Sale Day is the cumulation of nearly an entire year’s worth of work. Some of those cute little calves born this spring are as big as their mammas. Every decision along that calve’s existence, from the selection of his sire to the nutrition of his mamma while he was gestating was all to bring him to this purpose, this moment.
Most of us are used to our regular every 2 week pay check but for many producers sale day is a major pay day that happens just once a year. The spring’s steer calves are weaned and move on to the feeder, preparing for their entrance into the food chain. It is the reality for those animals born to become food. Calves are sold for X dollars per hundred weight so there is anxiety about whether they will weigh up (weigh what is anticipated and planned for) and be of high enough quality to be worth the upper end of what the market is paying.
Pricing can be a gamble. My hubby watches the prices and trends daily, following the movement of the market, hoping it won’t be on a down turn the week we sell. This year we purchased livestock risk protection insurance, paying X amount per head to guarantee a price that would enough to pay the bills of producing those calves.
The cattle market is cyclical, with ups and downs, that with smart planning will result in a steady and stainable subsistence in this profession. Record high prices of 2014 are still fresh in our minds. Though prices today are 2/3 to 1/2 of those record prices it is hard to not compare. The inputs didn’t declined by 1/2 so the margins are tighter yet. The plan is a long one…for the good years to carry you thru the not so great….and it the end for it to all have been worth it, either financially or in a value of the lifestyle.
The summer brought a drought so resources are limited. Good cattle still seem to be demanding a decent price but any misfit or blemished calf will be heavily discounted. The gate cut was deep this year… uniformity of the calves is desired so any oddity, watery eye, or those that just don’t fit are left at home.
The sale barn hasn’t changed much over the years. At the door’s entrance a steep staircase stands to either side. The staircase is tricky for little legs as we head up to the seating area, looking down on the calves selling today. The buyers, those here to fill the requests of the feeders, sit front and center, with a phone in one hand and pen and paper in another each group of cattle gets a look and decision. Smart phones and a rare computer are the technology of choice.
The air is stuffy and still. The fall morning had brought a chill but the day soon warmed to summer temperatures. So we sit and wait and watch for our load. The goal is to sell in just 1-2 cuts, suggesting a uniformity of weight and style that will catch the buyer’s eye.
The bottom of the ring floor is a scale and as the doors close, the calve’s information becomes available on what looks like a scoreboard. Number in the lot, average weight, total weight, price per hundred weight, total price per calf.
The littles got a bit antsy so we headed down the Sale Barn cafe to find some food. We order a cheeseburger, fries, strawberry milkshake, and a Coke…pretty standard diner fare. There is nothing fancy about this restaurant… the stools and counter top probably the same that were originally installed. The floor is tracked with manure. Any other restaurant and that would have made a customer turn around and run but these aren’t folks that mind a little a little manure on the floor or under their finger nails. These are working folks. A mix of ages sits at the counter, older persons with dusty hats and soft worn jean. This isn’t the place to find $400 cowboy boots or jeans with rhinestoned pockets. The sale barn cafe is filled with working folks in a sea of plaid shirts of muted colors…. tans, blues, and grays….maybe a red. Some have grandkids in tow, with fancy little boots, shiny belt buckles, stiff new jeans, and soft rounded faces. A stark contrast to their worn and rugged elders.
Our cattle sold and we had a mini celebration with beer and burgers of one stress over and done. Just as their arrival guaranteed nights without sleep and worry, so did their preparation for their departure from our ranch. Sale day… the day of much anticipation and a sigh of relief when it is over.