The Moos Room™

Olivia Amundson from SDSU joins the OG3 to discuss work she and her colleagues have done to look at the different factors that influence feeder calf prices at the auction market. Great study, great guest.

Show Notes

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What is The Moos Room™?

Hosted by members of the University of Minnesota Extension Beef and Dairy Teams, The Moos Room discusses relevant topics to help beef and dairy producers be more successful. The information is evidence-based and presented as an informal conversation between the hosts and guests.

Joe: Welcome to The Moos Room, everybody. The OG3 is here. We have Bradley for two weeks in a row. It's quite just awesome, and he's not in his car this time, which is very, very nice.
Bradley: You can't see me, but I'm actually dressed up today. I'm not normal jeans and a T-shirt.
Emily: Your normal hobo wear.
Bradley: Exactly.
Joe: He's very fancy today. Very fancy today. Branded, just looking dapper. I'd say. Emily is also here. How you doing, Em?
Emily: Oh, I'm doing great. It is summer and extension. Things have been really, really busy, but we're gearing up for our Youth Tractor Safety Certification program. If you're interested in that,
Joe: Putting plugs in left and right.
Emily: When an opportunity presents itself, I'm going to take it.
Joe: Absolutely. All right. More important than these two, we do have a guest today. Olivia Amundson is here today from South Dakota State University Extension. How are you, Olivia?
Olivia: Good. Thanks for having me on here.
Joe: Yes. As with every other guest, we ask two super-secret questions right out of the gate, so I'll turn it over to them and we can get those done.
Emily: I'm going to make this disclaimer right away before Brad and Joe pipe in.
Bradley: No disclaimer
Emily: There are no wrong answers, Joe and Bradley will tell you otherwise. Answer objectively, I guess is what I'll say. Your first question is, what is your favorite breed of dairy cattle?
Olivia: I'm just going to say Holstein because I haven't really dabbled in more than that, I guess. I definitely don't like Brown Swiss.
Emily: Ooh, you have something against Brown Swiss.
Olivia: They're just a little slower.
Emily: [laughs] Yes, a little. Some might say dumber. I don't want to upset our Brown Swiss breeders that listen. I've always liked Brown Swiss. They're my second favorite.
Olivia: They're like a big teddy bear in a way.
Emily: You did answer Holstein, which is--
Bradley: The correct answer was Jersey.
Emily: Wrong.
Joe: I'd say Jersey is the correct answer. Unfortunately, that is another vote for Holstein. Running down the totals, we have Holsteins at 18, Jersey at 13, Brown Swiss at six, Montb�liarde at three, Dutch Belted at three, Normande at two, Milking Shorthorn at one, Ayrshire at one, and one Guernsey named Taffy.
Emily: Your second super-secret question, what is your favorite breed of beef cattle?
Olivia: Favorite breed. I don't know if I have a favorite breed.
Emily: Don't make it scientific. This always happens when we have researchers on and we ask about breeds. They start analyzing in their head. Just the way you answered Holstein off the top of your head. What would you say?
Olivia: Economically, which one do I prefer? I don't want to say, Angus. I feel like that's everybody's favorite cow. How about Fleckvieh? Let me just throw that out there.
Joe: Okay, okay. We can do that.
Emily: Love that.
Bradley: We will accept that as long it is not Angus. Sorry, Angus people. Sorry.
Joe: The correct answer according to Bradley is Hereford if you're wondering.
Olivia: I will say the Piedmontese breed intrigues me as well, and Wagyu.
Joe: Wagyu. Do you want to pick one?
Olivia: Do I have to pick?
Joe: You have to pick one.
Olivia: Pied, let's go Pieds
Joe: Piedmontese. All right. We switched it up.
Olivia: I still like the Fleckviehs too. I like their colors.
Joe: Wow. Here we go. Running down the totals. Black Angus are at 14, Hereford's at eight, Black Baldies at four, Scottish Highlander at three, Belted Galloways at two, Red Angus at two, and all with one. Stabiliser, Gelbvieh, Brahman, Chianin, Charolais, Simmental, Nelore, Jersey, Normande, Shorthorn, Belgian Blue, Brangus, and now Piedmontese. It's pretty long.
