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Getting ready for sale day

Cattle are important, but don’t overlook facilities and sale barn

As the snow begins to melt, giving way to mud and green grass, livestock seed stock producers make preparations for their upcoming annual production sales.

They have made the long lists of items necessary to prepare for a successful production sale and they are checking them twice: writing newsletters and personal letters to previous customers containing all of the latest high-calibre genetics included in this year’s offering; generating promotional material for advertisements in livestock magazines, newspapers, and flyers; scheduling groomers, ring men, auctioneers, brand inspectors, helpers to work the cattle through the sale barn, helpers to work the sale records, and helpers to prepare and serve the food and beverages that make all good sales memorable.

But, if you are one of these seed stock producers, don’t let the mountain of clerical preparation cause you to overlook the preparation to the physical facility that will allow you to orchestrate a safe, professional, appealing, and successful production sale.

As with any product or service that we, the buyer, are interested in today, we associate quality of a product or service with the appearance and performance of the presentation of the product or service. The last thing you want as a producer is to lose the rhythm of the sale while you take a break to repair some part of the facility in the back end or sale ring before you can continue the sale. Besides the potential dollars lost while you get everyone back to buying your animals, a breakdown can also pose a safety risk to the help and possibly the buyers and spectators.

A few years back I attended a bull sale near Columbus, Montana and midway through the sale a bull broke out of the ring, climbed into the stands, and ended up going through the lunch room before exiting the building through an open door and leaving the premises. Fortunately no one was seriously injured and the ring was repaired within a few minutes, but many of us buying bulls that afternoon bought good bulls for less than they were worth while the auctioneers attempted to get everyone back into the frame of mind to bid on bulls.

Proper facilities matter

Jim Skinner, owner of Skinner Angus Ranch, is a recently retired second-generation Angus seedstock producer. His family has raised and sold purebred Angus cattle near Salmon, Idaho for more than half a century.

“I believe a production sale needs to be as safe and comfortable for the buyers and livestock as possible,” says Skinner. “Safety needs to be your first concern. You have created an environment where you have combined cattle that have never been exposed to so much pressure from their surroundings and all the extra people in a confined space. So you need to make every effort to keep the people and the cattle safe from preventable accidents.”

Skinner says it is important to go over the pens, gates, alleyways, chutes, and other areas that will be used before and on sale day, checking for damage and weakness.

“You’d be surprised how easy it is to forget to make sure the alleys and chute are in good order before the groomers or the soundness-test guys arrive,” he says. “Something as simple as a malfunction in the chute or alley can really throw a kink in your program and cost you time and money.”

Regardless of what pens, alleys, and gates are constructed of, cattle are hard on facilities. Walk through the facility and make sure they are secure. Check hinges, latches, pulleys, and pull ropes on slide gates. Don’t overlook the doors or gates leading into and out of the sale barn and the ring.

“Walk through the system the way the cattle will go on sale day — into the ring and back outside,” says Skinner. ”Make sure there is no mud or manure piled against a gate or door that could be frozen on sale day.”

Look over the sale ring containment structure, permanent or temporary panels, and make sure that there is no chance that a cow or bull can break through into the audience.

Take time to check the physical structure of the sale barn for damage. Make sure the walls and roofing are secure. Missing siding or roofing can make sale day very uncomfortable on a rainy/windy day. If your sale barn has a heating system, check to make sure it is operational.

“I liked to touch up the paint on the sale barn from time to time to prevent damage from weather, and this gave us a chance to look the building over pretty good,” says Skinner. “Plus I feel a nicely painted sale barn adds a professional touch to the operation.”

Many production sales take place during variable spring weather. Reasonable effort should be taken to ensure pens are bedded with dry material and walkways in viewing areas are cleared of snow and mud. Gravel and wood shavings work to provide a dry surface for the buyers and spectators while viewing cattle in the pens.

“Most years it was wet and muddy at the time of my sale in March,” says Skinner. “Wood shavings spread through the pens and walkways keeps the mud down. It’s safer for everybody, and people are much more comfortable when they are not trooping through ankle deep mud. Also, it is important to spread wood chips or shavings in the sale ring to give the cattle a little bit better traction Also keep a fresh supply on hand to freshen the ring after the cattle run the chips or shavings off a little. It’s hard on the cattle when they come in and fall down, and no one wants to see that.”

Focus on buyer comfort

Skinner says in sale day preparation, second only to safety, comes the comfort of the buyer. He believes it is important to keep a clean set of pens, alleyways, and sale barn free of unnecessary objects that detract from the event and can create safety hazards. Walkways in the sale barn should be open with good footing. Seats should be dry, free of dirt and dust. Serving tables should be in an accessible area with enough room for buyers and spectators to move about freely.

“My sale barn served as a machine shop during the off season,” says Skinner. “So it took a bit of effort to clean out everything that was in the way of the sale. And, with the bay doors open a lot while we were moving machinery in and out, a fair amount of dirt and dust blew in onto the seats in the stands. We wiped them down ahead of the sale. Most folks don’t want to sit in all that dirt.”

Another purebred Angus seedstock producer, Steve Herbst, owner and manager of Nelson Angus Ranch, located near Salmon, Idaho, says he puts effort into producing good cattle, so they should be presented and marketed accordingly.

“As seedstock producers, many of us spend a great deal of time breeding these animals to perform for the buyer, and take pride in that effort,” says Herbst. “It is important that we make every effort to display this in every aspect of our operation… right down to the quality and presentation of sale day.”

So in final preparations for your production sale, don’t forget the importance of reviewing all of the physical facilities, including the sale barn, associated with the sale. Don’t be afraid to let a little of the pride in all the hours of hard work that goes into breeding good cattle shine through. If you have taken the time to make your sale safe and comfortable, we, the buyers, are much more likely to recognize your hard work breeding a quality bull or cow that will provide that special trait we are looking for to improve our own herd.

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