BEEF Daily

What Do You Look For At A Cattle Sale? Plus Win Heat Holders® Socks


Today we ask what producers look for at a cattle sale. Two winning commenters will receive a pair of Heat Holders® socks.

I spent Monday afternoon at a seedstock producer’s dispersal sale. After a few tough years, this operator’s lifetime of dedication, hard work and passion had come down to one final sale. Watching the cow-calf pairs, bred heifers and herd bulls run through the ring aroused conflicting emotions in me. On one hand, it was sad to think that a fruitful career was drawing to a close, but it was also exciting to have the opportunity to continue the progress by adding some of these great genetics to our herd.

On Monday, I mentioned that we have 10 pairs of Heat Holders® socks to give away this week, and we will be doing so with a question-of-the-day type contest. Two readers will be randomly selected each day to win a pair of these socks, which are marketed as being the warmest thermal socks in the world. The claim is that Heat Holders are more than 7x warmer than regular cotton socks and 3x warmer than ordinary thermal socks. It’s just what a lot of producers will need to deal with the cold temps just around the corner.


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Now, on to the contest. Yesterday, we asked what factors go into a cow-culling decision. Our two winners are Bo and Kickin It In The Sticks.

Bo writes, “Talking about culling cows, I’ve never been a fan of pulling bulls out in a certain amount of days. I do like the idea of having all the calves in a certain amount of days, though. In my opinion, when you pull your bulls out, then you’re opening a door to have a cow non-bred. That’s cutting your throat. I suggest leaving bulls with cows until they start calving. Then all cows have the best chance to breed. If you have a cow or cows that don’t calve in your time frame, then sell her. She will bring a lot more money as a bred cow than an open cow. You’re going through all the motions anyway, so why not get the most money out your already investment? My opinion of a cull cow is one that has a bad udder, a bad body structure, poor performance, and a bad disposition. If they don’t breed back in a timely matter, just sell them.”

Kickin It In the Sticks writes, “Some of the top considerations for me when culling a cow include:

- Conformation/soundness

- Milking ability

- Mothering ability

- Calf growth (birth weight, weaning weight, yearling weight)

- Disposition

- Forage utilization of the cow

- Frame size

- Body score

- Age

- AI settlement

- Birthing ease

“A good cow will raise her calf to have great potential due to her mothering ability, and therefore leaves the farmer with a greater opportunity to have a higher profit from his/her calf crop,” Kickin It In The Sticks says.

As I watched the close of the dispersal sale yesterday, it came to me that today’s question for reader input should be, “What do you look to buy at a female sale?” In other words, what makes a good replacement cow or addition to the herd? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below to be entered to win a pair of Heat Holders socks. Winners will be announced tomorrow.


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Discuss this Blog Entry 19

Phil A. (not verified)
on Oct 28, 2013


It depends what type of sale I am at. If it is a papered sale I always have my short list when I arrive and that is based solely on numbers and pedigree. We usually buy 2-3 registered deals per year just to keep building from. I do not mind so much on these I will buy heifers or cows. If the cow has a calf at side with some age she has to be bred back I do not want to buy a 6 mo old calf and the cow be empty. Most of our cows are simply commercial deals and you usually do not have as much data to work with on these. For commercials I like to buy heifers which have been calved in and ready to go. In an ideal world those heifers would have a bull calve on them. My problem with older cows in a commercial deal is I feel those cows have been sorted and the not so fancy ones are what are coming through the ring. Once I sort out the heifers then udder, tempermant, phenotype come in to play. I refuse to buy a questionable udder on a heifer.
Was at a sale today bought fall pairs Heifers with Bull calf at side for right at $1800 calves where about 40 days old or so. These were Angus with Angus calf at side. Nice phenotype great udders from this producers temperment not bad one a little questionable but she unloaded in pasture just like a pet.

Phil A.

