Last spring, a group of Northern Tier farmers took a road trip to New York’s largest independently owned livestock sales center located in Canandaigua to observe a feeder-cattle sale.
Cornell Cooperative Extension organized this trip to educate beef farmers about their marketing options. Since most beef farms in the North Country are relatively small, often 10 cows or fewer, it is difficult to raise a uniform group of calves to market at such a feeder sale.
When buyers come to an auction, they would much rather purchase several large groups of calves to fill their truck than mingle many small groups from diverse backgrounds. Most highly sought after are calves that have been weaned, vaccinated and sorted into uniform weight groups. The situation is very similar in other regions as well. Most beef cattle in the United States start out on small farms with fewer than 50 cows
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.
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 near record highs, mainly from high demand from the export market, now is an excellent time to consider all the options.