Call the Market

By ShayLe Stewart
DTN Livestock Analyst

The famous quote from Dwight D. Eisenhower, "Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you're a thousand miles from the corn field," has been weighing heavy on my heart the last couple of weeks. Whether you're a farmer or a rancher, there's no one who couldn't relate to that statement. Theoretically, things should go as planned throughout the year, life should be grand and making your payments is just a matter of management, right?

Wrong, very wrong.

Farmers and ranchers are slapped with new challenges, harsh winters, flooding, poor crops and a down market frequently, so the more conversation we can have about preparing for the upcoming hurdles will only help smooth out some of the bumps that could come along the way.

For the sake of this piece, let's focus on the cow-calf producers: They head into their busy season as cattlemen in the North are calving and cattlemen in the South are starting to breed their cows.

Have you ever noticed in the midst of hustling in your busy season that you tend to revert to how you always did things because you are pressured for time? The problem with that mindset is that you neglect to change key factors that could benefit your operation and forgo the opportunity to implement the new ideas because time is limited.

There are three key questions that you may want to ask yourself before getting too far into this year's planning: 1) Have you called and talked with last year's buyer? 2) Have you set a marketing plan and strategy for this year's set of calves that you have to market? 3) With breeding season being on the edge of everyone's mind, is there anything you need to change in regards to your genetics or timing there?

One thing that can be very beneficial is talking to the buyer/stocker/feeder who bought your calves last year. If you don't retain ownership through the entire process, it's hard to know how you can improve the product for everyone involved.

Ask the buyers how the calves fed: Were they efficient in their average daily gains? Did they like the preconditioning program you used? Or is there a better protocol your customers would like to see you using? How did the cattle's feet hold up when they were near finished? Was there any major disappointments in the kill data? You may be able to interest the customer in buying your calves again and learn a couple of things that ultimately makes your calves more desirable.

I know it's only February, but the early summer consigned calf sales have a way of sneaking up on everyone. Have you thought about what your marketing strategy should be for this year? Are you going to put your calves in an early sale? Are you going to hold off until the fall market? Should you only sell a portion of your calves and hold onto the others until Jan. 1? All of this is to serve as food for thought. How can you set your operation up to secure more profits this year? Calling and talking to your local buyers and sale barn managers now can be very insightful as to how they see your local region trading calves this upcoming summer.

Lastly, with breeding season on the cusp of everyone's mind, are there any big changes you need to make to next year's calf crop? If you were able to chat with your buyer, did he say your calves fed well and to keep using the genetics you have been? Did suggest crossbreeding? Or, is there a time in the year when you should be calving? What are your expenses of calving for the time of year you chose versus calving later in the year and selling lighter calves?

Cattlemen have a lot to manage. There's no doubt that they work longer and harder than any 40-hour week. But, if ranchers aren't asking themselves these questions now, they won't have the opportunity to put the pen to paper and think about how they could better position themselves in their marketing strategy to capture more profits.

Securing profits shouldn't be overlooked and running operational costs should be done down to the decimal point. Taking the time to keenly think and plan for the upcoming calf market is essential.

ShayLe Stewart can be reached at


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