Olivia: I like to be different.
Joe: Yes, you got to be different. That's okay. We knew that about you already coming in.
Olivia: Yes.
Joe: Today Olivia has been working on a research project over in South Dakota State that I think has really good ties to Minnesota beef production and it has to do with auction markets. Olivia, could you run down what you guys been working on?
Olivia: Yes. First I just want to say South Dakota State University, the butter university has been working on this project. Really what got us started in this project was I wanted to put together a cow-calf short course. I get really interested in calving distribution and how calving distribution can really affect the whole system. It was brought to my attention that this particular project has been done in the past through North Dakota and some other universities.
Just looking at different aspects that actually affect the price of calves sold in the sale barn, we do know norms data shows that 60% of calves are still sold in the sale barn. We were really curious at how different management variables would affect the price of cabs sold in the sale barn. This was actually a grant-funded program. It was through the North Central Extension Risk Management Education Center, and then we had funding that was provided by the USDA NIFA organization.
What we did is we ended up sitting in sale barn. We did a feeder calf run and we also did a backgrounded calf run, and we're mainly going to focus on the feeder calf run that we did. What we did is went through and found the five top sale barns in South Dakota that had the most cattle that actually ran through it to be sold. That's how we decided what sale barns we were going to sit in. We chose those five sale barns across the state of South Dakota. Those sale barns included Faith, Philip, Hub City, which was in Aberdeen, Mitchell, and then Fort Pierre.
Two of those were on the east side. One Fort Pierre was smack dab in the middle. Faith and Philip were on the west side. What we did is we actually collected data for four consecutive weeks. That was the weeks of October 4th, 11th, and 18th, and then November 1st, 2021. We ended up covering 24 sales in total with over or approximately 110,000 head of calves. It ended up being quite a large data set that we were able to collect. In terms of what we collected-- do you want me to go into that or do you have questions regarding?
Joe: I'm super interested already the fact that you got to cover the whole state with the different sale barns, you had that many calves come in. I guess the only question that you glossed over is that someone had to sit in that sale barn at every sale, write things down, right?
Olivia: One of our field specialists Adele Harty, who is out of the Rapid City office, she actually put together a spreadsheet. We had a team of us that we sat down and we decided what we thought were the most important variables that were going to affect price of calves. This Excel sheet changed multiple times prior to us sitting in the sale barns. Then we actually did a practice run where we actually all went to Fort Pierre.
We sat in a sale and we decided if we could take all this data by ourselves or if we needed two of us. It took a little bit of time to put out altogether and, yes, we all sat in sale barns and some of those days got really long, really long. I will say I learned a lot sitting in a sale barn. You catch side conversations or you watch some of those order buyers, and you about could solve most of the world's problems.
Joe: I totally agree. I am fascinated by auction barns, and I, unfortunately, didn't get a chance to work the front very often. I'm always in the back working cattle. When I did get a chance to sit, you can learn a ton, especially from the people just have been doing it for so long and been looking at so many cattle. They can pick things out that you just never would see and it is fascinating.
Olivia: Because I went to the Mitchell sale barn quite a bit I ended up sitting next to the USDA guy. That's what I always called him. He'd be like, "This guy will bid on these calves, or these calves are going to go for this much." It was really fun because there towards the end-- of course, my background is in reproductive physiology, and so in my mind and then my area of interest is calving distribution. I'm like, a uniform group of calves, an AI group of calves.
Of course, they're going to receive a premium, just based on those facts. A lot of times that wasn't even the issue. A lot of times guys didn't care if those cows were AI bread. More or less they just wanted a uniform group of calves that came through the sale barn. I was like, shoot, that doesn't really give me a whole lot of leverage to encourage guys to AI their cattle other than the fact that you can get more cows bread in a shorter period of time, thus creating a more defined group of calves.
