The booming voice of the auctioneer guides the bidding at North Dakota’s livestock auction markets, which have provided competitive sales for generations. Today, auctions are using new tools that help sellers receive the highest prices buyers are willing to pay.
Real-Time in the Ring
Real-time weighing, installed at many auction markets a generation ago, has already helped improve auctions.
“Ring scales came in the early 1980s. That lets the buyers see the actual weight of the cattle when they are in the ring, rather than a weight taken before or after,” says Jerry Kist of Kist Livestock in Mandan. Ring scales also created less stress on the animals, because of less movement needed for weighing.
Auction sellers are aiming to attract higher bids by providing as much information as possible to as many buyers as possible.
“People can see the auctions on TV, and now bid online,” says Ray Erbele of Napoleon Livestock Auction. “They can watch from their home or office and see the cattle that are selling and the prices. They have that information sooner, and they can start deciding whether they might bring more or less cattle to the next sale.”
Auction markets more recently have adopted internet technology, allowing for cattle video sales. Large groups of livestock are filmed, at the ranch or farm, and then sold by an auctioneer to bidders that agree to arrange future delivery of the animals.
“I call video sales the best of both worlds,” says Larry Schnell of Stockmen’s Livestock Exchange in Dickinson. “You still have an auctioneer involved, so it’s competitive, but at the same time it’s for future delivery, which some people like. It’s just another option.”
Better Genetics, Better Sales
Through sophisticated breeding programs, North Dakota farmers and ranchers today raise higher-quality, more uniform cattle, and that helps sales run smoother.
“We do sell more cattle per hour, because the cattle are more uniform and can be grouped into fewer lots,” Schnell says. “Ranchers have really improved their genetics.”
Livestock auction markets have played their own role in enhancing genetics by holding special sales focused on breeding stock. Buyers now digest detailed genetic and performance information that sales barns list for breeding stock.
“We have a lot of people who might be sitting at home, watching the sale and bidding by computer, because they are watching the numbers so much more,” Kist says. He says that helps the best animals bring higher prices at Kist Livestock, which holds about 30 bull sales per year. “People aren’t afraid to invest in the bulls with better genetics.”
The Computer Age
Technology also keeps information moving much faster during sales.
“Everything is instant now,” says Kist. “When the sale is made in the ring, the office has the numbers. It saves us so much time in keeping the books than before the computer age.”
The information age also placed new tools in the hands of livestock buyers and sellers. Electronic trading of livestock futures contracts can benefit producers who use futures markets to hedge against price swings. With those benefits also come challenges, according to Schnell, whose grandfather started the Dickinson auction market in 1937.
“Today’s cattle markets seem so much more volatile than in the past, which I think is often a detriment for our cow-calf producers,” he says.
Erbele says despite all the technology now used by livestock auctions, the sales ring is no less important.
“It seems the most popular way to buy is to still buy them through the ring, with a bidder that has eyes on the cattle,” he says.
Auctions will keep using all the tools they can to make that sale, helping producers obtain the highest price possible when the auctioneer’s gavel falls.