By Juanice Gray
A single event resulted in approximately $46 million (yes, with six zeroes) trampling through the Events Center Friday.
Cattle, to the tune of 46,000 head, were herded through the downtown location for nine hours at a Superior Auction’s “Gulf Coast Classic” that drew buyers and sellers from 25 states. No, the actual cattle were not running loose in the Events Center, it was an online auction, which Superior Regional Director Rayburn Smith says is, “…the future of the cattle industry.” Smith, of Clarence, said there were more than 300 attending the auction, filling the hotels and restaurants and touring Natchitoches for several days. The auction featured feeder cattle, calves on cows and weaned cattle that brought an average $1,000 per head, a great indicator of a good cattle year.
Smith said feeder cattle prices were up 3-6 cents per pound, while the other two categories brought 5-10 cents more per pound. The auction works just like local auctions, with which Smith has also been involved. Th Superior auctioneers are both world champions. They alternated every hour during the sale. Sellers show their cows and buyers bid on them. A comprehensive guide gives details about each herd being auctioned including location, quantity, vaccinations, delivery dates, feed, breed and weighing condition. The guide also shows where the cattle originated from and where they are currently located.
The auction was live, with bidders and sellers in person and on phones and computers weighing in by proxy. All cattle are sold with delivery pending from a few days to six-eight months. Buyers and sellers know up front when the cattle will be delivered. “This is the largest online auction in the country,” Smith said. Buyers know they are getting the cattle they bought, and not a bait and switch, due to “straight up trust and integrity. We’ve been doing this for 30 years …. and while there are some thieves out there, like with anything, these people buy and sell and put their reputation out there.” Buyers must have a “deposit” the next business day after the auction.
The cattle remain with and are care for by the seller until the pre-determined delivery date. Once the buyer’s cattle are on a truck for delivery, it’s COD. Superior has numerous safeguards in place to protect both buyers and sellers against scams. “There is a double-checked paper trail, invoices and certified payments only,” Smith said.
•The first bid
Way back on Black Monday in 1987, Smith and Junior Sklar decided to buy 800 weaned calves. “Immediately after, the market went down for a month,” Smith said. They pastured the cattle on Island Plantation where they grazed on wheat to gain weight. By the end of January, the market rebounded and they tried to forward contract them, or pre-sell them for later pickup. “We couldn’t get what I wanted so we held onto them, then a friend suggested I sell them on video. He convinced me there was no cost to try so we did. Those calves brought 15 cents over what we wanted.” Smith said that was on a Friday. “I liked that deal so much I left Sunday and went to Fort Worth where Superior has headquarters. Monday morning I went in asking for a job.”
The company didn’t want to give him an entire state to oversee, which is what he proposed, so Smith came back home to Natchitoches Parish. Two weeks later the founders of the company rolled up into his driveway and asked his plans. “I told them I was looking at cows all day and they came along. By the end of the day they told me Louisiana was mine and I could get my own representatives to cover the whole state,” Smith said. Today, the company has 400 representatives and are not limited to the United States. •A winning bid For many years, Smith and Superior discussed a live setting in Louisiana and finally three years ago they did it, in Natchitoches. Eric Smith, former ag teacher and FFA leader at Lakeview High School, who is now at the state level, asked to involve FFA members in the process. “We are honored to have them here. They help out and run tickets, but mostly they learn a lot,” Rayburn said.
•The last bid
Merck, a veterinarian supply company, sponsored a steak dinner for 150 auction participants after the sale Friday. Smith Cattle Company hosted a crawfish boil Saturday sponsored by numerous local agriculture and veterinary based companies, local banks and Zoetis, a global animal health company. The Avery Michaels Band and Hardrick Rivers provided entertainment for the day-long event attended by over 750 family members, friends, vendors, buyers and sellers.
Smith said it took four hours to set up for the auction and two to dismantle the computers, phone lines, video feeds, chairs, tables and screens. The auctions follow the regions where the cows are moving, meaning the prime seasons for the best cattle in that area, usually after winter has blown its final chilling gust.
There were no bulls auctioned Friday. “That’s because there is no bull with Superior Auctions,” Smith chuckled.
Auction pictures by Juanice Gray. Crawfish boil pictures by Lance Smith