Joe: When you guys are sitting in the sale barn, what are you guys writing down? Are you writing down all the inputs as you know them in the sale barn as far as vaccines, shots, how they were bread like everything and then you're also writing down the price.
Olivia: I'll go through what we actually collected here. Essentially these were all on an Excel spreadsheet and we were able to-- essentially what we did. We put in location, the date, and then each seller had an id. Obviously, it was anonymous and that just started like one through however many sellers we had. We put the sex of the calf. Dear Heifer and then Bull because we did have some bulls come through. The number of head per lot, the average weight per head, the hide color. Then four vaccine, we did a seven-way and then a four or five-way.
Then we split that up between birth, spring, and fall. If they told us when they were given, that's when we would put that in there. Implants, that was yes or no, creed feed, yes or no, weaned, yes or no. If they were part of a branded program, we put what branded program. If they had horns, we would say yes for horns. We did take mud score. That was something that one of our colleagues wanted us to pay attention to. We did our best to take mud score. Then we had the price per hundredweight and then the price per head. Those were all the things that we were taking notes of as these lots of cattle were coming through the sale barn.
Joe: That's a lot of stuff to write down. It's impressive that you were able to catch it all because some of the times that moves super quick.
Emily: I have an important question here. How much coffee did you all drink during this?
Olivia: I totally brought a thermos of coffee, but then that's the hard part because getting up to go to the bathroom was really hard. You always had to have your person that you texted and you're like, "Hey, I got to go to the bathroom," or, "Hey, I need to go get some food, can you jump online and watch this sale for me?" There were times that we watched the sale online through DVAuction or whatever. I try not to drink too much coffee because getting up, going down, doing all that stuff, it got really choppy when you did that.
Emily: I imagine there's just so many little logistical details with this.
Olivia: There was and that's the thing though. Once you got on your cellar, then for the most part things were the same. The color of the cattle were going to be the same. Trying to think-- the vaccines were going to be the same whether. They were implanted, creep fed, weaned, branded program, all that kind stuff was the same. You could just copy-paste those down. It was mainly the number of head per lot, the average weight per lot, horns, sometimes those showed up.
If they pulled a calf for a blemish or something like that, that was different. I can tell you I really appreciated those bigger lots where cattle were more uniform. They weren't pulling calves because those cattle ran through the sale barn quick, efficient. The ones where you had all these different sorts because you had all these different sizes, you might have had different colors. That was the other thing.
Pulling calves for just different colors was amazing, or maybe they had a bad eye, or they had short ears, or they had a short tail. The more uniform group of calves that you can bring into the sale barn definitely pays, and it showed that through our data analysis. Some of those smaller lots I was like, "Oh, here we go. This is going to take 45 minutes for 50 heads to run through." Then you have a group of 800 who can also run through in 45 minutes, but literally just based on how uniform they were made a huge difference.
Joe: We've been preaching it for a long time but it's nice to have some observations behind it, some numbers behind it. The thing that I always get hung up on, especially at the sale barn is the language around vaccines and what does that mean. A lot of sale barns have a program where you can give them your schedule ahead of time. Did you guys use that as well?
Olivia: We never were able to get our hands on the vaccine schedules from the sale barn. A lot of times we just listened in the barn. That was definitely something that we saw. We had this little cheat sheet. It had our four ways, five ways. Then we also were supposed to look at modified-live versus killed and if that made a difference or not. We didn't actually see any statistical difference between modified-live or not.
A lot of times we had the guy on the block say so-and-so's cattle all vaccinated up, a good set of calves, blah, blah, blah. A lot of times-- and even Adele and I have had this conversation we're like, "Well, what does all vaccinated up mean? Can we take their word for it or how do order buyers look at that?" Just to give you a little bit of an idea of what we saw in terms of the data.
As long as guys vaccinated either spring, fall, or even birth versus unknown, there was a $13 to $18 price difference between vaccinating and actually not knowing if the guy vaccinated or not. It pays to vaccinate and it pays to tell the auction barn the vaccines that you gave him when you gave them. Now we did look at the differences between the seven-way and the five-way, and giving it in the spring, and in the fall, and at birth, and all these different interactions.
