It’s not just about looks – health status, pedigree and estimated breeding values are all important selection criteria buyers should be using and vendors providing.
By Gwyn Williams, livestock auctioneer and chairman of the Livestock Auctioneers Association
Auction marts and auctioneers are working hard to make sure producers realise the very best price possible for their stock in the sale ring. But most producers could do more, to help create more interest and some lively bidding on their stock.
Auctioneers are only too aware of the financial pressures that beef and dairy producers face and continually strive to realise the very best price for any animal that enters the sale ring – pedigree or not.
There is an increasing amount of information available about animal performance (both potential and historical) and health status, and indeed many breed societies, for whom we act, are making entry to their sale conditional upon breeders being members of health schemes. Some bemoan the time involved in membership breed evaluation and health schemes, and I am aware of the time pressures breeders face, but they must realise that the information, once collated, can be a very valuable marketing tool.
It is a relatively simple matter to publicise information for pedigree sales, as it comes with the pedigree information for publication in the sale catalogue. More purchasers at pedigree sales are studying the information provided, but many buyers, who may not be aware of the relevance of much of the figures, still rely on how an animal looks when bidding.
I often see both beef and dairy cattle in the ring that look great on paper, but don’t attract a lot of attention because they’re not particularly easy on the eye.
But more often than not my frustration comes from having an animal in the ring that’s a looker and sells for a fair price, but I know it would have attracted more bids if only we’d had some more information about that animal – perhaps something about its pedigree, the health status of the herd it came from, or its estimated breeding value (EBV).
At our weekly sales of commercial store and breeding stock, all auctioneers display any information that we are given about an animal, as well as publishing it in pre-sale advertisements, catalogues and auction lists, and will even make mention of it as an animal comes into the ring just prior to the starting bid. It all helps to create a stir and some fierce bidding. But, in many instances, that information is either not available or not passed to auctioneers. It may be, of course, that the information may not be helpful to the sale of a particular animal.
That said, there’s a hard core of producers and buyers who will continue to “judge a book by it’s cover’ and will always be swayed by what they see – rather than pedigrees, figures or status on paper. But I think, over time, more breeders and purchasers will realise the importance of having such information about stock and understand it’s importance, particularly with regard to health issues.
We are certainly seeing more interest both on the beef and dairy side, as producers look to buy stock that’s from high health status herds. They don’t want to introduce insidious and devastating diseases – BVD, IBR or Johne’s – to their herds and they will want to see paperwork, assurances and accreditations. Growth rates, calving ease and conversion rates are important tools for the beef producer, and milk records can also help to generate interest and push up the sale price of what can sometimes be very ordinary looking dairy cows.
Encouraging buyers to move away from selecting on characteristics other than looks is all down to vendors supplying more information about their stock. If we have that information, we do push it out there. We make it easily accessible and showcase it along with the animal itself. I’d like to see a time when buyers are more suspicious about an animal that doesn’t have an EBV, milk records, a pedigree or any information about the health status of the herd it came from. The same could be said about genomics – if it’s information that people trust and have confidence in then it’s information that we want to share with interested potential buyers.
In my view, key to realising a good price is information and the more information we have, the more interest in an animal we can generate. The more interest we can generate, the higher the sale price.
• Find out more about EBV’s and using genetic selection to match your enterprise in the New Smithfield workshops held in the two-acre Livestock Hall at the Dairy Event and Livestock Show on 6 and 7 September. Find out more about the show at www.fwi.co.uk/dels