P.O. Box 887

Three Forks, MT 59752

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Shipping day is arguably one of the biggest days of the year for ranchers. But depending on if you are a buyer, rancher, or representative, shipping day can look a little different. As a cattle buyer this is typically what my shipping day looks like:

It’s 3:15 AM on Friday morning. My alarm is going off, and I have to be 2.5 hours away by 7 AM to weigh 300 head of cattle that were purchased on the Northern Livestock Video by Rose Cattle Company that will be headed north to Canada.

These cattle will be loaded onto 5 local trucks that will go to a receiving station where we will tag and prep them for export into Canada about 5 days after they leave the ranch. Typically cattle stay at receiving stations between 24-48 hours, but in this case, it just worked out with the trucking that they are able to be at the receiving station for 5 days. 

A few things I do in the morning before I get ready to go: 

  1. Go over the contract… again and again. I want to make sure that I know exactly what I am shipping, what my contact information is, and make sure I have the correct directions to the ranch, because we all know how that can go…
  2. On the drive at 5 AM: I give myself time to create a mental game plan. I start to think about who the buyer is, who the rancher is, who the seller is, and how I can sort the cattle to the best of my ability so we can fit the type and kind correctly to what the buyer prefers while still making it an honest trade for the seller 

Once I arrive at the scale, we get the cattle loaded in groups of between 5 – 20. Once the first load is on, we punch the scale ticket for the exact weight, take a headcount, and I always recommend there be two or three people taking notes because it’s too easy to transpose a number.
When a group is unloading, I try and watch each set and see if I notice anything glaring; I look for structure issues, bad eyes, and want to get a good feel for the cattle. There’s usually room to sort on cattle; for example, this time, 316 were brought to the scale, and we knew we were going to ship about 300 based on the contract. Before I go out to the corral to sort, I like to have a good estimate of the total weight, total headcount, and average weight. This gives me a mental idea so when the cattle are passing by one at a time, I have in mind what the average weight of the group is, and Ican assess if the calf is above, below, or right on the average. 

 For example, if the average is 900# and the contract is for 950#, some of those that are really below the average need to come off because they are outliers that simply don’t fall within the parameters of what was agreed upon.  

Personally, I like to run cattle by both sides, so I know that I have really looked over these calves. Some things I look for are: weepy eyes which tell me that the calf is just starting to get pink eye, lumps or bumps that could be concerning, swollen feet, or swollen knees. After that, it really comes up to judgement. Once I have determined that they don’t have any immediate issues, I like to do a quality sort. I want to make sure these cattle fall in the average range and I am giving the buyer what they are expecting.

Once we have finished sorting, we take the off cattle and weigh them back, remove them from the total head count and total weight. You then have your pay weight and your pay head count. This gives you the exact number that you are shipping, the total weight, and the average weight.  

The paperwork begins.  

When I am the buyer: I have to let my trucks know what they are hauling and where they are going.

When I am the seller/representing the cattle: I fill out a buyer’s invoice, seller’s invoice, and trucking slips.

My next step is getting on the phone with the buyer. At this point it is usually around 9:30 AM, and I have already talked with the buyer at least three times that morning. I want to let them know what I’m seeing, how the cattle were sorting up, how I felt about them, whether I thought the cattle were fancy or plain, full or skinny, and just painting a big picture for them so they know exactly what is going to arrive.  

From there, the trucks will call ahead to the receiving station to give them a heads up that they are on their way. In today’s case, the trucks have to go by a scale, so we are really conscious that these trucks are not overweight, especially when they are headed to Canada.  

Once these calves get to the receiving station, they will get 840 electronic ear tags in them and come Tuesday, we will submit a USDA Health Certificate. Once that is approved, the veterinarian will come out, load Canadian trucks that are back hauls from Utah, seal the trucks with metal seals that have to be cut off once they arrive in Canada, and they will head north. 

Often once my portion is done, I go out to eat with the ranchers and we discuss how the shipping went, how everything looked, and just talk cows. It is a big day for the ranchers, and I am always happy to be apart of it no matter which side of the spectrum I fall on that day.

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