Ultimately what it came down to is if you're not giving a vaccine or if you don't know if they gave a vaccine, it's going to pay to give a vaccine and then report that you did that. The other thing that Adele and I have talked about is that if you are giving that information to the sale barn and they're not giving that information out to the buyers. That's something that you definitely should look into because there is money to be said and had for having your cattle vaccinated and to be reporting that.
Joe: It's definitely one of my biggest pet peeves at the barn because I have no idea what had all their shots means or all vaccinated up. I have no idea what that means. The vaccine program is so dependent on what you give and timing that I don't know what that means, but they've had something. Even just us talking you're saying seven-way or four or five-way. I'm still not quite sure what you are talking about when you say those things. Because to me when you say seven-way, is that a clostridial vaccine, is that a five-way viral plus my two bacterial for respiratory? What does the seven-way mean to you?
Olivia: Having their clostridial and then their respiratory. The seven-way is that clostridial vaccine, and then that four five-way would be that respiratory vaccine. Essentially, as long as you're giving a seven-way at some point either birth, spring, or fall, you're going to see an advantage of up to $17 per head. Then same with the four or five-way as long as you're giving it spring or fall, you're going to have up to almost an $18 per head premium for giving those vaccines.
Joe: Are those additives, Olivia? If you do both, do you have up to almost over $30 worth of price difference or are they just one or the other or not quite additives?
Olivia: That's a good question because we haven't actually analyzed those together. I have them separate on my data sheet here. Ultimately, if you're giving a seven-way, you can probably give a four or five-way at the same time. In my mind, it's something that if you're going to give a seven-way you might as well give a four or five-way at the same time and try and maybe get some of that additional premium that could be there. I can't say for sure but I have to believe that you're going to see that additional premium as well.
Joe: That's good to know. Especially when we're talking clostridial vaccines, they are so inexpensive that the return on that investment is huge. It's nice to hear that-- well Brad and I argue about vaccines all the time, and I'm constantly trying to take them out of the protocol and get to be as few as possible. It's nice to see that they are worth something at the barn. We're not going to get into timing and my own thoughts on protocols. We'll just skip that for today. I'm sure Brad and Emily will appreciate that. We know vaccines are valuable and they give you more at the barn just whether or not you did them at all or not. What else made a huge difference?
Olivia: There was a few things that made a big difference. Hide color. Hide color made a huge difference. I don't think it's any secret that black was king in this whole situation. Those animals that can be certified CAB ultimately saw the highest premium. How we broke up hide color was, it was black, black, white face, red, red, white face, white, mix, and mix was four or more colors within a lot for a group and then we had others. Then those others were those fleck face or those Shorthorns, Roands, things like that. Things that just didn't meet those solid colors.
When we did the data analysis, we saw that black and black white face, there was no difference in price between those two. Same with red and red white face. We put black and black-white face together, and then red and red-white face and just called those black and red. Essentially black saw a $9 premium over reds and $11 premium over whites. Then if we looked at black versus our others, our Roands, our brindles, things like that, we saw $34 premium for black.
Ultimately when we have black cattle, we're going to see better prices in the sale barn. It's just something to pay attention to because we had this conversation too. There's a lot of really good red cattle in the country. There for a while, I think some of our packing plants weren't taking red cattle, but I think some of the breed associations have been working on some of those different certified programs that these red cattle can fall under to then hopefully get some of that additional premium.
I wouldn't say go out and start breeding all your cattle black per se, but I would say if maybe you do let's say have a group of black face or short horns that maybe the sale barn is not the right place to be selling those cattle. Maybe we could look for a different marketing strategy to maybe get a little bit more money than we would at the sale barn. Because the sale barn is looking largely for those black hided cattle.
Joe: Bradley, how does it make you feel? We just got a pretty good endorsement for red, red-white face. That's got to feel good.
Bradley: It's called CHB, Certified Herford Beef. There's a lot of benefits to the other colored cattle as well and it depends what the market is and what farmers want. I don't think that we all need to be raising the same thing. Diversity is good.
