Oroville, Calif., rancher Steve Lambert tries to remain optimistic amid a West Coast cattle market that producers describe as mixed.
“It’s been OK,” said Lambert, owner of Lambert Ranches. “I don’t think it’s high by any means, but it hasn’t been horrible. People are optimistic with the rains. Cattlemen are always pretty optimistic.”
Lambert’s seven bulls were among 262 auctioned off Jan. 25 at the Red Bluff Bull and Gelding Sale. This year’s sales totaled just under $1.179 million, edging the nearly $1.15 million collected for 302 bulls at last year’s auction.
This year’s average bull price was $4,498.09, topping last year’s average of $3,805.63 per bull. Fittingly, Lambert’s first bull – Gunslinger 9F – sold for $5,000.
“So far, they’re doing OK,” Lambert said as he waited to enter the arena. “When it gets tricky is in the middle and the end.”
The top-selling bull was an Angus sold by HAVE Angus in Wilton, Calif., to Camas Prairie Angus Ranch of Grangeville, Idaho, for $13,000. Last year’s highest-selling bull went for $28,000.
The 79th bull sale capped off nearly a week of livestock auctions and events at the Tehama District Fairgrounds in Red Bluff, Calif., including the 12th annual online feeder and replacement heifer sale on Jan. 23, sales of stock dogs, geldings and mules on Jan. 24 and a big trade show, seminars and numerous other attractions.
The series of auctions is one of the West’s largest livestock gatherings and is one of the season’s later opportunities for a producer to find the right catalyst for fall calving.
“It’s like a big family here – lots of camaraderie,” said consigner Ron Brocco, of Brocco Show Cattle in Sonoma, Calif. “They do a good job, especially with cattle marketing for us. They work hard.”
The bull sale comes as the nationwide beef cow inventory likely peaked last year at 31.8 million head after growing since 2014. Normal culling rates on a larger herd pushed beef cow slaughter up during the year to an estimated 3.1 million head, the most since 2013, according to industry experts.
Prices have been affected by having more cattle and calves in the market as well as by higher feed costs caused by flooding and the late crops in the Corn Belt. While beef production typically peaks a year or more after beef cow numbers, production in 2020 is expected to grow by less than 1 percent.
One of the biggest attractions of the week in Red Bluff is the stock dog sale, which in 2018 saw a pair of female border collies sell for a record $30,000 apiece. Crowds line the fences surrounding a grassy area where contestants show their skills at moving cattle into a trailer a few hours before the sale.
This year’s top dog went for $16,000 to Carther Rice of Alberta, Canada. In all, 17 dogs fetched a total of $104,500 – an average of $6,147. That’s just short of the $6,882 price average for 17 dogs in 2019.
Bids opened for the week at the online cattle sale sponsored by Western Video Market in Cottonwood, Calif. About 75 lots were sold, with weaned heifers topping out at $180 per hundredweight and weaned steers selling for as much as $198 per hundredweight. Both high bids topped last year’s $171 and $197, respectively.
The 66 horses auctioned on Jan. 24 collected a total of $796,400, edging the 2019 total of $785,850 for 63 horses. This year’s most expensive horse sold for $30,000 to Renee Jackson of Tuscarora, Nev.