3 trends in livestock auctioneering in 2018

By Nancy Hull Rigdon, contributor

The livestock corner of the auction industry, like many areas, cycles through various phases.

Today, it remains strong, and the future looks bright, leaders in the field say. Let’s examine a few trends at the forefront of the industry.

Outside forces - such as government policies, technology and consumer demands - continue to alter the market.

Genetic engineering of livestock has changed the landscape.

“We would sell a 300lb. calf 15 years ago, and now we’re selling 600-800lb. calves at 12 months of age,” says Tom Frey with Creston Livestock Auctions in Iowa. He is president of the Livestock Marketing Association.

Other commodities have evolved as well. 

“Corn is up to $7 now,” Frey says. “Although $1 pound calves kept more guys on the farm than $7 corn does.”

Droughts through the years have affected cow numbers.

“We’ve built back up to historic levels again, though,” he says. “It all works in a cycle.”

Dairy has struggled recently, due to factors including demand and corporate decisions.

“But I think there is light at the end of the dairy tunnel,” Frey says.

Recent changes in exporting has brought opportunity.

“We’re able to sell our products in a bigger way than we ever used to,” he says.

Frey believes the recent federal government changes with exporting will benefit livestock auctions long-term, despite initial challenges.

“Fair trade is important – it doesn’t matter if you’re selling Chevy cars or cattle, it has to be fair. For the last 75 years, it hasn’t been fair. That’s starting to turn around,” he says.

Animal health can significantly impact livestock sales, and efforts to protect against herd illness outbreaks continue, Frey says. 

Demand for organic beef has increased, but not significantly.

“You still hear about it a lot, but it is not a big issue,” he says.

Also, online auctions have altered livestock sales in some areas of the country. Frey, however, still auctions live a great majority of the time.

The auction method of marketing remains attractive for livestock.

As Izabella Michitsch, LMA Membership Services Coordinator, says, the value of selling at auction “begins before the chant.”

Specifically, the auction method is effective for reasons including:

- Auctions are an opportunity to bring a volume of livestock together.
- Auctioneers help sellers and buyers navigate state and federal livestock transport rules. 
- Auctions allow small and large consignments alike to benefit from buyer demand for quantity.
- Experienced auction staff members add value in areas including sorting, veterinary checks, source, age, preconditioning and other value-added program opportunities.

Want to break into the livestock auction industry? Earning a strong reputation takes time.

Dependability – that’s the most important quality in a livestock Auctioneer, Frey says.

“There are Auctioneers that are great people who want to auction livestock, and they do sound great doing it. But, I don’t trust them selling my customers’ cows because they don’t understand livestock,” he says. “You have to start from the bottom.”

Essentially, if you’re going to auction cattle, you first need to learn about cattle.

“Livestock auctioneering can be a wonderful life. It’s been good to me – but it is hard work,” Frey says.

This article was an excerpt from a presentation given at the 2018 NAA International Auctioneers Conference and Show. Want even more tips regarding this topic? NAA members can access the full audio of this presentation and many others in the NAA Online Education Center.