Buyer preferences on cattle a moving target

Ray Mueller

Waldo - What kind of cattle do buyers at auction markets want?

From the perspective of Leo Amend, the market manager for the Equity Livestock Sales Cooperative at Lomira, there's no standard answer to that question.

Leo Amend

Speaking at the 2017 cattle feeders clinic sponsored by the Extension Service, Amend warned cattle finishers that “you can be crucified” by the buying decisions of the major packers such as Tyson, IBP, and JBS.

Tyson was once an active buyer at the auction markets but is not today while IBP was looking for a 75/25 ratio of colored breed and Holstein steers only to encounter a 25/75 ratio of the two instead, Amend indicated. At the moment, IBP is not looking for Holstein steers either, he noted.

At Packerland Packing in Green Bay, now owned by the Brazil-based JBS, the preference is for Holstein steers with a boxy frame with a limit on weights while Dressed Beef, also in Green Bay, is much more willing to take the heavier steers, Amend reported. He noted that JBS also owns slaughter plants in Michigan and Pennsylvania that take Holstein steers.

Whatever the potential buyers are doing, Amend called on growers of Holstein steers to realize that they need to feed a substantial amount of corn to their animals in order to improve their rate of gain for a quicker finishing timetable. He finds that too often the steers are being fed as if they are dairy cows.

Amend also pointed out that the market for steers in Wisconsin differs greatly from that in most other parts of the country. One recent short phenomenon in several of Equity's auction markets in Wisconsin was the presence of a buyer looking for cross-bred steers, possibly destined for a slaughter plant in Nebraska, he believes.

At the moment, Amend is bothered by the recent top of the line dressed weight price spread of up to 45 cents per pound between beef breed and Holstein steers. He hopes it will narrow to between 10 and 12 cents in the coming weeks and months.