Rocky Top Farm (not verified)
on Oct 29, 2013

We usually do not buy females. I have had better luck raising my own that are accustomed to our environment. I have bought a few in the past and had varying results. Most seed stock sales have pampered cattle and when they get here they have to survive on grass and minerals only

Meadows Ranch (not verified)
on Oct 29, 2013

I look for a cow that fits in with the rest of my heard. (1) age, about 4 to 5 years old, size (about 1300 to1400 lbs), (3) udder(a good milker), (4) and a good disposition, I also look at her calf if it is with her. I like a medium to large cow because she will be worth more when sold at the end of her production years. Also larger cows usually have larger calves.

avatar (not verified)
on Oct 29, 2013

Yes, but you can't run as many large cows on the same acreage. Think about things per operation, not per cow.

Dennis L (not verified)
on Oct 29, 2013

I look for a good reputation breeder who will help you out in time of trouble.Look for sound udder, feet and structure. Need a female who can keep her weight ,breed back and raise a above average herd progency. Disposition is important for safety, easier maintain and offspring should be the same if bred right.

bob neese (not verified)
on Oct 29, 2013

I'm at the point where my registered herd is close to being "closed". However, I will occasionally add a new cow family from a reputable breeder, mostly from a dispersal or "mature cow herd dispersal" sale.
I'll consider any age of structurally correct, good-footed, slick-haired, good-uddered, moderate to smaller sized cow, with a posted production record. That record needs to reveal a 12 month calving interval and above average weaning ratios. If she has a calf at side, it should be correct, balanced, slick, well cared for and showing more potential than most of it's contemporaries.
If, an older cow, with daughters in the herd, the way those daughters have turned out, phenotypically, and produced, will be relevant to the selection decision. A couple of our best, nearly 50 years running, cow families, originated with eight to ten year old cows, purchased through dispersals.
An "Open and Ready to Flush" cow, I would give just one look....for the purpose of seeing if she's at least a condition score "8" and if I think she'll weigh under or over a ton.

M (not verified)
on Oct 29, 2013

We run commercial cows and typically the female sales I end up at are bred heifer & cow sales in Jan & Feb. Price dictates all, paying too much in the beginning can sometimes make that cow's entire life a loss no matter what she does with her calf. If price is tolerable, then 1. Disposition 2. Calving time frame (AI or bull bred, etc.). All other traits to me are important, but these 3 are really the only ones that matter. If the price is right and I can handle them, I can make them work.

Concerning cull cow discussion of yesterday: I cull all bad disposition problems (jumpers, wild, fence crawlers, calf or man killers, etc) no matter what. If I cannot handle them, they do me no good. Bad udders go down the road regardless, I do not have time to get calves sucking. Next I look at the calf they raise, that's what pays me, period. All other factors (age, BCS, milk, etc) will be reflected in the calf. I have many cows in my herd that raise great calves that may be thin, may be old, may not look good but the calf weighs up and that's what matters. I have sold many great looking, pretty cows with everything going for them, but the calf is poor. You feed and take care of that cow for a year, only revenue to pay for that is what you get from the calf right?? The calf they raise is ALL that matters.

Frank Schlichting (not verified)
on Oct 29, 2013

Interesting that yesterday the topic was what do you look for in a cull? Today the topic is what are you looking for when you buy replacements. Many times they are the same cow! You have problems with a cow , it goes to the sale and someone else buys your problem.

Unless you are buying from a dispersal I wouldn't recommend ever buying replacements at the auction. Maybe the cow looks nice but you don't know if she had calving problems, is a fence crawler or what she was bred to. Add to that there is also the risk of introducing disease into your herd. At the very least you are buying from the bottom end of someone else's herd. You are far better off in the long run to select replacements from your own herd, that way you know exactly what you are getting and you are selecting from the top end of a herd........not the bottom.

Justin Whitley (not verified)
on Oct 29, 2013

First of all, I don't like buying open cows/heifers. At these dispersal sales you have no way of knowing why they aren't pregnant and it's a gamble if they'll get pregnant for you. I like to buy guaranteed pregnant or at least a cow with a calf by her side. She also has to fit within my current set calving season. I don't want to have to move things around just for one cow.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Oct 29, 2013

Like several other people who commented, we pretty much raise our own cows now. But when we did buy from dispersal sales, we looked for disposition, frame, good square udders, etc. I believe my list pretty well echoes Bob's requirements.

