Recently a group of Northern Tier farmers took a road trip to visit the Finger Lakes Livestock Exchange, New York's largest independently owned livestock sales center located in Canandaigua, N.Y., to observe a feeder cattle sale.
While most beef producers in our area are relatively small and often direct market their beef locally to the freezer trade, Cornell Cooperative Extension organized this trip to educate producers about their marketing options.
Traditionally, small-beef producers start out as cow-calf operations. Cow-calf operations are in the business of supplying young cattle to the feedlot. The finished product of a cow-calf operation is the feeder calf, or a weaned animal weighing between 500 and 700 pounds, ready to be fed and finished for the retail market.
What that typically means in the North Country is that calves will be born on pasture in the spring and sold in the fall when they stop nursing and the grass stops growing.
The North Country has an abundance of pasture land suitable for grazing and raising beef cattle, but one of the obstacles we face is our location and lack of marketing options. The local livestock markets have long been focused on the dairy industry and have not developed the market for beef animals. And while the local food movement is gaining in popularity and direct marketing is possible, many farmers aren't interested in the extra time, effort and marketing it takes to go that route.
Cow-calf operations are businesses, and like any other business the goal is profit. Finding a buyer for your calves that will pay top dollar is the only way to keep your business sustainable for the long term.
With live cattle prices currently at or near record highs, mainly from high demand from the export market, now is an excellent time to consider all the options.