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Sale Barn Calves Success Tips

Photo courtesy of Perry LIvestock Sales, Perry, OK

There was an email message on my computer the other day that made me wonder just how many producers out there are afraid to buy calves from the sale barn. We have heard the horror stories, the calves just did not do well, the death count was just too high, the calves were hard to handle and just crazy. Now before this piece goes any farther I should issue this disclaimer, my son runs a sale barn and has for the last 15 years. So understand, I am not in any way promoting the sale barn business. But all of us in the production of livestock must realize that the sale barns of our country cannot operate selling killer cows and crippled or wore out bulls. One more thing and then I am going to shut up about the sale barns. These folks work on commission. The more you get for your animals the more money they will make, but we all must understand that if we, for whatever the reason, do a bad job of buying the blame is on us. The sale barn is just the agent of the sale.

Photo courtesy of Perry LIvestock Sales, Perry, OK
Photo courtesy of Perry Livestock Sales, Perry, OK

If an order buyer is to do the buying the purchaser must be very clear on the type, weight, sex and cost of the animal that will fit the program. BE VERY SPECFIC. If you have decided that you want to do the buying don’t get in a hurry. Go and just sit and watch for a couple of times just to get the feel of what is going on, pay attention to the type of calves that you are looking for, watch the weights and price that matches what you want to buy. Do not get caught up in a bidding contest with the order buyers, after all they are not spending their own money. Know what you are willing to spend, don’t let your ego get you in trouble, if the prices are higher than you can afford quit bidding. As with anything that we do this is a learning process, take your time. The biggest mistake that most of us make in situations such as this is we don’t know what we don’t know.

Our calves are worked before they are brought home. My granddaughter and our, we hope soon to be, grandson-in-law are in the pre-conditioning business and have the facilities that allow them to handle large numbers of cattle in a short amount of time. This makes it possible to work the calves very quickly thereby limiting the stress factor. Each producer will need to make the decision as to the vaccines and other medications that are necessary and affordable.

You have bought a set of calves and now they are home what to do first. Settling the calves down is the most important thing to do now. These calves are tired and stressed and confused, they need rest. At our place the calves are unloaded in a catch-pen with water available and they remain there until the next morning. After the calves have been in the catch-pen overnight it is a simple matter to open the gate that will allow them to walk out into a trap that is enclosed with high tensile electric wire. We don’t try to make the calves leave the catch-pen, curiosity will get the best of the ones that hold back and they will walk out on their own. The trap or wire pen contains 2 rolls of hay and water troughs that are separated by one strand of poly-wire that cut the trap in half with space on one end to allow the calves to travel the whole area of the trap, but they must walk thru the open space to not get a jolt of electricity. After the catch-pen is opened we just take a walk and leave the calves. After the last calf is out of the catch-pen the gate is closed because we do not want the calves to huddle up in the safety of the catch-pen. The calves will remain in the trap for 24 to 48 hours this gives us time to watch for any problems and for them to learn to respect the electric wire.

Photo Courtesy of Missouri NRCS photo gallery.
Photo Courtesy of Missouri NRCS photo gallery.

When it is time to turn the calves to the grass again it a simple matter to open a gate, the first paddock that will be grazed is sized to allow the calves plenty to graze but not large enough to allow a lot of roaming. They are going to walk the fences of the lot until there is a reason to stop. The method that we use to stop all the fence walking is very simple: put the water trough or feed trough or roll of hay close to the fence to create a reason for the calves to stop walking.

The next chore is to teach the calves to move from one paddock to the next. We would rather the calves come to call and follow than be driven so it can be a little time consuming in the beginning but it really pays off later. As far as the calves that are not so easy to handle we just ignore them as if they were not there and they will give in to the herding instinct and follow the crowd.

Sale barn calves have worked very well for us over the years and this goes back long before Donnie, our son, was running a barn. There are some of the best calves to be found sold at the sale barn as well as some of the sorriest. My daddy raised fox dogs and his favorite saying was very easy to understand: “If you start off with trash, you end up with trash.” In our business we have found this not to be entirely true, we have found that in a lot of instances all these calves need is a little TLC and they will surprise you. There have been in the last 15 or so years since we have been using MIG on our little place several hundred head of calves run through it, and they have all been sale barn calves. And we have never lost money on a set of these calves.

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Don Ashford
My name is Don Ashford and my wife is Betty and we live in Ethel, LA. It would be impossible for me to write a bio about myself without including Betty in it. We have been together since high school. I was in the senior class of 1955 and she was in the class of 1957. Do the math. We have raised cattle since 1959 except for a little time that I spent with Uncle Sam. We have grazed stockers, owned several cow- calf herds and custom grazed cattle for other folks. I worked as a pipefitter for more than 25 years. Until we went into the dairy business in 1977 we were as most people down here part-timers or week-end ranchers. Later after we had learned enough about MIG to talk about it so that it would be understood by others we put together a pasture-walk group to introduce it to our friends and neighbors. We belong to more farm groups then we probably should but we get great joy working with other people. What makes us most proud are our son and daughter, our 5 grandkids and our 7 great-grand kids. It has been a hell of a trip so far, but we are not done yet.