Olivia: I know and I totally agree. It was a bummer to see a lot of these really good cattle come through and actually see that discounted price just because they didn't have that black hide. It is something that we saw as we went through the sale barn. The other really big thing, and I'm not going to say that I cared about the most, but in my mind it goes back to calving distribution, it goes back to that uniform group of calves. It was the lot size and how that affected the price of our calves.
We broke this up and I'm going to try and do this as savvy as possible, but we had 100 plus head, and then we broke it into 51 to 100 head, and then it was 21 to 50 head and then 1 to 20 head. Did I make sense there? Essentially what we saw is anything that was 101 plus versus the 1 to 20 head, we actually saw a $15 premium in price because of those larger lots. We saw that same thing as we moved down those different ranges of head. Essentially we saw about a $9 price increase as long as we had more than 20 head in a lot size.
Again, this has brought up some good conversation because this is something where as producers, if you have maybe a smaller herd that you could look into doing some sort of a situation with maybe a neighbor where you're working with a neighbor. You're selling your cattle together, but again it's important that you think about the big picture. You're going to want calves that are born at about the same time, that have the same vaccination schedule.
That you're doing a lot of the things similarly so that when you do sell them you can report all of that stuff. That was one of the big takeaways. The other thing is if we think about sorting our cattle, let's say we do have 100 head of calves that we're bringing in, you're definitely going to have two sorts because you're going to have sorts of steers and you're going to have the sorts of heifers.
Then you're probably going to have two more additional sorts because you're going to have a sort of your heavy steers and your light steers, and then your heavy heifers and then your light heifers. That already breaks it down into four different lots of 25. Then right there you're back down into one of those smaller lots. Something to think about, again, if you can co-op with maybe another individual to increase those lot sizes or at least make a pot load, makes a huge difference in price receipt for those calves.
Joe: That's something that you can see. If you just sit in the auction barn for an hour or two, you can see that right away. You can see that when there's big lots like big lots on the docket, they're consigned cattle, so many more people show up the day of the sale. There's even more competition on those days it seems like when you have big lots that are already consigned. We talk about this a lot. There is still a calf pool in North Central Minnesota.
Otherwise, it's something we talk about a lot of the time, but there's so many logistics and all these things that need to happen to keep people on the same page. Get those uniform groups and make sure that you're not just bringing a bunch of cattle that are not uniformed to the barn anyway. Do you guys have any calf pool systems in South Dakota that you know of?
Olivia: Not that I know of. I knew I had heard of that term before and I was trying to explain it to Adele on our podcast and I think I just shot myself in a foot because I didn't know the name of it. I don't think South Dakota does, but I have heard of other states having a calf pool. You're right, if they're not born in that same time period, if you're not having the same vaccine schedule, maybe one group was creep fed one, maybe wasn't. You're still not getting that uniform group of calf crop. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn't. I don't know much about it, but I have heard about it.
Joe: We actually have a really, really giant lamb pool in Minnesota down in southwest Minnesota and that works excellent. It only works because everyone is really agreeable, they meet frequently, they make sure they're all on the same page. It's working well. On the cattle side of things, it's so hard to keep everyone on the same page, and it's so hard to make sure that everyone's doing the same thing. Even like you said, just getting calving distribution and at the right time of year because it changes so much based on what your facilities are. It's so difficult to get together.
I think a lot of people are interested in it, how possible it is. It's going to take one person really leading the charge and taking over that kind of thing to get it to go. I think actually what we're going to see first, at least what I'm hearing rumors of first is more of a pool on the end of the line for finished cattle so that they can command more of the market. Get into a bigger packer because they have more animals. I think we might see that first, but I'm hoping that'll trickle back down to a calf pool as well.
Olivia: I just think there's probably a lot of logistics that you have to figure out in order to make all that work. I do think it could be beneficial if we can get guys on the same page, definitely.
Joe: That was lot size, we talked lot size. I'm scared to ask about the steer heifer bull conversation, but I think we got to get into it. What'd you see?
