The Art of Buying

Sale Barns, Part III

BY Jerry Nelson as told to Lindsey Howald Patton | | Comments (0)

Whether a sale happens on Monday, Thursday, or Saturday in your area, it’s always guaranteed to be a flurry of activity. At the barn on sale day you have a lot happening at once, with animals moving, people selling and bidding, and the auctioneer keeping up with an average of four or so animals a minute. For those new to the environment, it can be tough to decide where to make your investment in all the bustle.

The following tips are good rules of thumb to keep in mind if you’re interested in buying a few head of cattle of your own at the auction.

Do your best to have a particular type of animal in mind before you arrive. You’ll want to know exactly what you’re looking for in terms of weight, age, or breed, so that you’ll be able to tune out the rest and focus on the type of animal you want to go home with.

Ask your stockyard manager for assistance before the auction starts. When I managed the barn, I would try to make sure I was there to personally watch every load of cattle come in for a particular sale. Then, if a buyer came in with an idea of what he was looking for and asked me to recommend, say, four or five cows of a certain type, I would already have a good idea of what we had and which cattle would suit him best.

Go to the herd sell-outs. In the case of a herd sell-out, a rancher isn’t selling just three or four cull cows but all of his cattle, including the good ones. That’s something a sale manager can advertise as a big item, and that’s your best place to buy top-end cattle that haven’t been picked over.

Ask an order buyer to buy your cattle for you. This is the best piece of advice I think I can give. Most of those boys will buy for a very small commission—in my experience, no more than $5 per animal—and, being professionals, they have the best eye for cattle out there. When I myself had a cow herd in the 1990s, there were one or two buyers that I had the utmost confidence in. I would tell these buyers just exactly what I wanted, how many, and how much I was willing to pay per pound, and then tell them, ‘Just do what you have to do to buy them.’

If you don’t know any order buyers personally, you can always ask the sale manager if he would recommend someone to help buy your cattle. It’s worth it to have the professional eye. There are order buyers out there who can tell you the weight of an animal within five or ten pounds before it even hits the scales.

Don’t sit on the top row during the sale. You need to get down close to where you can be sure to see a bad eye, bad foot, or bad udder. Look at the cattle as closely as you can before making your bid.

After making your purchases, have a holding area prepared for your new cattle. Do not take your cattle straight home, swing the trailer gate open and turn them straight out to pasture. It takes some time to integrate new animals into a herd, and they need a few days to settle down after the stockyard experience of being loaded into trailers, hauled miles, then run up and down the stockyard pens with people hollering at them.

Three or four days in a holding area is also a good time to do whatever standard vaccinations you usually do to your cattle to make them fit into your program. During this time, you can also watch your new cattle to ensure they are healthy. Some people believe the stockyards are a good place for cows to catch all types of sickness. And though it’s possible that one cow could contract a disease from another cow, I think more illnesses are caused by stress. So if that does occur, you can treat it. Finally, you should be ready to integrate them into your herd.

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