Grass & Grain

04-15-2014

Agricultural Newspaper

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By Donna Sullivan, Editor Following informative sessions by KSU Extension specialists Dr. Dale Blasi and Dr. Justin Waggoner, at- tendees of the "Going to Grass" seminar hosted by the Central Kansas Exten- sion District were treated to the straight talk and dry humor of Corbitt Wall of the USDA Agriculture Market- ing Service. Based in Mis- souri, Wall is the officer in charge and supervisor of Missouri's Federal-State Market News program and pens the Weekly National Feeder and Stocker Cattle Summary. It's all about boots on the ground for Wall as he travels to various cat- tle auctions each week to gain context for his reports. "We're going to talk about marketing cattle – not for blue ribbons, but for greenbacks," he began. "What to market, how to market and when to market your cattle." Using an inverted pyra- mid as an illustration, Wall discussed the stages for cat- tle marketing. "You can raise your own calves, sell weaned or unweaned calves or yearlings. Backgrounded calves, backgrounded year- lings or finished cattle." He believes the easiest thing to market is backgrounded yearlings, and that attempt- ing to market finished cattle is risky business. "Once you shut the gate on those cattle in a commercial feedlot and start pouring feed into them, your options are over," he said. "You're at the mercy of the packer." He empha- sized that his point was not to disparage packers, but that the fed cattle market isn't really set up for indi- viduals. "Right now a farmer-feeder can get top dollar for his cattle because they need them," he ex- plained. "But most of the time they don't need them and you just take a number and get in line. The best thing you can do in a deal like that is get with some of these bigger cattle outfits that pool cattle and market them for you for a fee." On the other hand, back- grounded yearlings are a much easier sell. "Especial- ly summer yearlings coming off the Flint Hills, you can flag a car down off the Kansas Turnpike and sell them," he quipped. "It's that easy and for you folks here in Kansas, it's a really good deal for you guys." As for the how to market them, Wall views all the op- tions as viable. "You can sell cattle at your local sale barn, at a regional-sized sale barn, sell them on a video or the internet or finally a di- rect sale or private treaty sale. None of these are bad. You can get just as much money at your local sale barn as you can any of the others. It just depends on how you decide you want to achieve that." Less important than the sale venue in Wall's eyes is the process that leads up to selling the cattle, and he listed some key compo- nents. The first was to develop your reputation. "I always think it's kind of funny when we go into an auction and they say, 'reputation cattle.' Well, there's two kinds of reputations. Devel- op a reputation that you want to plan your future to- ward. And it doesn't take very long to ruin your repu- tation, either. Produce cattle for your future. Produce your own reputation." Bringing cattle to deliv- ery in fair weighing condi- tion is important. "If you get the reputation of being known for filling your cattle the night before delivery, you own that. That's your reputation. And it will take a lot longer to get rid of it than it will to just set up a good reputation to start with." He continued that if calves are advertised as being weaned, they need to be at least 45 days weaned, and not just across the fence. "When those buyers buy those cattle, they're going to write your name down on that load of cattle and if they get to where they're going and they walk the fence bawling, they're going to remember that the next time you market cattle there." The opposite is also true, he continued. "If you mar- ket some cattle that are hard-weaned, know what a feed bunk is, had all their shots and everything, and they take those cattle and they go right to work for them, they're going to re- member that, too." Relationships are the next important key in Wall's book. "You need to be best friends with your marketing agent, not just call the guy at the sale barn and say, 'Hey, I want to bring some in next week. That's not good enough," he stated. Wall be- lieves it's important for the marketing agent to actually see the operation and the way the cattle are raised so he can pass that information on to his customers. "The worst thing you can do is just decide, well, it's kind of a nice day today, not too muddy. I think I'll load some cattle up and haul them into the sale," he said. With orders of his own to fill, the agent needs to know how many loads and what kinds of cattle he will be re- ceiving. "He needs to know what your cattle will do, what they're going to look like before they get there and he needs to be able to pass that word on," he con- tinued. Relationships with other producers are also im- portant in Wall's view. "See how they're marketing their cattle," he said "If they're marketing their cattle direct, then see how they're getting along with that buyer and how they like to do busi- ness." Uniformity is huge when marketing cattle, so when marketing home-raised calves, he advised keeping the calving window as small as possible to keep the calves close to the same size. Sorting at home for similar quality and condi- tion is important. "Your buyers that will take those fleshier calves don't want the other calves, and vice versa," he said. While not everyone is big enough to do it, those that are should market their cattle in load lots. He described how a buyer's life revolves around fifty- to sixty-thousand- pound loads, and he be- lieves selling cattle in load lots is easily worth $3-5 a hundred-weight. Information is another important factor in cattle marketing, from develop- ments in feed and health products to market news. "There's no excuse for not knowing what your cattle are worth," he said, direct- ing producers to the USDA market news site that pro- vides reports on livestock and grain. There are also new interactive reports that allow producers to plug in their own information to generate data, as well as ones that provide historical data and information on feed products, fed cattle, etc. As producers look to turn cattle out on grass, Wall thinks they should consider selling their fancy home- raised calves at today's higher prices, then buy plainer ones to turn out. "Because whenever you get ready to sell those cattle coming off the grass at the end of the summer, they don't care what they look like. They could have humps or tiger stripes all over them and they will sell just fine. Because feed lots are just salivating when it comes to July. They want those cattle coming off Flint Hills pastures so bad, they don't care what they look like, because they know they're going to gain their heads off when they go in the feed lot." As for when to market, current information is criti- cal, as the ability to be flex- ible as conditions and the market dictates. "Don't sell your cattle the second week of October because that's when Dad sold them every year," he elaborated. "Sell your fancy calves in the spring and order some plain cattle out of the southeast if you think you can get them straightened up." Wall believes there will be a large number of bred heifers this fall, which will keep them from getting as high as once anticipated. He believes the cattle market should remain good for at least three years and that op- erations with their own core herd should consider keep- ing some heifers back. He sees the PEDv virus that has taken such a toll on the pork industry in recent months, annihilating herd numbers, will drive the cattle market higher. "Those pigs that ought to be ready to slaugh- ter late this summer aren't going to be there," he point- ed out. "There's a lot of guys that think an 850- pound steer could bring a buck-ninety coming off of grass this summer." Reputation, relationships and information key in cattle marketing Corbitt Wall capped off the "Going to Grass" seminar hosted recently by the Central Kansas Extension District. The seminar was held at Kansas State University's Salina campus and also included informative sessions by Dr. Dale Blasi and Dr. Justin Waggoner.

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