Cattle producers can improve their returns at the sale barn by maximizing their advantages, minimizing their disadvantages… and, maybe, by doing the unexpected.
For instance, Bob Kropp, professor of ruminant nutrition at Oklahoma State University, pointed out cattle sold in the first four to five months of the year typically bring a price five to 10 percent higher than the year-round average. “The reason for that,” Kropp told Ozarks Farm & Neighbor, “is most of the calves are born in the spring and sold in the fall, so the more supply you have, the lower the price. So you want to be nontraditional; you want to do things that other people don’t necessarily do to make your calves worth more money, and one thing that you can do is look at this calf and ask yourself, ‘Is it going to be cost effective to wean this calf in October, put him on some sort of a pre-conditioning program, put him on grass and swing that calf around and sell him in January or February?’”
Kropp, who is also executive secretary of Oklahoma BEEF, the nation’s second largest breeder-owned and financed test station, emphasized the importance of a foundation breeding program to ensure a producer’s calves are not subject to severe discounts in the marketplace. Calves out of Longhorn or Jersey bulls, or more than a quarter Brahman, should be avoided. But he didn’t necessarily think other breed expressions would guarantee a premium. In Arkansas, he said, “there are Charolais cattle that brought a lot of money… Angus cattle that brought a lot of money. There’s not as much hide color variation as there is in Oklahoma, where black hides will bring quite a bit more money than red-hided cattle, and even yellow or whitish cattle like Charolais.”
Another way to avoid discounts at the sale barn is to ensure all calves are castrated, and are either polled or dehorned; he recommended dehorning take place at two to four months of age, so the animals are healed. Then, when you’re ready to bring them to town, sort the calves into lots that are as uniform as possible by weight and frame size, and “try to make them as even as you can in terms of fill. Really tanked up cattle – the cattle that have been fed hard and are full – tend to bring less money.” Even gaunt or thin cattle are often discounted, he said, although other times, if they appear to be healthy, they can bring a premium. To avoid problems, Kropp recommended keeping the whole load at an average fill.
There’s a reason a uniform lot of cattle will bring a higher price; most producers will not bring enough cattle to the auction to fill a truckload, which is what the order buyer is trying to do.
It also pays in the long run, Kropp said, to sort animals by color; however, if the rancher doesn’t have enough of one color for a full load, “I’m going to use my blacks as bait and sprinkle them in there to try to get my red and whites sold.” But he advocated against trying to hide a bad calf in an otherwise good load. “If you’ve got some obvious light muscled calves, or you’ve got a calf that appears to be unlike the rest of the calves – has been sick at some time, or maybe a little crippled – you’re better off to pull him off and sell him as a single than you would be to put him with the group, and drive the price of the whole group down,” he said.
But the key to it, Kropp said, is volume. “If I can buy 40 in a group from one rancher,” he said, “I’m going to pay more money for those cattle than I’m going to pay if I’ve got to buy eight head from five different farms to get my 40 head. They’ve all been under the same management; I’m probably going to have a healthier set of cattle than if I buy five head from eight different farms. It’s kind of like taking a kid from home and sending him to first grade – they’re all going to get measles. So if I can prevent a lot of commingling of groups to put my deal together, I’m typically a little bit better off.”
The advantage to selling at the local sale barn, Kropp said, is the convenience. Larger operators who put the effort into preparation and management can get a better return at a regional stockyard; there are more buyers, and there’s more competition. “But if I’ve just got two or five or ten calves,” he said, “I can get as much money for them at the local sale barn as I’m going to get anywhere if I’ve done the right things in terms of sorting, castration and dehorning.”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here