You round up the renegades, work them over and doctor anything with a runny nose. It’s now 9:30 a.m., and you head to the house to sit at the computer and enter yesterday’s calf weights and vaccinations. You bust it every day to make it happen. It’s as natural as breathing.

Jaynes lynn
Emeritus Editor
Lynn Jaynes retired as an editor in 2023.

Then, with the herd’s top cut ready to go to market, you decide it’s time to call the production sale company. But the next 30 minutes will be uncomfortable because marketing and promotion, for most ranchers, doesn’t come natural at all.

Before you make that call to the production sale manager, whether it’s your first production sale or your 40th, there are some factors worth considering.

Common mistakes producers make

Undefined market
Who is your target customer? Sounds like a pretty basic question, but it might surprise you how many would answer, “Anybody with a checkbook.” However, you don’t want just any checkbook, you want the right checkbooks.


Larry Cotton, co-owner of sale management company Cotton & Associates in Michigan, says defining this one question will direct your advertising plan, catalog layout, information content, auctioneer and even ringmen.

Inadequate lead time
Production sale planning needs a lead time of 60 to 90 days – keeping in mind crops still need harvested or planted, cows need bred, calving season might be in full swing, coupled with other ranch duties that can’t be ignored.

Cotton says one of the common mistakes producers make is not allowing enough planning time or shoving aside sale duties in the face of everyday ranch and farm demands.

An unbalanced sale
Generally, there are only so many buyers for any given group of cattle, and too many head in one group can reduce values. When planning a female sale, for instance, the sale ideally would be balanced between featured females, cows with calves at side, bred cows, open heifers and bred heifers, creating opportunities for a higher sale average. It might also be advantageous to package cattle lots.

Anemic advertising budget
Advertising costs will often surprise a producer. Cotton says one common mistake is for the producer to underplan the advertising budget that ultimately does not meet the sale quality needs and number of head in the sale.

Zeroing in on the target market is one way to maximize the advertising dollars spent by identifying regions or targeting buyers looking for specific traits –heat-stress handling or mountain terrain, for example.

Cow pens

Insufficient sorting and display pens
A powerful bull or cow can be passed over by prospective buyers if the presentation is not considered. You might think “quality is quality” and will always trump the sale, but sales figures historically show that presentation matters. If sale cattle are not sorted from the herd and properly conditioned prior to the sale, eye appeal is not maximized.

It may mean cleaning out and strawing muddy pens, or show cattle may need to be washed and guard hairs clipped. Temporary tubular fence panels provide another way to achieve better visibility and enhance presentation.

Cattle workers
A common mistake producers make is not having enough experienced cattle workers prior to and during the sale. Buyers, even though they’re interested in your product, are busy people, too. If you have long delays in your sale, you might lose a potential customer.

Contingency planning
Even though you’ve taken steps during preplanning to cover the bases, it doesn’t hurt to have a backup plan. If important sale information is incorrectly listed in the catalog, what’s your plan? If livestock workers cancel the morning of, who’s your backup?

If a major power source is compromised, do you have generators you can access easily? If you have a major weather event and need to cancel the sale, what are the options?

While you can’t accommodate every possible disastrous scenario, thinking through those issues that are more likely to happen will help you formulate a plan for whatever does occur.

Setting up the sale for success

Building program integrity
Matt Macfarlane, owner of M3 Marketing in Sheridan, California, works 85 to 100 sales per year and has been marketing purebred cattle for 17 years. He offers key points to ranchers who want to make their sales successful.

Macfarlane says, “Be seen at industry events. Be social and visit with potential customers as much as possible. Marketing your program and its benefits are essential in moving cattle.”

Macfarlane also recommends that producers be accessible. “Don’t hesitate to call someone back if they have a question, problem or issue. If you do not take care of it, someone else will.”

Cotton also stresses that building program integrity is established well before the decision to have a production sale. “People sell to people,” says Cotton, “and one’s ability to know fellow breeders, promote your product and to be active in the industry creates identity, trust, value and integrity.”

Know your buyers’ needs
Travis Meteer, sales manager for the Illinois Performance Tested Bull Sale, says it’s important to identify buyers’ needs as buyers are looking for cattle with less perceived risk. The problem comes when trying to define what that risk looks like.

To some buyers, a storied program that has withstood the test of time equals less risk. To some, less risk may mean cattle are adapted to the buyer’s climate (heat, fescue country, mountainous or higher elevations). Some buyers look for seller guarantees.

Meteer says all buyers agree the one universal indicator for less risk is genomic-enhanced EPDs. A production sale of yearling bulls, for instance, asks buyers to take a chance on non-proven bulls, despite the positives.

Meteer said bulls equipped with genomic-enhanced EPD values averaged $1,331 more than bulls that were not tested at the 2014 sale. Although this is the first year Meteer has collected data on genomic-enhanced EPD values in relationship to sales, he says the early numbers indicate buyers are definitely looking for cattle with less perceived risk.

Internet sales vs. site sales
What does the future hold for production sale formats? Are sites sales being overtaken by video sales? Cotton doesn’t think so.

“The involvement and use of social media and online or satellite transmission of auctions will continue and to some degree increase in usage. It appears, though, that in marketing registered seedstock, buyers prefer to physically see the cattle even though they may not physically go through the ring.

Many sales using online companies have live cattle on display in close proximity to the sale location and then the auction is conducted on video screens along with online distribution,” he says.

Successful producers recognize that a buyer’s travel expense and scheduling pressures may be limited. Therefore, utilizing the best of online marketing combined with on-site events brings more value to the customer.  end mark

Click here to read another article that will give you some sale tips.

PHOTO 1: Auctioneer at a seedstock sale

PHOTO 2: Holding pens for livestock to be sold at auction. Photos by Paul Marchant.