Olivia: That was actually where I was going to go next. I don't think it's any surprise to anybody that there's obviously a difference, steer versus heifer. We saw a $19.77 difference between steer versus heifer, so almost a $20 spread between those two. That's a big chunk of change. I think this really opens up the conversation of what are maybe some other marketing strategies that we can do with our heifers.
Does it pay to keep those heifers and maybe background them for a little bit, and so maybe get a little additional money per head? I'd like to say start breeding your cow's sex semen to get only steer calves. Until we get that figured out, I don't think that's going to happen for a while. Hey, it's a possibility down the road maybe. There's those situations where heifers in a feedlot they can do really well, but there's other situations where you probably have to feed them MGA.
Because you don't want them coming into heat or you're spaying these heifers or things like that. There's just some additional things that we have to deal with when it comes to heifers, but if we can maybe hold onto them for a little bit longer [unintelligible 00:28:01] vaccinate them, sell them as potential breeding stock. Maybe we can recoup some of those costs that we wouldn't get if we just sold them with our steer calves as feeder calves.
Joe: There's a lot of people that make their living feeding nothing but heifers because of this spread that you see in the market. If it pencils out, it can pencil out really well, the margin can be there. I've been to Nebraska where there's 50,000 head lots with nothing but heifers. I think people can do really, really well if they look at that. I would be interested in when does it make sense, what spread makes sense to buy heifers at that price? I'm sure there's so many variables there, but that'd be cool to look at. Maybe you'll have the answer for us on the backgrounding side once you get that data run.
Olivia: I think that'll be really fun to see the backgrounding run. I can't remember if we were recording or not when we had this conversation. A group of breeding heifers that came in during our background had run, just this really uniform group of heifers, and through the block they said, "These girls had been AI'ed and they're ready for breeding." Of course, they had a reputable name behind them. I was talking to the guy next to me and I'm like, "Oh, I'd love to see the sort of premium that these girls get because they're AI'ed."
He said, "A lot of times you don't see a premium for AI'ed cattle, you're going to see a premium based on the reputation of the seller as well as the uniformity of the group." He was definitely right because there were a few more other groups of breeding heifers that ran through in same concept. There was really no price difference, but you could see the difference in price based on the uniformity of the group. I thought that was really cool to see. Even just talking to some producers they're like, "How should I be developing some of these heifers, what's going to make me the most money?"
I was like, "Honestly, just make sure they all look the same and they are healthy, and I think you're going to do great." Those were some of the things we saw in terms of difference between steers and heifers. We also saw a difference in terms of steer versus bulls because we did have some groups of calves that came in as all bull calves, and that spread was actually $23 between the both. Again, Adele and I have had a conversation, you can castrate a lot of calves for $23.
The other thing is in terms of on an animal welfare standpoint, castrating calves earlier is always going to be better for them in the long run. If you have to send a bunch of bull calves to a feedlot and have them castrate them, I think you're really going to see some detriments in terms of weight loss and things like that in the long run. It definitely pays to castrate your bull calves prior to bringing them to the sale barn.
Joe: I'm a big proponent of early castration, whether it's at birth or at turnout. I tend to like the turnout phase because then we can put an implant in as well. That's a whole 'nother discussion. Castrate plus implants, I love to be able to add that $23 to the side of castrate plus implants. Speaking of implants, what did you guys find on that end?
Olivia: We saw actually between implants and creep feed, there was no statistical difference. Implanting as a calf, not sure it necessarily pays. Now, when I was sitting in the sale barn for the backgrounded calf run, we saw or heard has been implanted once, has been implanted twice. I'd really like to see how that data comes out and see if actually we see some sort of a price spread based on calves being implanted at that stage. In terms of feeder calf run, there was no difference or price spread with calves that had been implanted.
Joe: That's good to know because sometimes we hear that there's some older thoughts about implanting and then that affecting the next stage of the implant, which we know it doesn't. Really with that implant, knowing that you're getting the same price whether they're implanted or not. If they were implanted I know that calf's heavier, so now you're just getting paid directly for pounds. That's the benefit of that implant, efficiency, pounds, and still getting the same prices if you didn't.
