- Kendra R. Shatswell
Goats at Auction
Livestock auctions might be unfamiliar territory to some breeders while others have utilized them for the entirety of their breeding program. A livestock auction can be the best market for meat kids, culls, or for those times a breeder needs to make an immediate sale.
How it Works – The Basics Very simply, you bring in the animals. You give the workers your contact information and receive a copy of that ticket that serves to both catalog what you have brought in and as a way to pick up your check later. The sale barn auctions the goats for you, usually to an audience that includes both meat buyers and individuals, and charges you a fee for this service, which is deducted from your check.
In the United States, goats must be included in the National Scrapie Eradication Program, a program that makes it possible to track where animals have been and their herd of origin in case of a positive scrapie case, with the goal of eventually eliminating the disease. Read more at the National Scrapie Eradication Program page on the USDA website. Goats brought to auction receive a small scrapie ear tag, usually metal. While tattoos are acceptable for transporting and selling goats outside of an auction, they cannot be the “sole form of official ID for animals moving to slaughter or through a livestock market” – according to the USDA Factsheet for the scrapie program. To my knowledge, all livestock auctions must provide a scrapie tag - note this is not the case in small livestock swaps, where the owner is selling the animals and they are not being auctioned – in this case, the owner must provide a form of scrapie identification or the animal cannot legally be sold.
In the Ring
Goats are sold by the pound or by the head. Meat kids (including both meat and dairy breeds intended for eventual slaughter) are usually sold by the pound. That means the animal is weighed and the auctioneer opens with a price per pound. For example, the bidding might start at $2.25 a pound on a 60lb kid. A “take-home” animal – usually meaning one that is considered breeding stock quality might sell by the head, not by the pound. For example, the bidding on a quality bred doe might start at a price of $200 and go from there. Exceedingly young goats, like bottle babies, or small animals like Pygmies might also sell by the head. It is a good idea to attend a sale and see what the preferred minimum weight is to sell kids by the head - in my area, anything under 40lb will be sold by the head rather than by the pound. (Just a note that many auctioneers and folks attending auctions will call any small goat a pygmy.) Sick or lame animals might also sell by the head, for a rock-bottom price, often to individuals or by the sale barn if no other buyer is interested. These animals purchased by the sale barn might go directly to slaughter or might be placed into a holding facility or feedlot to sell later. Dairy-breed kids will usually bring less per pound than meat-breed kids because buyers don't expect them to grow as well on the same diet as meat kids. Families (does with young, unweaned kids) are typically sold by the head, often for the number of goats in the family “times the money.” This means the bidding is a price per animal, so a doe and her twins being auctioned for $250 will be for each of the animals in that family for a total of $750. Though it does not happen often in livestock auctions, sellers present at the auction can decline to sell their animal once the bidding is finished. This is called a "PO" - in my experience, this happens far more in horse sales than livestock sales for "pulled out" of the sale. All of this will vary slightly by auction, of course. The goal of the sale barn is to get the best price for your animal, whether by the head or by the pound.
When a large group of goats are in the ring, the auctioneer might sell “choice” meaning the highest bidder can pick whatever animals he or she wants from the group, and then the bidding will resume. The "choice" animals are the best. Buyers might request that certain animals be held back and not sold with the group for a number of reasons but the underlying truth is meat buyers want uniformity. Generally speaking, sellers will get better prices for larger groups of goats that are all a similar type and quality. Within the group, kids that are smaller or leaner are often held back and will inevitably sell for a lower price because they are considered a lower quality. The same is true for animals that are injured or unhealthy. Doe kids might be separated from males depending on the buyer or depending on if the doe kids are considered take-home quality. Older animals, especially those past their productive prime, usually sell for less. Most sale barn workers – especially those in the auction ring - are adept at aging animals by teeth. You might hear them say “kid mouth” meaning an animal has not gotten its first set of incisors or “solid mouth” meaning the animal has all of its adult teeth but the teeth are in good condition, not worn down or missing.
Selling registered stock at an auction can be tricky, especially with a relatively uncommon breed like Kinders or Miniature LaManchas. Meat buyers are unlikely to purchase registered stock so animals with papers typically sell by the head to individuals. Unfortunately, there’s a good chance the goat’s pedigree won’t increase its selling price but will increase the chance of it being purchased cheap then resold somewhere besides an auction for a profit. This isn’t always the case, but you should learn about your local market and pay special attention to the selling price of registered animals that might go through the ring. Many breeders opt out of sending papers since biosecurity has been compromised because of the auction environment and don’t want possible future diseases or health issues to be associated with their farm. Cull animals typically go without papers, too, for the same reason.
Fees vary quite a bit depending on the type of auction and your location. Auctions charge some sort of commission, usually a percentage of the gross price the animal(s) bring. A yardage fee, which is basically a fee for using the sale barn facilities, is also common. Other fees might include a vet inspection or insurance. It is best to learn about the fees before taking animals, as it can make a big difference in your final check. Talk to the folks in the office at the sale barn or ask to see someone's receipt to check the fees. One small livestock auction in my area charges a 20% commission but no yardage or insurance fee while a larger auction charges only 10% commission and a few other minimal fees, such as ten cents per kid for insurance and a dollar per kid for yardage. If my animals brought about the same at each of these auctions, the larger sale barn would charge significantly less in fees, resulting in more profit for me.
