Calving season is still underway for many ranches, but this is a good time to begin planning and preparing to receive top prices when those calves go to market. Since 1975, Pfizer Animal Health, in cooperation with Superior Livestock Auctions and King Data Services, has collected data on over 5,042,272 calves sold in 41,657 lots though Superior’s video auctions. They have reported results of the ongoing study periodically over the years, and their latest paper, covering prices through 2009, was published in the August 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

The study has shown some clear trends in factors influencing price differences. Some are outside producers’ control, but some are not, and offer potential for adding significant value between now and sale day.

Following are some of the factors influencing prices in the Superior video sales:

Date of Sale – Calf prices generally were highest in June through July and lower in May or September through October. 
Lot Sale Weight - Price per hundredweight decreased as weight increased. The range in price spreads was from as low as $0.70 per hundredweight 1996 to $11.56 in 2005. The width of the spread tends to depend on profit prospects in the stocker and feeding sectors.  
Breed type – Using British and British-crossbred calves as the base price, discounts over the years of the study averaged $0.92 per hundredweight for British-Continental crosses and $3.59 per hundredweight for Brahman-influenced calves 
Age and source verification – The study includes this attribute from 2005 through 2009, showing an average premium of $1.49 per hundredweight.
Growth implants – Use of calf implants did not affect price in this study. The percentage of lots that were implanted dropped from 64 percent in 1995 to 26 percent in 2009. 
Certified natural – The researchers began tracking this attribute in 2004, and since then it increased average price by about $0.25 to $1.00 per hundredweight.

Health certification – The researchers tracked four categories or levels of verification including:

  • No vaccination;
  • Viral  vaccinations but no third-party certification;
  • Vac-34 certification showing calves received viral and bacterial vaccines but not weaned before shipping; and
  • Vac-45 certification showing calves received viral and bacterial vaccines before and at weaning and were weaned at least 45 days before shipping.

Compared to non-vaccinated calves, Vac-45 premiums averaged from about $2.50 to $8.00 per hundredweight. Vac-34 premiums averaged about $1.00 to $4.75 per hundredweight, while vaccinated but not certified calves sold at premiums averaging about $1.00 to $2.25 per hundredweight. The researchers note that all of these premiums tended to increase over the time of the study.