Monday, March 6, 2017

Sale Day 2017: Years in the Making

The road to the cattle sale isn't covered just in the distance the semi travels as it leaves the farmstead and arrives at the sale barn.
No. 601 would have been the 2nd baby born to the Class of 2016.
For us, the road to the sale of our feeder cattle started more than a year ago, when the 2016 calf crop was being born on the County Line in January,  February and March. We have been caring for them ever since.

But, in reality, the story started long before that. The feeder calves' mothers are part of our County Line cow-calf herd. Randy began building the herd back in 1970, when he was a freshmen in high school.
Randy and his first 4-H heifer.
So, in many ways, the story stretches back to a young boy who grew up on a farm and knew he wanted to continue the family business. 
Last week, we sold 75 feeder calves at Pratt Livestock. Ours were among the more than 6,000 head sold last Thursday (March 2).

As I watched the video from the sale, I tried to pick out eartags I could identify. Then, I looked in my photo files from last winter to see if I could see some of them as babies. I saw both 605 and 606 in the March 2016 photos, as well as the sale barn video.
They looked a whole lot smaller when we let them back with their mothers after we worked them last March.
Then, this past summer, they were in our pastures - along with their mamas.
With winter about to arrive, we pulled them off the pastures in November. Dr. David Harder came and helped us work the calves.
Here was No. 601 when it went through the chute in November. After their doctor's appointments, we weaned them from their mamas, and they became our feeder calves.
 The guys fed them silage and hay this winter. Last Tuesday, we sorted off 25 heifers to join our cow-calf herd. They will become County Line mothers for the first time in 2018.

On Thursday, Randy and I joined the crowd at the sale barn. From cowboy hats to ballcaps, buyers and sellers mingle in seats reminiscent of an old school gym. Cattle buyers are identified by their cell phones pressed close to their ears, as they talked with clients who needed cattle. They were on their phones as much as teenage girls.
Buyers nervously watched the board to see how much each particular pen of cattle brought, as the auctioneer sang his tune about "fussy and fancy heifers" and "green steers."

"You like 'em now," the auctioneer warbled. "Look at the length on them, and their bigger sisters are coming right behind them."

The commentary rarely changes from year to year. Neither does a rather archaic tradition in which only the farmer/rancher is identified as the owner. Randy made it a point this year to show me the notes he was turning into the sale barn. It included both our names, along with vaccinations and paternal heritage of the calves. It probably bothers me more than it should!

Our heifers averaged 693 pounds and sold for an average of $1.22 per pound. The steers, which averaged 808 pounds, sold for an average of $1.29 a pound. (A little price comparison: In 2016, our steers averaged exactly the same - 808 pounds, but sold for an average of $1.58 per pound. Our 2016 heifers, which weighed an average of 678, sold for an average of $1.54 a pound. So, the price went down. In 2015, cattle prices were above the $2 per pound mark. Can you think of anything besides farm commodity prices that go down rather than up? Yeah, me neither.)

Randy was pleased with the 2-pound-plus-a-day rate of gain since they were weaned from their mothers last November. 
It was a long enough day that I almost finished my library book. (I did on the way home.) We got to the sale barn just after 10 AM. It was around 4:30 before our last group of steers were sold, and there was a lot of sale still to come as we drove away. 
The sale ends one chapter on the County Line,  but the next one has already begun with a new crop of 2017 calves. Some of the girls will become our 2019 mothers. And so it continues ...

While at the sale barn for hours, you find your amusements where you can. Both Randy and I laughed at this flier:
Regardless of your political leanings, that is creative marketing, don't you think?


  1. I was disappointed that my computer wouldn't let me listen to the auctioning of the calves, but I have thoroughly enjoyed reding your story of 'the distance to the saleyards'. Prices are quite good here at present but needed after the drought years. I'm already seeing comments about how long they will stay up.
    I had to laugh at the poster too and can think of several appropriate comments to go with it.

    1. Thanks, Helen. I decided I'd just share the poster and leave it there - ha!

  2. Kim,
    I'd say you should be happy with your calf prices, especially the steers!

    Good job summarizing the life of feeder cattle on the County Line. One thing that makes this business a challenge is we are making breeding decisions for next year before we know the results of last year's decisions. Makes for slow progress when we need to make a change.

    We are selling the light steers and heifers on Monday. There aren't very many of them and will take them to a sale barn. We would like to keep them to run as yearlings, but we need rain. If it continues to be dry, we will be glad they are gone.

    1. Good luck on the cattle sale! We need rain, too. We were supposed to have a chance over the weekend, but the chance passed us by. The wind is howling again today. I hope and pray that people will be responsible with any burning they do. In other words, nobody should be burning anything today, and cigarette smokers should keep their butts inside the car. The stories from the wildfires are heartbreaking, and we sure don't need any more devastation in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.