J. Stauffacher (not verified)
on Oct 29, 2013

We all are basically looking for the same qualities, more or less, the priority order will vary between producers. Price and disposition weigh in heavily for us.

South Wind (not verified)
on Oct 29, 2013

Usually we buy bred heifers when we buy. I look at pedigree and EPD's. I try to buy the sisters or first cousins of the high selling animals at 60% of the high price. I've done it both ways and find the production of the high priced female has never been what I hoped while the one I bought to fill out the load is still there 10 years later.

Dawn (not verified)
on Oct 29, 2013

I have a handful of commercial cows that I retain my replacements. My commercial cows get culled for mostly age related problems. My last load to the sale barn had a beautiful cow with a 2 month heifer calf that was learning all her mama's fence crawling skills. I did not cry when they left.
I am just now looking for a registered show heifer. I want her to be feminine, sound of body and mind with a pedigree packed with solid females with a history of production.

Caleb (not verified)
on Oct 29, 2013

When I am buying replacement females I look for animals that have good structure, are stout bodied, and feminine fronted. When I'm look ping at cows they absolutely must have good udders. I look at EPDs, calving interval, and production record as well, but they need to have the look that will put more pounds on calves

Tami (not verified)
on Oct 29, 2013

I'm a commercial breeder, I like to buy cows/heifers that are breed and have came from the same type of environment that I run on because I have bought cattle in the past from other areas where they have been raised on lush pasture grass, hay or grains and I get the cattle home and they are expected to survive on native grasses and hay during the dry season, these cattle think their throats have been cut and just fall apart. I want to purchase cows/heifers that have a good frame, utters and a good disposition because of the elderly help that I have working with me during the calving season and their safety with "ronchie" cattle.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Oct 29, 2013

I always buy from a reputable breeder of both Angus registered and commercial cows or heifers. I look at genetics, EPD's, age, udders, calf or no calf, number of pregnancies, disposition, and overall conformation to match our herd.

Sunny (not verified)
on Oct 29, 2013

At dispersal sales I have always favored older cows. They are more affordable, and have obviously done a lot of good things for a lot of years to still be in the herd. They must be bred and sound, but then I just hope to get a few daughters to carry on the longevity. I don't consider any cattle with any hint of a disposition problem - I don't need the stress. Now we keep replacements out of our own herd, but bought aged cows a few years back to start a registered herd to complement our commercial herd. Many of the 10+ year old cows we purchased are still here and producing five years later.

Joyce (not verified)
on Oct 30, 2013

When buying replacement cows I always buy from individuals that I know fairly well. I look for young cows with good formation to their udders and slender tits and the build or size of the cow. I also look at the mannerism of the cow and try to find out her overall health such as if she has trouble with her feet, or other health issues. I try and find out why the seller is selling the cows he has choosen to sell.

W.E. (not verified)
on Oct 30, 2013

Much like Sunny & Rocky Top, we have a mostly closed herd of registered cows raised on grass, unpampered, and very well adapted to our environment after many decades. We no longer look at cows that are developed very far north and west of here because they generally can't cope with the fescue, heat and humidity of our transition zone climate. If we do bring in a new cow, she needs to be an exceptional proven producer. We look for a cow that calves unassisted, weans half her weight or better and rebreeds on time for a 365 day calving interval, sound and trouble-free in every way. The best investments we have made have been older cows that fit that description, from eight to eleven years old, that have proven their ability to produce herd bulls and successful replacement heifers. Each of them has left a legacy in our herd.

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BEEF Daily Blog is produced by rancher Amanda Radke, one of the U.S. beef industry’s top social media “agvocates.”


Amanda Radke

Amanda Radke is a fifth generation rancher from Mitchell, S.D., who has dedicated her career to serving as a voice for the nation’s beef producers. A 2009 graduate of South Dakota State...

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