It is always hard to get the calves ready for the cattle auction. This means rounding them up, taking the calves from their mothers, and loading them up on a trailer and hauling them down to the Cattleman’s Livestock Auction in Belen, New Mexico. As I know every cow and every calf and mine are more like pets than a way to make a living, it is doubly hard for me to get in the spirit of a rancher’s annual pay day.
Gather The Cattle for the Auction:
Our cows are simple enough to gather. Shake a feed sack at them and they come running for their treats. Once we get all of the cows and calves into the corral, we shut the gate and they are caught. Now, it is a matter of separating the calves and culls from the ones who will stay behind.
By working the gates, we move one or two cows or calves into the alley. From there, they are shooed out to pasture or into a second corral. The calves are heavy, anywhere from 300 to 850 pounds. There are a total of 18, 9 heifers and 9 steers. Most years it does not balance out so close, but this year it did.
Arriving at the Cattle Auction:
When you get to Cattleman’s Livestock Auction, you present the person unloading the livestock with your brand card. The brand card is issued by the State of New Mexico and every cow must be branded before you can legally sell them. You can take your cattle in at any time during the week, including the day of the sale. My personal preference is to take them the day before the sell. The cattle are sold at auction in the order they are received. So taking them early means they will sell earlier in the day.
You pull your trailer forward so the back gate can be closed and that will direct the cattle into the first holding pen. Usually, a band inspector is on hand to check for the brands as the cattle are unloaded. You can ask for anything special, like to pregnancy test a cow while the cowboys place number on the cattle. You are then given a receipt for the cattle you consign to the auction.
Selling your Cattle at the Auction:
You do not have to be present when your livestock are sold. You can return the day after the sell to pick up your check or you can have it mailed to you. I prefer watching the animals sell. Some people might think that with over 1800 head of cattle sold at the auction, you would never be able to spot your own cows. However, just like dogs, each cow, calf and bull has its own uniqueness. It is like knowing which dog or child is yours. You can go up on the catwalk above the pens of all the animals that are for sell. When we went up, we spotted ours in Pen Number 7. This would put our calves selling later in the day than the pens towards the back. In fact, our animals sold around 4 in the afternoon.
Sorting The Cattle At the Auction
When you take 18 calves in a group, they will be sorted before they enter the ring. The steers are separated from the heifers and they can be further separated smaller groups so the sizes are more matched. Our 18 calves were sorted into 5 groups. Several calves sold as singles and most of the heifers went in two groups. This helps you in a number of ways. The auction house will sort the animals so that they will bring the best price possible as the auction receives a commission on the sale.
Each cattle auction has a slightly different set up. The Clovis Livestock Auction in Clovis New Mexico, has a scale built into the ring. When the livestock enter the ring, you can see how much they weigh immediately. At the Cattleman’s Livestock Auction in Belen, the scale is located in the pen after the ring. It is always interesting to see how much your livestock weigh as that is how most are sold, by the hundred weight.
Cattle Auction Sale Time
The auctioneer will open the bidding by calling out a number based on what the market is running. People who are interested in bidding will raise their hand. The number will go up until the animal is sold. The animal then goes on to the scales where it is weighed, then on to the buyer’s pen where all of his animals are held until he is ready to settle his bill, load them up and haul them home.
After The Cattle Auction
After your cattle are sold at the auction, it takes about 30 minutes for the paperwork to be completed and your check to be ready. You just walk up to the counter in the office, tell them who you are, and they hand you your annual check for your cattle sales.
It is then time to head for home. Be ready to listen to a night of cattle calling for their calves. For the first 24 to 48 hours, the cows will be hunting for their offspring and it always makes me sad to know the baby calves are gone. I just have to remember that those calves had to be sold to buy food for their mothers and that very soon, new calves will be hitting the ground.
You cannot hold onto every calf, no matter how much you want to. If you let the calf stay with its mother indefinitely, it will hurt the one in its mother’s womb by stealing nutrition that is needed for the final months of the pregnancy. Thus, another year in the cycle of the ranch draws to a close. Soon, the new calves will be coming and pastures will once again by full of playing babies and watchful mother cows.