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CATTLE TODAY

TECHNOLOGY BRINGS CATTLE SALES INTO PRODUCER'S HOMES

by: Clifford Mitchell

From day one the human race has been looking for ways to make the most efficient use of time. We all know the old saying about “idle hands,” but convenience still seems to find a way to enter the decision making process, particularly buying decisions. Especially, for a society dependent on fossil fuels, careers where both parents work and making sure the next generation gets to do all the so called “activities” growing-up brings.

Cattlemen had to watch beef products add convenience and adapt to society through a variety of ways. Meal solutions, one pot creations and entrées for the microwave, were just the tip of the iceberg. Acting on cue, cattlemen looked for ways to make more efficient use of their time. Computers were incorporated to the record keeping system. Electronic ID tags have found a home with some producers and hydraulic chutes replaced the older models that would wear out a couple cowboys during a good day's work.

Technology, through its marketing system, has once again been adapted to the beef industry. The commercial industry was one of the first to accept this method of showcasing livestock. After this method proved successful, it trickled down to the purebred sector. The added convenience offered to buyers and sellers with video sales and internet broadcasts brings new meaning to words like customer service, buyer acceptance and ease of purchase.

“Time is at such a premium for most people. Everybody has somewhere they need to be. In the cattle business, things get stacked on top of one another, making it hard to be in two places at once,” says Jirl Buck. Buck Cattle Co., Madill, Okla. Buck notes successful ventures with both internet broadcasts and video sales.

“We give the potential buyer a glimpse of what is going on through our broadcasts. If someone cannot be there, we feel, the internet is the next best thing,” says Brad Fahrmeier, LiveAuction.TV. LiveAuction.TV is one of several companies that cater to purebred cattlemen and weekly livestock sales.

“I started the video sales in 1979. I had a customer who brought cattle from 250 miles away to my auction barn and he sold his heifers five miles down the road. I thought there has to be a better way than to make cattle travel 500 miles to go five,” says Jim Odle, Superior Livestock Auctions, Brush, Colo. Superior is most known for its large volume calf sales, but has broadcast specialty sales, including purebred auctions.

It was not that long ago that most cattlemen thought computers were for the “rich ranchers” or “hobby farmers,” no doubt some still feel this way today. Who would have thought this would be a broadcast medium to entice cattlemen to make purchases by clicking a mouse rather than attending the auction.

“Some of our clients were reluctant, at first, to embrace this technology. It was and still is, widely regarded if there was an internet broadcast, it would keep the crowd away,” Fahrmeier says. “I think broadcasts will increase the buying audience in the long run. Internet broadcasts are a tool to help cattlemen manage their time. We're not getting a lot of registrations two weeks prior to the sale. They are at the last minute. Plans change due to increased demand on time. Bottom line, it all depends on how comfortable each individual is with technology and this will change with the market audience.”

“We sell show cattle to buyers all over the country,” Buck says. “Potential buyers can get on-line and make a purchase from the comfort of their home, without spending a lot of money getting to the sale.”

For video sales, cattle have to be videoed ahead of time. The process is not as hard as it seems. As with any other tool there are advantages and disadvantages to this form of marketing.

“The great thing about a video broadcast is that satellite will expose your product to the world. If there is a drought in one area, the broadcast will access an audience where there is not a drought,” Odle says. “For our commercial sales, we have over 400 reps around the United States. Interested parties can contact them; they'll explain the process; sign the contracts and collect a $2/head consignment fee.”

“It is overwhelming how many people watch a video sale,” Buck says. “There is so much exposure because people will sit and watch those auctions.”

Technological glitches are always going to be part of the playing field. “Please stand by, experiencing technical difficulties” is a statement most are familiar with, or would the error message saying the satellite signal has been lost be better categorized with this generation.

A video broadcast can be accessed by most with satellite service from either of the major providers. However, the internet experience depends on the connection speed available. A high speed connection is needed at the broadcast sight and for the potential viewer.

“The biggest problem we face is how many auctions we can run without disrupting RFD-TV regular programming schedule,” Odle says. “The advantage we have is most people turn on their TV at least once a day for something. Some people will only check their e-mail once a week. However, compared to the video, the advantage the internet has is people are viewing the auction at virtually real time, where it takes our signal a little while to process. A sale is much nicer to watch on TV.”

“Dial-up connections will not work for an internet broadcast. The connection speed will make all the difference,” Fahrmeier says. “The local connection at the broadcast sight must be high speed to be able to broadcast the sale. The internet is not the same as TV yet.”

