To recap: in part one I went over why I think stocker cattle are a fantastic way for someone to become a cattle producer. Stocker cattle are a lot cheaper than cows, and can be easily run on leased pasture. I feel that leasing pasture makes obtaining a profit easier than having to have your stockers pay for a mortgage on a purchased ranch. In part II I’ll cover a few things I’ve learned about buying stocker calves from auctions and what to look for and avoid in your purchased calves.
Figuring out what your priorities are
Is it important for you to have calves that you can show off? Is profit your main goal or would it just be an added bonus of owning cattle? Do you want some fancy expensive calves to go along with that giant 100x Stetson you’ve saved up for? Profit is obtainable with all different sorts of calve, some easier than others. One thing I always remember is that if you buy low and sell low, you’ve got a higher profit margin than if you buy high and sell high. My cattle driver calls me the owner of the “Rainbow Cattle Company” because I have a large variety of colors, sizes and breeds in my herd. I don’t mind, but some people wouldn’t like to be known for that.
Some of these calves are straight off the range and had never seen a person on foot until they were gathered and branded. I put in a couple of dry cows with them to keep them calm when handling on foot.
What kind of calves should I buy?
Your first requirements should be based on your type of environment. I like to buy Brahma or Brahma cross cattle in the spring and sell them in the fall. In my area, if I buy Brahma calves chances are they’re off the range and will really take off if they’re on good grass. If I’m wintering a set of calves my first choice is always one of the continental breeds. Summers in my area are mild and rarely hot, so I don’t have too many requirements. Winters in my part of Nevada aren’t too severe, it only gets down below zero Fahrenheit for a few weeks during winter, and most days have sun, if not warmth. Still, brahma calves have a hard time with their short hair. They are also discounted a little bit in my area (though not as much as if I sell them in California), but I don’t worry since I buy them discounted. Dairy breeds are a lot more difficult for me to make a profit with. Generally what the market pays me to put weight on a Holstein steer is right around or less than what my cost of gain is. My calves are on grass year round, so my cost of gain is already very low. I also avoid any type of Longhorn for the same reason. The one time I bought a couple of Longhorn heifers I sold them two weeks later for a profit to someone looking for some roping cattle. If you can count on doing that, it’s certainly an option, but it was more of a fluke for me. I’m kind of on the fence regarding buying singles at the auction as a good way to get started. It’s true they are discounted as singles, but they might have been sorted off as a single for a good reason. I’ve purchased a lot of singles and grouped them together in a uniform bunch, but until you have experience making quick judgments in an auction setting, it might be better to hold off on singles. Many times singles are simply calves that are too large or too small to be included in a bunch and sorted singly for that reason alone. If you can tell that’s the reason, then go ahead and pick it up if the price is right. This summer I had just purchased a set of Brahma steers and a man behind me said, “I have to warn you, any calves with an “X” in their brand are from the “X” family and are wild range cattle that won’t do a damn thing for you.” A month later I brought them in to weigh and found they’d been gaining 2.65lbs per day on grass alone. I found out that man was selling a truckload of fancy black steers that I’m sure he was hoping I’d bid on instead.
What do I need to be careful of?
I’ve learned a LOT about things to watch out for when bidding on cattle. I’ve bought my fair share of year old four weights, leppies, wild range calves, stag steers, Holstein crosses, and even one cryptorchid. The good news is that I’ve learned to watch out for calves with long tails, long faces, long feet, overly masculine features, and have gained a sharper eye for it. With calves that will never fit into a group, I keep them to a heavier weight than normal and buy back a lighter replacement than usual. Anytime I am feeling pretty smart I remember all the little mistakes I’ve made at the auction. Sometimes calves that are wild in the auction ring have the high stress of the new environment and poor handling by auction employees to blame. Over time, most of the wild cattle I’ve purchased have been tamed to an acceptable level by quiet handling, and if that doesn’t work, they’ll often sell unnoticed bunched in the middle of a group of calmer cattle. One clue is that if other buyers hesitate on bidding they may have spotted something you missed. The adrenaline rush caused from high stress handling at an auction can mask many illness symptoms. Calves with horns can be purchased at a discount and easily dehorned. Longer horns will often be a sign of an older animal, so be aware of that. Bulls that are small enough and not stagy can easily be banded and castrated without a lot of stress and weight loss on the calves part. After a knife castrated calf got an infected scrotum leading to weight loss and poor condition for months, I purchased a Calicrate bander and have been extremely pleased with the results. Pinkeye, footrot, snotty noses or wheezing are all red flags.
Why haven’t you said anything about prices?
Prices are different depending on your location. Prices I sell my stockers for in Nevada would be outrageously low for someone in Kansas. I determine how much I can spend based on what the calves I sold went for, and how much their expenses were. Once expenses were deducted, I have a guideline of how much I can buy the replacement calf for and still make a profit. I have a general weight I like to buy back at, but it’s not set in stone. I do try to avoid bidding against order buyers if I can help it as oftentimes their need to purchase outweighs their need to get a good buy. Special feeder sales are generally a better time to sell than buy as prices seem to spike.
Ok, so I bought some calves. What the heck do I do now!
This is just the beginning! There’s so much for a new cattle producer to learn. It’s all a challenge, but the rewards can be great. You’ll be riding a rollercoaster in the beginning, but it will smooth out eventually. Part III will cover what to do with your new calves once you get them home, so hang tight!
Newly purchased calves grazing contentedly after getting over the stress of the auction and weaning.