From the Ground Up: Ranchers: When Do I Sell?

Published: Apr. 30, 2020 at 7:52 AM CDT
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The slowdown in beef processing around the country due to the Coronavirus has caused a slip in calf prices that has put many ranchers plans to market their calves on hold. For those beef producers the question becomes how long do I wait to sell or sometimes how long can I wait? Pete Scarmardo is a rancher and cattle buyer.

“If you’ve got these cattle out on grass pastures, you do have a little more of a window on when to market these cattle. So, a lot of people are trying to keep these cattle and they’re trying to, if they have available forage, they’re trying to get these cattle larger to where they have more pounds to sell.”

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Economist David Anderson says that ranchers do have some limiting factors.

“One of them’s grass. We’re still in April as we speak today so hopefully we’ve got some more fronts coming through to bring some more rainfall but sooner or later grass becomes our limiting factor and we want to hold that grass for the cow herd, not necessarily for those calves that we’re hanging on to.”

Anderson says another is the size of the calf.

“One of the other things that happens in our local markets really all over the state, once those calves get over eight hundred pounds, we see some really sharp price decline. There’s just not a lot of buyer interest to prevent prices from declining on those heavy weight animals and so you don’t want to keep them too long.”

Scarmardo expects a spike in the numbers of calves being sold in upcoming weeks.

“We’ll see a pretty big surge of cattle coming off here in May and early June off of some wheat, rye grass and winter pastures, but after that I think we’ll see very slow marketing period on our calves coming to market just because of the price.”

Scarmardo says as long as ranchers own the calves, there’s hope to maybe recover more dollars from them.

“But whenever they finally decide to sell them, then that’s what they’ve got left to go to the banker with and try to pay their note and right now if it continues to be this way there’s going to be some of those people that are not going to have enough dollars to pay their notes and some of them could start to be getting into more of a financial bind.