Olivia: Exactly, exactly. Ultimately pounds are what pay, so however you decide to get those pounds, yes, absolutely. Then the last thing that we actually have data points on is the influence of various management practices on price, those were our branded programs. The only branded program that actually came through any of the barns, and it was actually in the Fort Pierre barn, was drug-free. They actually saw a $12 premium for being drug-free versus not being drug-free.
I think it's important when we think about some of these programs that we know we have a buyer for them, or that we're telling the sale barn that we have these drug-free cattle so that we are getting that premium. Maybe the sale barn might not even be the right format of selling these type of cattle. I think if you're doing some sort of a program, I think you need to pay attention to how you're marketing your cattle because you could be missing out on some additional premium that's there, but that's just my opinion.
The other one that we saw, and maybe you guys have a decent answer for me because we're still really scratching our head at this, but weaned versus unweaned. We actually saw a $14 premium for unweaned calves versus weaned calves. We're not totally sure why. Maybe it's because feedlots are set up for those unweaned calves at that time or possibly it's human error. We're not totally sure. If you guys have any insight on that, we're more than willing to listen.
Joe: I think you're on the right track. Anytime that we've talked about that, it's strange. Sometimes you'll see a run on high-risk or more high-risk cattle because the feedlot knows what they do well. If you have bawling calves that have not been fed anything and they know how to work those calves. When they've been backgrounded and they're not sure what they've been exposed to, if they've seen fermented feet or not, or they're too fleshy.
Any of those things can definitely change things. When big buyers that deal in high-risk calves, they know what they're dealing with and I think that's what mostly influences the price. I don't know, but that's my opinion. I think you're on the right track with what you're thinking there. Now, when you say drug-free, what does that mean? Are they marketed as natural? Did they actually use the words drug-free at the barn?
Olivia: They did on that particular-- or it was antibiotic-free. I can't remember and I'm not even sure I was the one who actually took that data. In our tabs we had program and it was like NHTC drug-free. I can't remember if we had any other ones. I'm assuming that's what they said was drug-free because we inputted what they said on the block into our Excel sheet. Like I said, that one came out of Fort Pierre and I didn't sit in any Fort Pierre sale barns. I have to believe that's the words that came out of their mouth. What that means, again, it's like take it for what it's worth. It's like saying all vaccinated up at that point.
Joe: Drug-free, all-natural, those kind of things, it always makes me nervous. What does that mean? Because if that means they haven't been vaccinated, that $12 premium is easily made up for by just vaccinating your calves, and you could probably even do better just vaccinating. Antibiotic-free, I don't know. Usually, when we talk those kind of things it's antibiotic-free and no implant. If you're missing out on pounds from the implants, I agree with you. There's money to be had in other areas unless you have a specific buyer willing to pay a specific premium.
Olivia: Exactly. Seeing those things-- and that's probably why we only saw one run through the sale barn. Because I think when you are a part of those programs, you have to have a specific buyer to get a specific premium. Otherwise, I think you're really just missing out on some of that other opportunity that's there.
Joe: What about mud score? You mentioned mud score earlier. Did you see any difference in the cleanliness of cattle? As long as they were all similarly dirty, did it matter?
Olivia: I would be really interested to see, again, what our background at calf run comes at because we had a lot muddier calves on our backgrounded run and we did on our feeder calf run. That's the other thing I should maybe point out that I didn't. Between our East and West River Barns, we did see a premium for our West River Barns compared to our East River. If anybody's familiar with the topography of South Dakota, east and west are very different. You have a lot of your grazers on the west side, and then you have a lot of your farmer feeders on the east side.
We saw a lot more feeder calves being sold on the west side than we did on the east side. A lot of times that's because guys on the east side they've got the feed to background the calves, or they buy these feeder calves they background and then sell as backgrounded calves. Again, like I said, our west side barn saw a premium for feeder calves, whereas our east side didn't. I would really like to see if those rolls are switched for the backgrounded calf run, just based on numbers of calves coming through the barn.
