Successful feeder calf sale at West Branch

Beef calves sold well at the annual West Branch Feeder Calf Sale. Prices paid reflect the value that feedlot producers place on the quality of cattle offered.

On October 24, when auctioneer Col. Bill Sheridan hammered down the gavel for the last time, 701 head of feeder cattle from northeast Michigan had been sold to buyers as far away as Nebraska. This was the 73rd Annual West Branch Feeder Calf Sale and the reputation of the cattle sold here is solid.

Sale day was wet, especially right after 4 inches of rain was received the previous day, but Sale Association president, Kevin Small said: “consignors did an excellent job keeping the cattle comfortable. They looked extremely good for the conditions.” Buyers must have felt so too, as Small said, the sale was “Very good; producers were pretty satisfied. Again,” he said, “cattle sold out-of-state to repeat buyers.”

All calves are guaranteed; heifers are guaranteed open and steers are guaranteed properly castrated. Buyers have complimented the quality of the West Branch calves and the vaccination program, saying “if a calf shows signs of sickness, they respond quickly to treatment.”

All cow-calf producers who consign cattle to the sale must follow the pre-conditioning agreement for this sale. Requirements include that calves must be weaned at least 30 days by sale date and all consignors follow the same vaccination protocol in which calves are double vaccinated for IBR, BVD, PI3, BRSV, Pasteurella, H. Somnus and 7 types of Clostridia by two weeks before sale date.

A total of 489 steers sold, averaging 575 lbs. These calves averaged 10 lbs. more than in 2016 and this year’s calves were the heaviest of the past five years of records; 43 lbs. more than the low in 2014. Bids topped out at $1.72 per lb. and averaged $1.61 for calves between 450 and 699 lbs.

Two hundred and two heifer calves sold, averaging 503 lbs., down from last year’s high but 11 lbs. heavier than in 2014. Prices paid for these calves were as high as $1.60 per lb. For heifer calves 400 – 599 lbs., the average price paid was $1.52.

The West Branch Feeder Calf Association has put together and managed this sale for 73 years. They own and maintain the sale yard and work to improve it. In 2015 electronic scales were added to ensure accuracy in cattle weights. The same year, for the first time, the auction was broadcast live over the internet so that buyers could watch and bid on-line from anywhere. The sale continues to work with an auction company to provide real-time live auction over the internet.

These improvements, and the performance of the cattle when moved to feedlots, continue to build the confidence that buyers have in the cattle sold. This year, 25 cow-calf producers or backgrounders brought cattle to the sale.

The cow-calf business has been through a roller-coaster of prices in recent years from the high in 2014 when pens of steers sold as high as $2.80/ lb., approximately $1 more per lb. than the previous year. Then prices dropped in 2016 to around $1.41 per lb. for steers under 500 lbs.

Managing a beef cow-calf herd as a business is therefore challenging. Michigan State University Extension Educators work with cow-calf producers to help them with herd management as sale activities.

Beef producers throughout the state provide economic stimulus in the rural parts of the state. As an example, this year’s West Branch Sale brought in more than $600,000 to rural northeast Michigan either from other areas of the state or even from out-of-state. Beef cattle gain weight and value while using land for grazing that is not well-suited to other types of agriculture, consuming forages that humans cannot digest.

Throughout the rural areas of the state, many people raise beef cattle, either as a part-time occupation or as their full-time job. These producers are conscious of and work to ensure high quality food for the American consumer. Michigan State University AgBioResearch and Extension stands with them, providing research results and valued guidance.

Did you find this article useful?