Live sale rings vs. video display – three producers’ standpoints

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Every fall and spring, auction barns across the country rock-and-roll as customers gather at production sales to bid on the next line of genetics for their herds.

The producers hosting these sales spend months in preparation, working day and night to make sure their biggest day of the year runs smoothly. From advertising schemes to the sale date, everything is done with the customer in mind.

Over the years, technology has been an essential game changer for production sales.

First it was phone bidding, then came the internet; with the internet came video and online bidding.

Typically, cattle are filmed a few weeks before sale day and the videos are posted to the producer’s website. As customers pour over EPD’s in sale catalogs, this allows them to have a more visual representation compared to a small catalog photo.

Some producers are even taking the videos a step further. It’s increasingly growing more common to attend a production sale where the cattle never leave their pens and large TVs take the place of the ring.

Throughout the industry this has caused a buzz of questions, so three cattlemen who have worked on both sides of the fence stepped up to lend their expertise on the subject.

Director of Operations for DV Auction Brett Spader said DV Auction films and broadcasts around 650 production sales annually online. Of that total, 40 percent of their producers of have switched to having a video sale ring.

According to Spader, the biggest benefit he’s seen for producers’ not running cattle through the sale ring has been labor costs.

Gordon Stucky of Stucky Ranch, Kingman, Kan., agreed, saying his operation went from hiring around 20 sale day employees to work cattle through the ring, to seven or eight who only focus on the load out process.

Stucky Ranch holds an annual production sale every March, selling around 250 head of Angus cattle.

“The driving force behind us switching to a video ring was customers wanting to load out early,” Stucky explained. “Our sale usually lasts 2.5-3 hours and we don’t have the facilities to allow load out until the sale is completely over.”

For Joe Cavender of Cavender Ranches, Bullard, Texas, that isn’t an issue. His facility is equipped to load out customers during the sale so he continues to run cattle through the sale ring. Each December, Cavender sells around 200 head of Brangus bulls and around 150 females in April.

While Cavender doesn’t see his operation straying from current practices any time soon, he does utilize video when auctioning off commercial heifers as a way to save time.

“I’ve been to auctions where they use only video, and I like the atmosphere we create more by having live cattle in the ring,” he said.

This was something Stucky worried about when he made the switch, but said he’s hasn’t been disappointed in the atmosphere and sale energy.

 According to Spader, the energy is easily kept up because of the interaction between the ringmen, auctioneer and crowd.

A big argument point has been the customers’ ability to get a quality last look at an animal before purchasing it. Often, people claim it’s impossible to get that last impression without the animal in the ring, something Spader disagrees with.

“When a bull is in the sale ring, he’s usually drawn to one side of the pen and the crowd can’t see him move fully. That’s why having the video on display is useful because it shows the animal in stride at multiple angles,” Spader said. “And if customers absolutely need to one more look in person, the cattle are usually penned 30-40 yards away.”  

Cavender made the point that while that is true, people like to be able to size them up live.

“Sometimes when people look at several animals, it helps them remember better to see it coming through the ring,” Cavender explained.

This is why Stucky feels it is important to get customers to associate the video and catalog to the cattle.

“It’s important to use everything in conjunction with my website,” he said. “Everything needs to be available there so they can make themselves familiar with the whole package.”

When Stucky stopped running cattle through the ring three years ago the only resistance he had was with a couple people who felt they couldn’t see their dispositions. This has been the center of a lot of controversy.

“When these bulls are filmed, they are separated from the herd and walked around a small pen – that is the best representation of their disposition,” claimed Spader. “A sale day is hands-down the most stressful day in a bull’s life. There’s yelling, pushing and they’re getting moved at a fast pace. I’ve seen quite bulls get agitated from this and discounted heavily and unfairly.”

Regardless of what method a producer decides is best for their production sale, all three cattlemen agreed having video of the cattle available prior to the sale is essential for their customers’ decision making process.

“It pushes the decision making over a bigger stretch of time and allows clients to be more informed,” concluded Spader. “At the end of the day it’s not just selling a bull – it’s selling a relationship and advice from a seedstock producer and they need to do that in the best way to fit their operation and customers.”

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Allison Florance    
MT  |  February, 21, 2014 at 02:59 PM

I don't attend or purchase from bull sales that do not have the bulls go through the ring because I agree with those that use that as a way to check disposition. There isn't a better way in my opinion

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