• Georgie Smith

What to Know BEFORE Going to a Cattle Auction



Cattle auctions are thrilling.


Sawdust, donuts and a cup of tepid coffee. Multiple sales rings, fast-talking auctioneers and restless, bawling cows. Bids coming fast and furious.


It's auction day and it's easy to get caught up in the auction adrenaline! Before you know it, you're coming home with two adorable Jersey bull calves you didn't even mean to bid on. Thank goodness they're small and will fit in the back seat because you didn't bring the trailer!


Cattle auctions can be a great place to make purchases for your growing farm and ranch. But, they can also encourage an "oops" moment or impulse buy you'll end up regretting. Before you leave for your first cattle auction, it's prudent to understand how auctions work and keep a few "golden rules" in mind.


Different Types of Cattle Auctions


Typically, auction houses hold "regular sales" and "special sales" auctions.


Regular sales are usually held each week (or month) at a specific date and time. They attract all different types of animals. You may see dairy bull calves or dairy cull cows, finished beef, dairy replacement heifers or even starter herds. You'll also typically see other animals, like sheep, goats, poultry and even rabbits. Regular sales tend to be a crapshoot for what's there, which isn't helpful if you're looking for something specific, but prices can be reasonable.


Special sales are set at times by the auction house and advertised. Sellers usually know they are coming up, so they will save animals specific for that sale. If you are looking for higher-quality beef cattle for a starter herd, attend a beef cattle special sales auction.


The other type of cattle auction worth paying attention to is breed-specific auctions. These are held by breed organizations and are an excellent place to purchase superior genetic animals. These auctions are typically held in regional areas on a rotating basis. Some of the rarer breeds might have only one auction a year. To learn about these auction opportunities, follow the breed organizations you are interested in.


Know What You are Looking for Before You Go to a Cattle Auction


Having a plan and doing your research before you go to auction can't be said enough! That auction "adrenaline" has sucked in many a buyer "just going to look" into coming home with a flock of chickens and an angora rabbit of dubious quality.


Think carefully about what livestock your farm needs, what your budget is and give yourself permission to walk away with NO purchases made. If you're buying cattle, make sure you understand what your goals are.


If you're looking to purchase a starter herd, be picky! What breed or type of cow you want? What traits are you looking for? Are the animals you would be purchasing worthy of breeding stock? How do they fit your breeding goals? Check out our post "Livestock Best Breeding Practices" for more information.


Always keep your ultimate goal in mind and weigh that against your auction options (and budget!). To get an idea of cattle prices, check the USDA's auction reports from across the country. Although this list doesn't usually inc