Checks are usually accompanied by a receipt of sorts – these vary by auction but it will likely have the buyer number and/or name, the number of animals sold, a short description of the animal(s) including weight, applicable fees, and the selling price. The check might be separate or attached to the bottom of the receipt. Here is an example – note that this ticket was from several years ago, in late summer, so these are not optimal prices:
Understanding Market Reports
Learn to read the market reports. There are USDA reports then reports from individual auctions. Below is a USDA report.
"Feeder kids" in this USDA report mean these kids will likely be taken to a feedlot to eat and grow until they are a desired slaughter weight. The price range is per cwt, meaning per hundred weight. In this example, let’s take the high end of the weigh range for the Selection 1 kid (we will discuss selections shortly) and the high end of the price range, so a 27lb kid that brought $465.00 per cwt. To calculate the actual price per pound when it is given in cwt, move the decimal to the left two places. This gives you the price per pound – $4.65. Multiply that by the kid’s weight so 27lb x $4.65 per pound = $125.55. As mentioned earlier, other livestock auctions might give a market report with a price range, no mathematics involved to interpret it. A nearby auction lists kids by type (meat or dairy) then weight and selection and the price per pound, then has a special section for take-home kids. A recent report looked like this:
Selections are a way to grade the quality of the animals. USDA usually uses “Selection” but other reports (like report from the local auction) might refer to them as simply numbers, such as Number 1 kids etc. 1 is the best quality and 3 the worst. Basically, the more fleshing and larger frames, the better quality. It is possible quality can trump breed when it comes to kids destined for meat - dairy breeds or crosses might fetch Selection 1 meat kid prices if they are the right quality. This is the best explanation I have found on selections, from the Lancaster Farming website https://www.lancasterfarming.com/market_news/market_resources/how-to-read-market-reports-part-27---goat-terms/article_360cc170-d67d-11e5-81f5-430b9d6bf540.html –
“Selection 1 (SEL 1): Live goats and/or carcasses shall possess a superior meat type conformation. Without regard to presence of fat cover, they shall be thickly muscled throughout the body as indicated by the appearance of muscling that is pronounced (bulging) over the outside leg (biceps femoris), full (rounded) over the back strip (longissimus dorsi), and moderately thick over the outside shoulder (triceps brachii group).
Selection 2 (SEL 2): Live goats and/or carcasses shall possess an average meat type confirmation. Without regard to presence of fat cover, they shall be moderately muscled throughout the body as indicated by the appearance of muscling that is slightly thick and less pronounced over the outside leg (biceps femoris), slightly full (flat or slightly shallow) over the back strip, (longissimus dorsi), and slightly thick to slightly thin over the outside shoulder (triceps brachii group).
Selection 3 (SEL 3): Live goats and/or carcasses shall posses an inferior meat type confirmation. Without regard to presence of fat cover, the legs, back and shoulders are narrow in relation with its length and have a very angular and sunken appearance.”
Tips for Selling Goats at Auction
How do you get the best prices for your goats at auction? There are many factors, but here are a few tips.
1. Know your ethnic calendar and market. Goat meat is exceptionally popular among ethnic groups and around certain holidays. For example, some ethnic holidays require unaltered male kids – that means horns and testicles intact. These are great resources on major holidays and the desired animals - https://www.sheepandgoat.com/ethniccalendar and https://u.osu.edu/sheep/2021/03/09/marketing-lamb-and-goat-for-holidays/
2. Watch the market trends. Goat markets usually have a dip in the summer and high points around Christmas and New Years. 2020 was an exceptional year, with prices not only skyrocketing but staying high. High prices continued in 2021 but, while they are still high compared to pre-2020, are beginning to drop slightly as of May 2021.
3. The bigger the group, the better the price, generally speaking. If the target market weight is around 50lb but only seven of your ten kids are at least 50lb and the other three are less than 40lb, it might be best to hold back the three smaller kids. You might sell them later, once they’ve hit the target weight, since these kids will likely not be sold with the main group of larger, more desirable kids. In some cases, it might be better to wait and sell the kids all together, once the smaller kids reach 50lb. This will depend on the prices for kids 50lb or over (since your larger kids will likely still be gaining weight while your small ones are) and your situation – how long will you have to keep the kids to hit that weight? Will your feeding costs outweigh the increased price per pound?
4. Kids either need to be just-weaned ( for most cases, this is day of the sale weaning so there is no time to lose weight due to stress or no milk intake) or weaned long enough they have fully recovered weaning gained back any condition lost.
5. Take animals in the day of the sale but not last minute. The longer they wait to be auctioned, the more shrink you have – shrink is the animal losing weight because it isn’t eating or drinking while it is waiting to be sold. At the end of the auction, trailers are nearly full and buyers have probably met their quota – this means the prices at the end of the auction might be lower.
The doe in the cover photo always raises one of the very best meat wethers/bucklings. That's her with her twins, this year. Even though she is a Nubian cross doe bred to a Kinder buck (so the kid is definitely not a full meat breed) the kid always is sold as a top-dollar meat kid because of his quality.