BLACKFOOT — Marketing cattle has evolved from the arduous cattle drives of the 1800s to the advent of local livestock auctions to private treaty and over the internet.
Fourth-generation rancher Cody Miller and wife, Dani, of Fort Hall, have found that marketing their cattle online works well for them. Big Blue Sale Barn sales representative Ron Eliason of Dubois markets the Millers’ Simental/Angus-cross calf crop.
“We sell the majority of our calves online. Ron takes the videos and finds the buyers. If we have a few calves that don’t fit on the truck, we sell them at livestock auctions in either Blackfoot on Fridays or Burley on Thursdays,” Cody Miller said.
The Millers prefer online marketing because it reaches a larger audience. The flexibility online marketing offers fits their busy schedule.
“We actually sold our calves a few weeks ago with a mid-December delivery date,” Cody Miller said. “We have a little more flexibility about when we sell so that we can get the price we’re looking for.”
Shelley rancher Matt Thompson is a sales representative for Superior Livestock based in Fort Worth, Texas, and Brush, Colo. Thompson’s been a rep for five years and a Superior rep for about a year. Superior has about 300 reps nationwide and is the largest marketer of cattle in the United States, he said. Superior sells mostly weaned calves, replacement heifers and purebred stock. They handles all other classes of cattle, too.
Online marketing is gaining in popularity.
“More and more ranchers are going with it; there’s an awful lot of ranchers in the Lemhi Valley using it, and there’s getting to be quite a few more around here, too,” Thompson said.
Online marketing appeals to ranchers who have large herds enabling them to sell in semi-truck load lots. Loads vary between 48,000 pounds and 65,000 pounds, depending on the size of the trailer, he said.
“If they’ve got a semi load of calves, buyers are willing to pay more,” Thompson said. “We can add value based on genetics, natural-raised cattle, and vaccination and weaning protocols.”
Superior sales can be viewed on Cowboy TV and RFD-TV, Sales are broadcast every two weeks. They also have a web page where cattle can be bid on 24/7, Thompson said.
“It’s a lot like eBay for cattle” Thompson said.
Thompson also buys cattle via private treaty.
“I can be pretty competitive because the big draw of Superior is its large buyer base, and they offer a lot of different options,” he said. “I’m more than happy to help ranchers develop a strategy before they’re ready to sell so we can get the best price for their livestock.”
Livestock auctions in Idaho Falls and Blackfoot have been in business since the 1930s.
“The beauty of an auction is its simplicity, you get your cattle sold, everything is done, and you have a check — all in the same day,” said Cole Erb, owner of the Blackfoot Livestock Auction.
The Blackfoot auction sells all classes of cattle, and for convenience, cattle can be dropped off the day before, or the day of the auction.
“We are a service industry, so whatever suits you,” Urb said.
Kurt Neff, of Blackfoot, is a regular at the Blackfoot auction. Each week he buys cattle at auctions in Blackfoot, Twin Falls, Burley and in Ogden, Utah.
“What I like about live auctions is, it is what it is,” Neff said. “It’s a real market where you can get a competitive price on that day.”
He buys cattle for others and himself. The cattle he purchases for himself are fed until they are ready for slaughter.
“I’m in it every day, and because we ranch and run cattle, I understand and have that perspective,” he said. “Buyers are getting two things with me: a buyer and rancher.”
Others prefer selling their cattle via a private treaty where a buyer and rancher deal directly at the ranch.
The Wiley and Carolyn Smith family, of Dickey, have sold their Red Angus/Hereford-cross cattle from their ranch north of Mackay for the past 70 years. Smith, his sons Leon and Steve and Steve’s wife, Michelle, have a scale on the ranch so their annual calf crop can be weighed, loaded and shipped in one day.
“We have the scales licensed and inspected yearly so the cattle can be weighed, put on the trucks and go down the road,” Wiley Smith said.
The family meticulously culls its calf crop beforehand so the herd is as uniform as possible.
“Before the buyers come we go through the bunch and sort out any calves, the odd stuff we call it, that may not have grown as well as the others, and we sell those at the auction,” Smith said.
He said the arrangement works well except when the price of cattle is low, then the family relies on livestock auctions.
“When cattle prices are down, all the cow buyers are hid under rocks,” Smith said. “There were a few years here where it didn’t work out to sell off the ranch.”
The family sells to repeat buyers with solid reputations. For years, Blaine Ramey, of Blackfoot, bought Smith’s cattle for his Dunes Cattle Co. feedlot, east of Blackfoot. And the Smiths have sold to buyers who shipped a set of their premium steers to Japan and Korea.
“We like dealing with buyers we’ve dealt with before, the kind of buyers that we know what they want,” Smith said.