Technology is changing the way large cattle herds are bought and sold.
For the past year, Shelley-area rancher and saddlemaker Matt Thompson has used a smartphone, video camera and computer through Western Video Market — a satellite and Internet auction service — to sell cattle nationwide.
About a half-million cattle are sold each year through Western Video Market.
Using that technology has enabled Thompson, a fourth-generation rancher and company representative, to capitalize on his fondness of auctions, as well as his extensive knowledge of the cattle business.
“I had been buying and selling cattle and horses through auctions anyway, so this was a natural next step,” Thompson said. “I’ve always been fascinated with auctions and auctioneers since I was a little guy.”
By using the latest technology, a producer can increase the number of potential buyers. It also eliminates the need to sort, load and haul cattle to an auction yard.
“The Internet, cellphones and text messaging have changed the way business is done, Thompson said. “We get weekly emails on our phones and computers about what cattle are available and the latest information on prices and upcoming sales on the Western Video Market website — wvmcattle.com — or from a catalog the company publishes and also distributes by mail, as well as email.”
Although marketing methods have changed, Thompson still supports traditional auction yards — a staple in the cattle business for decades.
“The auction serves a very important purpose locally and no one wants them to go away,” he said.
With the new technology, however, Thompson can concentrate on selling large blocks of cattle. The minimum block is a semi-truck load of 45,000 to 60,000 pounds of live cattle. To encourage business, Thompson spends a lot of time on his smartphone talking to ranchers, as well as face-to-face meetings with ranchers throughout eastern Idaho and southwest Montana.
“The fun part for me is to get to know ranchers and buyers and learn what they are looking for. It’s an eye-opener,” he said. “And I get to see their operations too, which is really interesting.”
Once a producer decides to sell, Thompson videos the cattle on the ranch. He adds descriptions and other information, including sex, weight and when the calves were weaned, as well as feed, genetics and vaccination history and the use of growth hormones. The information is put into a catalog and distributed by mail, email and the Internet.
After the sale, Thompson makes arrangements for brand inspections, detailed weighing procedures dictated by the producer, trucking and payment. Everything is detailed and secured with a written contract.
“My grandpa traded cattle on a handshake; that has changed too,” Thompson said. “A contract just ensures that the arrangement goes according to plan.”
Cattle can be sold right away or at a later date selected by the producer. A producer always has the option not to sell his livestock if the price isn’t right — the same as selling the cattle at a live auction.
“In the event of a no sale, we will go to work for them and try to get the best price possible,” Thompson said.
The type of cattle usually determines who buys them.
“Lightweights usually go to a stocker operation and go on grass, and heavier cattle often go to feedlots in the Midwest,” Thompson said.
Cattle are not handled until they are loaded on the buyer’s truck.
“I video them on the ranch in a relaxed environment. They are not stressed by hauling them to the auction,” Thompson said.
Cattle sold through Western Video Market can be seen on Channel 998 on the Dish Network. The company holds three big video sales in the summer with the largest sale planned in July for Reno, Nev.
The company was launched by two Californians — Ellington Peek, founder of Shasta Livestock Auction, and John Rodgers, who started The Stockman’s Market in 1989.
Today, the Peek family runs Western Video Market. Another company, Superior, sells cattle on RFD-TV.
“The buyers know when the auctions are shown on TV,” Thompson said. “The people who are looking to buy cattle usually find them, but to ensure that, we contact the buyers personally and send out weekly emails with the most up to date information.”
Thompson is working to expand his territory to include more ranchers in the Salmon, Challis and Mackay areas, as well as in western Wyoming.
“I’m not afraid to travel and will go to anywhere. I know some producers already have established relationships with sellers, but I’d like to at least have a shot at their business,” he said.
One of Thompson‘s return customers is Chad Barchard, an Idaho Falls-area rancher. Barchard appreciates the convenience of selling his calf crop in early October, right off the range in the Bone area — eliminating the need to haul them to an auction. This year, he is selling this spring’s calf crop in May with delivery in the fall.
“For me, selling this way provides more options,” Barchard said. “Matt does all the brain work and we gather the calves off the range, weigh them and get them on the truck. It works slick.”