Sunday, October 17, 2010

Livestock auction and stockyard design

I was at the livestock auction yesterday and I've always been fascinated by the pen design.  The auction receives animals from many different sellers, and each animal has to be tagged, weighed and sorted prior to the sale. 
This is the first step of the dropoff side; the truck and trailer at the top of the photo is unloading animals.  the fellow in the blue standing at the rear of the trailer is encouraging the animals to exit the trailer. 
Once the animals are off the trailer they're in a maze of pens.  Each pen is formed by a grid of steel posts, with each post having a number of gates attached to it.  Some posts have 2 gates, some four.  The gates are opened or closed to form different sized pens, and into each pen each sellers animals go.  If they need more space they can open a gate between two pens and form a larger pen. 
There are a couple of acres of these pens.  In the photo above there are four different auction lots from four different sellers.  They'll run the animals across the scales one by one and record the weight and either put an eartag in the animal or paste a sticker on the animals back that has a unique number for that particular animal.
Here some cows are being put into the pen at middle left in the photo. 

Once each sellers animals are weighed and tagged they'll be resorted prior to sale, where like animals are grouped together and offered to the sale as a unit.  A uniform group of animals, about the same age and condition, will typically receive a 10 to 20% premium.   This premium in price reflects current farming practices.  It's desirable to have all of your animals mature at the same age to minimize labor and transport costs.  One truck trip instead of several, for instance.  It also allows you to practice "all-in, all-out" management of your facilities.  You'll get a chance between batches of animals to clean your barn or corral or feedlot or whatever, do repairs, or take some time off if you're a small farmer.  Animals require care 7 days a week, and if you're operating a small farm, that means you're working 7 days a week.  Taking a week or two off between groups of animals is a prized break. 
 On the inside, a door opens and a batch of animals comes through.  The auctioneer will either offer them "choice" -- highest bidder gets to pick how many and which animals they take, "x times your money" -- in this case, "3 times your money", where you bid on a per-head basis, but have to buy all three in a lot", or by the cwt, which is a fancy way to say price per hundred pounds.  The number of head, total weight and average weight for the lot are displayed above the auctioneer at the head of the auction, so buyers can use that information in their bid. 
This was a group of little jersey cows; i don't recall if they were bull calves or heifers, but both were represented. 

I was asked to stop taking pictures after these two and I did.  I don't know what the auction house is concerned about, but I respect their property and wishes and complied. 

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