Tips for Success at the Sale Barn

Published on Tue, 06/04/2019 - 9:37am

 Tips for Success at the Sale Barn.

 By Jaclyn Krymowski.

The fall sale season is already on the horizon. It’s the time of year to be met with an odd mixture of hopeful anticipation laced with a dash of anxiety and uncertainty. Many in the cow-calf sector have plans to pack trailers and ship to the local sale barn. Now is the time they sit watching the futures and wondering if this will be a good year or not.

At times, price-taking feels more of a painful gamble than on being on helpful convenience. However, you need not feel totally helpless when it comes to dropping off your calves. While the nature of the beast is to be predictable yet uncontrollable, there are some things that you can do to play the odds in your favor. In reality, there is a system and reason as to why certain calves outsell their peers.

Short term
The short-term sales tricks are things you can do shortly before or during the sale barn transaction process. While much of the value of calves is determined far in advance with things like genetics, feeding program and management, there are a few things you can do to sway the odds months, weeks or even days before the animals set foot on a trailer. This is all about maximizing value in what you sell, and how you’re selling it.

Many analyses of different market reports have found that preconditioned calves frequently outsell those that are not. This is a bit of an investment of time and money on your end, and the cost vs. benefit of preconditioning is a discussion producers frequently have. Different extension office worksheets and statistics can give you a wide range of different per head dollar amounts this will cost you. This includes a lot of factors such as labor, cost and availability of feed and vaccinations used. Depending on the year, if margins are looking feasible and you can incorporate it into your management schedule, preconditioning certainly won’t hurt your odds of sale barn success.

Another important part of selling is how you group your lots. Some data has shown calves sold in larger groups (20 or more) had higher selling prices, as much as $20/hd, than those which were sold as singles. Likewise, lots that are too large or poorly grouped may have a harder time selling. This of course will vary on the specific market and the environment of wherever you’re selling at. Be sure to do your research and become familiar with what lot sizes are in the most demand relative to your local economy. It may be worth a couple trips to the sales just to observe and walk the barns, plus a few evenings spent examining the reports.

Once you have group sizes figured out, it is a good practice to keep them as uniform as possible. Grouping according to similar age and body condition score is a great place to start. Most experts recommend having a light to medium flesh score as best for weaned calves. Keeping animals of the same or similar breed, style and body types together are also important. Sexing can also be a factor. For example, intact bulls tend to bring lower prices than steers or heifers. Include a substantial number of them in a group of steers of equal quality might hurt.

And of course, health is always a selling point in any and every market. It’s a fact that healthy calves always commend considerably higher prices than sickly looking ones. Hold back animals that are chronically ill and wait until they are visibly healthy before marketing them. Things buyers look out for are respiratory diseases, eye conditions, lameness and hair or coat conditions. Animals displaying symptoms of any of these conditions are of much less value.

Long term
One of the biggest aids to long-lasting success in any market is building trust and reputability. Every time you do business you are building a reputation, even if you are not physically interacting with the customer. The animals you sell are ultimately representing your ranch and speak to how you do business.

Genetics are always playing a role in what kind of prices livestock will earn for themselves, but it begins years in advance to the sale date. Black-hided Angus and Angus crosses are still hot on the market. But in some areas Brahman and Longhorn crosses are more desirable. Polled animals of any breed are also of greater value to most perspective buyers. Likewise, presence of horns or scurs tends to decrease value.

Frame size and muscling are also big factors. Heavier muscled animals of medium to large frame steadily out-sell their thinly muscled, smaller framed counterparts. While these can be enhanced with proper nutrition and a good preconditioning program, genetics are the big player here.

A certain element of the cattle market will always be outside the realm of human control. There is plenty of other advice out there that may or may not give you that a couple dollars per head boost on your next sale. Give it some deliberate thought before-hand, try a few things and see what works.