The Livestock Auctioneers' Association Limited (LAA)

Information figures in realising sale-ring price potential

29th July 2011

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 producers could do more, in many instances, to help create more interest and some lively bidding on their stock, says Cheshire-based livestock auctioneer and chairman of the Livestock Auctioneers Association Gwyn Williams.

Margins are tight on many beef and dairy units and livestock sales, particularly pedigree cattle, are a welcome additional - and in many cases essential - stream of income for many producers. Auctioneers are only too aware of the financial pressures that producers face and that many have high hopes for their stock, be they sold at market or in a farm sale. In fact auctioneers share that pressure 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 breeders bemoan the time involved in membership of 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. Although we see an increasing number of purchasers at pedigree sales studying the information provided, many buyers, however, who may not be aware of the relevance of much of the information provided, still rely on how an animal looks when bidding.

It is true to say that 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 will 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 not available or not passed to auctioneers. It may be, of course, that the information may not be helpful to the proposed sale of a particular animal!

That said, that 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, such as BVD, IBR or Johnes', 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 have and 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.

That creates a 'win-win-win' situation. The auctioneer's happy they feel they've got the best price possible for an animal - and the vendor will also be satisfied with a price that reflects the 'quality' of the animal. And the buyer will be happy too - they'll have a good idea of how the animal will perform and whether or not it poses a disease risk to the rest of their herd.

Access to more data and information would, ultimately, remove some of the guesswork and risk out of buying stock and result in far fewer disappointed vendors and buyers. It would make my job somewhat easier - and less frustrating - too.

LAA article for Farmers Weekly
Interviewee: Gwyn Williams
Author: Rachael Porter