Cattle Today

Cattle Today



by: Lee Pitts

In this installment I'd like to tell you how you can top the market with your cattle every time you sell them at auction. I'd like to be able to tell you this but I must confess, never having actually topped the market, I have absolutely no idea how it's done. The only time I ever made the sale report was when I sold an extremely fat slaughter cow that was in that condition because she had spent six years on my place without ever having calved. The reason I double wintered her twice and never sent her to market before was because I never had a horse fast enough to catch her.

Realizing that some livestock publications like to print stories from extension agents and college professors advising their readers on how to top the market I thought I'd give you the benefit of my experience. First of all, I realize that I should invest in better genetics by buying better bulls that can cost between five and nine thousand dollars, but when you sell the leppy kind of calves I raise who has that kind of money? At this point my only attempt at improving my genetics is cutting the fence and hoping my cows get bred by my neighbor's five to nine thousand dollar bulls.

Another popular way to get a premium at auction is to sell “natural” cattle. This means that you must promise that your cattle have never been fed or injected ingredients that could contain antibiotics. I'll go even further than that and state categorically that my cattle have never been fed or injected period! And I think I can guarantee that they have had no ionophores, although I must admit I have no idea what they are. They sound expensive so I know I've never given them to my cattle. I'm so cheap that if my cattle need minerals they have to suck on rocks.

I find the entire vaccination thing very confusing. Who names these things, anyway? Arsenal, Elite, Ultrabac, Boss, Vista, Express and Titanium sound more like canceled TV shows or teams in the Arena Football League than they do anything that kills microbes. And what's with this IBR, BRSV and PI3-BVD thing? Can't the scientists who invent these things spell? If I wanted BVD protection I'd go to Pennys.

Always the top recommendation from those people without any cattle is to wean your calves because feeders will pay more for them. Of course they will, who wants to deal with a bunch of sick calves? That's why we send them to the auction where they have employees to deal with that sort of thing. And who wants all those bawling mamas standing around the house crying for their babies while the calves tromp on expensive hay? I'm no pitchfork gladiator and I don't want any part of that bawl game!

I'm told that buyers these days want uniform calves that are the same weight and color but that's difficult to achieve when your cowherd has been bred-up from Holstein, Pinzgauer and #2 Mexican genetics and your cows have more brands on them than are found in a state brand book. Sure, I suppose you could call my cattle “slightly uneven” but they are always greener than a Prius-driving Sierra Clubber and they are all age and source verified. Yes, I'll swear on a stack of Bibles that my calves all calved in a 365 day interval sometime between January first and December 31st and if you want verification just ask my neighbors.

I know I'm not the only one who practices low-input ranching. My friend Russell told me about a sale barn event that proves my point. A South Dakota rancher (very much like me, it sounds) was dispersing his cowherd. This gentleman was well known in the area for never castrating his calves and then letting those bull calves breed his cows. When his motley cows entered the sale ring a potential buyer asked, “When will they calve?”

The owner of the cows got a puzzled look on his face and sat speechless. Finally the auctioneer asked him, “Well, when did you turn the bulls out?”

The owner scratched his beard, thought deeply and said, “I think it was 1962.”


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