5 Factors in Marketing Beef Cattle

livestock auction, creston, auctioneer, cattle, beef, sale

Image by Andy Goodell of Creston News Advertiser

How the heck do you compete in the cattle market if you don’t have black hides? A question about how to overcome the struggles of marketing non-Angus cattle on the Beef Daily Blog by Amanda Radke addressed this issue. It can feel like bucking a big square bale when you take Herefords, red cattle or Brahman-influenced steers to the stockyards.

In my experience, there are three primary factors and two secondary factors that impact the market price of a set of calves. (I was raised on a Red Angus-cross ranch – so no black hides – and we sold calves as yearlings through the local livestock auction. Our stock did very well, and it still does.)

1. Quality.
You have to have good stock to bring a premium. There is no leniency on this. Good conformation, muscling, potential for feeding efficiency and finishing. In a nutshell: genetics.

2. Health. Sending a sick calf through the sale ring is a poor business decision. A good health care program throughout the life of a calf is essential. A rancher who is committed to a vaccination program evaluates the health of his calves more than humans evaluate their own health.

3. Appearance. All other things being equal, a mud-crusted steer will sell lower than a clean steer. Sometimes, sale day is a miserable muddy mess. On occasion, we would swing the stock trailer by the self-help car washes and hose the yearlings off before going to the stockyards.

I’m also going to include disposition in this category. Calm, even-tempered calves are more desirable than agitated, high-strung calves. They gain better, and they’re easier to handle. Oh, putting together uniform pens of steers and heifers is also beneficial in the auction ring.

1. Hide Color.
There is a premium for black-hided cattle. It’s the world we live in. The Black Angus breed has done an outstanding job of branding and establishing black cattle as the standard for quality. I view hide color as a secondary factor, however, because I believe quality can trump color.

2. Reputation. The cattle industry is a small world. Consistently bringing quality calves into the sale barn will earn you a reputation. Does it mean you can get away with selling dumpy steers for a premium? Of course not. Does it mean buyers pitch forward in their seats when the auctioneer announces your name? You dang betcha.

Bottom Line
Here’s the thing about ranching: it takes decades – no, a lifetime – to craft a cowherd that fits what you had in mind when you first started. The only reason my family’s stock consistently earns top dollar is because of a day-in-day-out commitment to being the best at what we do: raising top quality Red Angus beef.

And that’s what I would encourage anyone to do – with raising beef cattle and everything else. Work hard to be the best at what you do, and don’t be afraid to tackle a new way of doing things.


  1. Great post, Erica! Thanks for providing an insightful follow-up to the Beef Daily discussion yesterday. Developing a good reputation in those top three areas is so important in livestock marketing.

    I just interviewed a couple cattlemen in northern California who told me they “name brand” their calves at auction by their genetic supplier, and have for the past decade. Buyers know the quality of those seedstock genetics and therefore pay more for the commercial guys calves. Another very effective tool!My co-worker and traveling partner wrote a blog about that trip: http://blackinkwithcab.com/2011/06/30/a-tour-of-california-cattle-country/.


    • Thanks, Laura! Appreciated the link to the article, I hadn’t seen that one yet. Genetics are one of the most important things a rancher can invest in. That and maybe a really large bucket of patience and a sense of humor!

  2. Organized content is the best way to display or post an article,thank you for making it easy to digest your post.

Leave a comment: