the gloves come off," Barao said. "At that elite level, you are talking about small differences between the best bulls."
Bob Tibbs said that he received calls from show-goers wanting to buy an interest in Squall before the bull even entered the ring in Louisville. A win there qualifies Squall for a trip to Fort Worth, Texas, in January for what Tibbs calls the Miss America of livestock shows.
"Maryland is not looked at as a major player when it comes to livestock," said Martin Hamilton, executive director of the state Fair Board.
"But something wonderful might happen with this bull. He is well-structured and may have high success even out West."
Judges look at size, shape and structural correctness, particularly of legs, feet and muscle, as well as how well the bull represents its breed, Barao said.
"This is a very well-balanced bull with remarkable breed characteristics," he said.
The enormous cattle population in the West multiplies the chances of winners coming from there. Maryland did have a winner in Louisville in the mid-1980s, with Broadway, an Angus bull, who lived out his days on a Frederick farm, Barao said.
Bob Tibbs, a lifelong cattle breeder who has been farming in Havre de Grace for most of his 68 years, bought Squall to breed and show for $4,500.
"It's like choosing a racehorse," he said. "You depend on your instincts, what you like in the animal. You study the pedigree."
The couple have long favored Charolais, a breed characterized by its white coat that was imported from France in the 1930s. The meat is just as tender as black Angus but without the fat, Bob Tibbs said.
Not that his bull is a lightweight. He will add about 100 pounds a month and should hit 1 ton before he reaches maturity in the spring. When Tibbs points to the bull's strong musculature and perfect hindquarters, he is thinking breeding, not beef.
During show season, Squall gets star treatment with thrice-weekly baths on the wash rack, a shampooing that comes with conditioner and a blow dry to give his coat luster.
"He loves a good wash and blow dry and likes the water running off of him," Bob Tibbs said. "His hair is conditioned to keep dust from being absorbed. If he is wet when he lays down, the mud could stain him."
With a long tail that falls into a cluster of curls and a tufted brow accenting soft brown eyes, he looks marvelous, even hunkered down in the pasture.
"My husband carries his photo in his wallet, not mine," said Judy Tibbs.
He wears the traditional brass ring in his nose, a must for show bulls, but has shown no inclination to charge, kick or butt. His temperament has made Squall the barnyard favorite. He prefers a face rub or a pat on the back. Even the groomers can't get over how gentle he is, Tibbs said.
On the one occasion that Squall wandered from his pen, he went no farther than the front lawn.
"I just threw the halter over his head, and he walked back with me," Bob Tibbs said.
In Squall, judges will see the gentleness bred over decades into Charolais cattle, Tibbs said.
"The nasty ones go for hamburger, so we don't breed that back into the herd," Bob Tibbs said.
Like everything else on the 87-acre farm, Squall has a job, although how well he carries out his duties is yet to be seen. Squall bred five cows naturally last summer and a dozen more were artificially inseminated.
"When we have calves on the ground next spring, then we will really know," Bob Tibbs said.
"His semen sells for $25 a unit now, but if he becomes national champion, the sky is the limit. And he can breed for eight to 10 years."
At the North American show, the top in each class competes for grand champion, a title that can increase a bull's worth to as much as $100,000, Tibbs said.
The Tibbses left yesterday for Kentucky.
If Squall wins, he will spend the holidays at his old home in Missouri. The Tibbses will pick him up there and take him to Texas after the first of the year.
"She will miss him more than I," Bob Tibbs said of his wife. "We have raised cattle since we were married 47 years ago, and I think this one is her favorite."
Win or not, Squall will be back on the farm this winter. A dozen or so heifers, last year's calves, await.
"They will probably all get to know White Squall," Tibbs said. "At least, I hope so."