Buying and selling for newcomers

TORRINGTON, Wyo. – So, you want to be a rancher, riding the range, herding cattle the truck that will take your cows to market. 

There are different ways to sell beef. Video sale barns are able to sell 100,000 of head or more at each sale, it is fast and they are geared to handle large amounts of beef. There are the traditional sale barns that have been around for over 80 years. 

But what is the wise thing to do when deciding how and when to sell your cattle? That was the topic of a sales preview event Thursday, May 17, at Torrington Livestock Market in Torrington, hosted by the Goshen County Farm Bureau Young Farmers Program. The group sponsored the forum for ranchers and producers sponsored the forum, bringing together cattle buyers and sellers to talk about cattle types, pricing and what buyers look for.

Speakers included 1998 World Champion Auctioneer Lex Madden, Ken Betcherd and Bart Wilkie. The Torrington Livestock Market was built in 1934 by the Petsch family from Scottsbluff, Neb. Today, Torrington handles sales every day of the week selling approximately 3000 to 5000 head a week. 

What are buyers looking for? Lex Madden said how much fat or how lean the meat may be on the hoof is a prime consideration. With grocery stores selling leaner beef for a higher price and the higher fat content beef getting a lower price, fat content will affect how much live cattle sell for. It could mean the difference between, example, $40 to $55 per head. 

Learning to pick the livestock for how it has developed on the range is also important. Wilkie, a buyer for American Foods. pointed out the first group of cows shown could become feeder cows or white cows for American Foods. A white cow or feed cow is cattle brought to a feed lot to be feed a diet of hay supplemented with grain, soy and other ingredients in order to increase the energy density of the diet. 

Wilkie said American Foods do not look for exotic cattle and would rather have a mix of Black Angus or the occasional black or red cows to keep their product consistent. They keep between 15,000 and 20,000 head in their feed lots year-round, processing around 300 a day, Wilke said.

The company typically feed their cattle for 90 days to turn them into white fat cattle made for fast food providers. 

“What I look for when they walk into the ring, is she healthy, the second is she a feed cow?” Wilke said. “Third, if they have any kind of blemish and don’t fit my feeding order, then they are just walking through. I look to see how much fat she has on her and if she has a well-developed brisket. Black Angus, Red Angus, Herefords can always bring a fair to higher price.”

Injuries to cattle will lower prices. Cattle housed in a smaller area may run into gates and fences. Range cattle are not use to people and spook easily, causing them to run into gates, fences over each other causing bruising. Transporting in a truck, cattle can get banged around. Some fall and cannot get up, causing bruising, which leads a decrease in value and may keep the cow from
being sold.  

When is it a bad time to sell cattle? There are three things that the livestock industry has no control over, politics in Washington, D.C. Drought, which has a huge effect on everything.

The third variable which can impact beef prices is dairies, the speakers noted. If feed prices are high and milk prices are somewhat low, dairy owners can’t make it and there is a buyout of dairy cows, which can affect the entier livestock industry. The worst time to sell is in October and November when everyone is selling their white cows. It is a matter of supply and demand, they said, and the market can become over-saturated with beef.

Some of the best times to sell cattle are in March and April, because it is calving season, which means many of the ranchers are busy and do not have the time to come to the sale barn. That means a shortage of cattle, increasing
the demand. 

Another good time to sell is about a week before the Fourth of July. The holiday creates a high demand for meat, steaks and hamburgers for outdoor grilling. But the best time to sell cattle is around the first two weeks in August. With the start of schools and colleges, it is the highest time of demand for ground beef. 

Planning is essential to raising beef. Never bring cattle to the sale barn that are showing obvious cancer tumors, abnormalities, injuries or other disease. All beef is USDA inspected. Finding sick cattle that have been sold will be traced through the back tag. All the owner’s cattle then will be checked for disease with possible quarantine for the whole ranch. 

Keeping accurate records can save the rancher money, time and trouble. Getting to the sale barn, the rancher must show proof of vaccination with paper work or the tattoo the veterinarian puts inside of the cow’s ear. Make sure all records are up to date and that the tattoo is readable.

More information can found at the Torrington Livestock Market

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