“Wireless connections are becoming available in a lot more areas,” Buck says. “There are a lot of new people in the industry that are willing to make purchases in this manner. Most people still want to see the animals before they make a purchase.”

The main value of internet broadcasts and video sales is it exposes the sale offering to a wide range of people. Obviously, each marketing venue has its own unique set of advantages. It seems the internet is cost effective for the seller and allows potential customers to view cattle in advance and follow the broadcast on sale day to make their purchases.

“The internet is ideal if you've seen the cattle ahead of time and want to place bids online,” Fahrmeier says. “It does a good job of replacing a conference line because potential buyers can sit and follow the action.”

“We had a lot of buyers come look with the intention of watching the sale on the internet. Most of my buyers used the internet to keep up with the sale then called in their bids,” Buck says. “They called in their bids because they were leery of the registration process and wanted to make sure they got their business taken care of.”

Video sales are a little higher budget item, but are a viable tool for some. Most of these sales will provide multiple views of the animal. Internet broadcasts are from a still camera.

“Convenience has driven the increase in number of video sales we broadcast. Whether that bull buyer wants a hand full of bulls or a truckload, he can watch the video make his purchases and not have to spend a day and a half getting to the sale,” Odle says. “Buyers pre-register and qualify financially. Once they're pre-registered and qualified they will be assigned a buyer number and given a bid line number. Once the number is called then our system guides them through the bidding process.”

Both services have their own way of promoting events ahead of time. Most sellers will try and pinpoint where the most return is from promotional dollars. These high tech marketing systems may need to be fine-tuned a little to have maximum benefit.

“I used the internet to allow the people who couldn't be here a way to participate in the sale, and I picked up some new customers,” Buck says. “The people, who bid on-line and didn't buy, came to the ranch and made private treaty purchases. I have to find a way to make customers feel more comfortable about sight-unseen purchases. Potential buyers can't see the animals well enough from a still camera angle.”

“We'll e-mail an internet blast two or three days before the sale to 25,000 people advertising our broadcasts,” Fahrmeier says. “We'll have anywhere from 20 to 400 people log onto the broadcast. The seller knows exactly how many people registered. We'll provide this database to all of our clients after the sale and they can add the names to their list for future promotional efforts.”

“We can't gage exactly how many people view the video sales on RFD-TV. We have anywhere from one to three thousand people who are actually participating,” Odle says. “We don't mail out DVDs to potential customers prior to the sale, but they are posted on our web site so buyers can get a preview.”

The versatility of this marketing strategy could allow breeders to plan events together. Broadcasts allow breeders to participate in more than one event. Scheduling conflicts used to call for careful planning or cause hard feelings. Today, technology gives producers more freedom than the number of miles that can be driven in a weekend.

“A fellow producer had a sale on the same date as mine. We broadcast their sale after my sale and they broadcast our sale. It gave our customers a choice even though they were in a reasonable driving distance,” Buck says. “I was at the Fall Classic in Waco last year and a breeder in Kansas broadcast his sale. I bought 10 or 12 lots in a sale where I might not have bought the first lot.”

“Breeders can't be at multiple sales on the same day,” Fahrmeier says. We can broadcast more than one sale at the same time. Potential buyers can surf from sale to sale.”

This day and age, technology plays a role in the way we do business. It seems everyone has a cell phone. The internet is a virtual shopper's paradise and the TV has a channel selection with a lot more possibilities than the standard three most grew up with.

As new ways of thinking slowly replace the old, will the industry find a way to adapt the laptop to the back of a horse, secure the cell phone ear piece underneath traditional head wear (without funny looks and stupid questions) and eliminate the drive to purchase that show calf or herd bull. Most cattlemen hold tradition too closely to let all things happen at once. Advances in technology will continue to help cattlemen market their product.

“I see differences in what role our broadcasts play based more upon species than anything else,” Fahrmeier says. “Our system is secure and easy to use, but there are more people willing to bid on-line at, for instance, an alpaca sale than a cattle auction.”

“Our reputation has helped grow our video sales business to roughly two million head per year. People get what they are promised,” Odle says. “We offer our customers a stable market outlet, no matter what market we're in.”

“I worry this form of marketing will take away from the crowds. That is the only thing I don't like about it. Sales are a place where we get together meet new friends and see old ones,” Buck says. “The other thing that concerns me is the increased dependence on technology. What if that connection or cell phone fails, when you really want to make a purchase? I think internet broadcasts will take time for some to get used to, but it has been a success for my operation.”

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