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Marketing your cattle for the sale barn

Danielle Schlegel for Progressive Cattleman Published on 25 January 2018
black cattle

If ever there was a busy time in a producer’s life, it is right around the time decisions are made for which animals head to the sale barn. At the end of long days, it is easy to skip over any further management for those cattle earmarked for sale and focus on the retained or growing herd that stays. A few simple considerations and actions, however, can be the difference in dollars per head once those cattle go through the sale ring.

Ron Hinrichsen, director of sales and marketing with Genex Beef, seasoned livestock auctioneer and cow-calf producer in the Flint Hills of eastern Kansas, is no stranger to sale barns.

“The more uniform group a producer has – hide color, not a lot of variance in weight – those are probably the most important factors in how producers can top the market,” Hinrichsen says. “Obviously, the cleaner they are, the more presentable they are going to be. If they can, to be cleaner always helps.”

Easier said than done, but Hinrichsen advises that clean cattle is as much presentation as it is a marketing move in promoting producers’ cattle.

“It’s just that perception of what those cattle look like and how they have been handled,” Hinrichsen says. “You know, if they are covered in mud and they are weighed 600 pounds, how much mud is the buyer paying for? There is likely some real value there in that they aren’t paying for 5 to 6 pounds per head of mud. Get them out into a trap or something [leading up to the sale] so they aren’t lying in mud, if possible.”

Despite this, Hinrichsen notes that he hardly knows a producer who would bring the cattle in and clean the mud off them. Ultimately, it’s about uniformity.

“The more uniform the set is in color, size and weight – those are the things that are going to pay [producers] dividends,” Hinrichsen emphasizes. “Of course, if they have any kind of data with them – you know it always helps to have a veterinarian to write up the protocols that have been done with the cattle on their letterhead.”

Hinrichsen also suggested including how long the cattle have been weaned, and if there is any carcass data on the contemporaries in addition to the health protocol from a vet, be sure to pass that off to the auctioneer to announce as the cattle go through the ring.

Presentation isn’t necessarily everything, but it does aide in increasing the value proposition in selling more than just a commodity, Hinrichsen advises. Drs. Rich Machen and Ron Gill with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension also emphasize the benefits that building a reputation can kickback to the producer: “Cattle buyers know where the good ones come from and they come back to get them time after time. What a pleasure – having someone ask for your calves. What a change from dropping them off and hoping someone will pay top dollar.”

Marketing that starts before the cattle show up at the sale barn can pay off exponentially.

“More progressive producers will contact the barn to know what their markets are and when would be the best time to sell,” Hinrichsen notes. “I think that is always important, especially for someone who has a really good set of cattle, to inform the place that they are going to sell a few weeks out. The barn can help advertise and promote the lot, especially if they have good protocols or carcass data behind them that makes them more than just a commodity.”

While sale barns are great partners for marketing, Hinrichsen notes that some self-marketing through videos or on social media can really pay off, too.

“I see some ranchers will do some videos on their phone and throw them out there on Facebook with information such as, ‘We’re going to be selling these cattle at X, Y, Z sale barn on X date,’” Hinrichsen says. “You don’t see a lot of that, but I think that is something that could really help some people, especially if they have a really good set of cattle to sell.”

Videos and Facebook for commercial cattle?

“You know, some people may laugh about that in selling commodity-type cattle at a sale barn, but it’s the era we’re in and I think it could be very beneficial,” Hinrichsen says. “Considering that farmers, ranchers and feeders, the age that they are, Facebook is probably the best platform. I would say Instagram maybe has some value in some cases, but I would say Facebook for a social media platform would probably be the best.”

At the end of the sale day, getting higher dividends for your cattle could simply be a matter of a little bit of forethought, communication and self promotion leading up to the sale and the day of. That paired with uniform lots and building on a value proposition in what you bring to the barn can pay off time and time again. As Machen and Gill reiterate, “Capitalize on the benefits!”  end mark

Danielle Schlegel is a freelance writer based in Whitewood, South Dakota.

PHOTO: Consistency in appearance and color are additional selling factors with calves in the barn. Staff photo.