Joe: This is one of the things that we talk about when I talk to cattlemen with reputation. There's a lot of things that you do that build your reputation for your cattle. One of them is being there on sale day, which is a huge deal. This's probably not something you guys can keep track of like who's actually there with their cattle, but I think it does make a big difference. There's so many intangibles to building that reputation.
A lot of the things that you do, even if they're a break even when it comes to the price on the sale barn. Let's say just throwing numbers out there, these are completely made-up numbers. If it costs me $5 per head to vaccinate, but I get $5 back at the barn for it, is the added reputation value for the performance of your cattle from that vaccine worth that breaking even? Is it worth more and all of a sudden it's worth it to vaccinate because you're building your reputation, which we know affects price eventually?
Olivia: I think so. Because when I was sitting in the Mitchell sale barn and I was sitting next to this USDA guy who was from the area and so he knew. Actually, it was really beneficial for me to sit next to him because he would point out whose cattle were in the ring at the time. A lot of times I saw a lot of the sellers in the stands and he's like, "This guy's cattle are going to go for good money. He's got a good reputation. Or this guy, he always gets docked because of the breed of the cattle." He was never wrong. It was really interesting to sit and listen. You're right, reputation is huge in how you present your cattle.
Joe: All right. Did we miss anything? I think I ran down the list of all the things. Like I said, we'll skip the vaccine discussion in depth because just for everyone.
Olivia: The only other thing when we think about management as a whole, what are some of those big takeaway things in terms of when we're selling our cattle in the sale barn? Ultimately making sure we vaccinate our cattle seven-way, four, five-way is going to give us a return on investment. Again, those black cattle, we see that premium, however it doesn't mean go out and change the color of your herd.
I think you just need to focus on maybe some of those different marketing opportunities for those animals. Large lots are going to pay. Whether you can work with a neighbor, be in some sort of a pool to increase those lot sizes are going to be huge. Then ultimately castrating your calves is going to pay dividends really in the long run. I like to always just bring up, there's a lot of different variables that we looked at within this data set and it can be overwhelming.
I even think about my own herd of cattle and a lot of times I'm like, shoot, I should be doing this or I should be doing this because I know better, but sometimes you just can't get it all done. What I like to tell guys, instead of getting really overwhelmed with all of these different data points that we showed them, is really just start out small, pick one thing to change. A lot of times that can literally come down to pulling the bull early so that your cows are calving in a more defined calving season.
You're having a more uniform group of calves. I think that's really step one. Then from there, we can start making more management decisions to hopefully gain some of this additional premium through some of those management strategies. I think it was a really cool study just to see how different management strategies can affect different factors and how calves sell at the sale barn at the end of the year.
Joe: That's great. I'm excited. We'll probably have you back once you have a chance to run the interactions because I'm really interested in, okay, what happens when we castrate and vaccinate and/or in large lots, all of those things. Are they additive or not or to what degree are they additive? Because I'm sure they are in some way. Awesome study. Thank you for being on today, Olivia. I really appreciate it.
Olivia: Thanks for finally having me on.
Joe: [laughs] All right. Emily, are you there to wrap us up?
Emily: Oh, I am here. If you have questions, comments, or scathing rebuttals about today's episode, you can email
Joe: That's
Emily: If you have a question that you would like answered on a future episode of The Moos Room, you can call and leave us a voicemail at 612-624-3610. You can follow us on Twitter @UMNmoosroom and @UMNFarmSafety, and be sure to visit our website,
Joe: Olivia, do you have any plugs? We'll allow it I guess if even though you're from South Dakota State.
Olivia: Check us out for our SDSU Extension AI School that we put on every December and January. You can find-- well, actually email me.
Joe: [laughs] I'll put Olivia's email in the show notes if you want to get ahold of her.
Olivia: Yes, yes. It's a pretty fun school.
Joe: Perfect. Bye.
Emily: That's a wrap. Bye.
Olivia: First I just want to say South Dakota State University, the butter university. [booing]