Nathan Wilson | Reporter
The Natchitoches Event Center became a national destination for cattle ranchers and feed lot buyers April 7-8. Superior Livestock Auction conducted their seventh annual video auction with nearly 75,000 head of cattle offered to attendees from across the country.
Ralph Wade, a Superior Livestock auctioneer since 1987, described what his company offers. “We market cattle coast to coast, border to border,” he says. “The whole idea is to be able to come to where our customers are and be able to make the advantage for them.”
Wade comes to Natchitoches year after year. It’s part of his company’s strategy. “It’s a learning curve for us,” he says. “We get to intertwine with them and learn how their ranches are run.” He explained why Superior travels around the country. “We go to Winnemucca, Nev. and have a sale; (It’s a) totally different culture. Ranching is totally different than it is here,” he says. “If we don’t know their culture, and we don’t know how these people think, we can’t do a good job marketing their cattle.”
Superior Livestock representative Rayburn Smith of Clarence describes the enthusiasm local ranchers have for the auctions. “The customers really appreciate Superior, the biggest video auction company in the world, to come here and put them on the map.” The event serves a similar function as an industry trade show; it gives the producers an opportunity to meet their customers and shape the market.
“We have a buyer’s panel tonight and we’ll have our customers over here and we have all these buyers lined up,” Smith says. “The whole purpose is to get all these buyers together and find out what they like, what they want us to change, what they want us to do better, what they don’t want us to do.”
Wade explained the benefit of the panel. “Our industry is consumer driven. Without the consumer you can go out and run your ranch however you want to, but if you’re not satisfying the consumer with your product you’re not going to be in business very long.”
Consumer preferences determine what feedlot buyers look for, which guides what ranchers produce. Wade described what consumers are buying. “They want safe. Number two they want to know how the cattle are handled,” he said. “They want to know that these cattle are handled humanely. (That’s) not an issue. It’s what we’re working to do right.”
Wade described how the industry was once perceived. “We’ve gone through generations or decades of where they thought we were trying to hide something,” he says. Today’s consumers are better informed and cattlemen have benefited by offering premium products. “We want to be transparent because we have got to satisfy the consumer and to do that, they’ve got to know what we’re doing,”
Wade outlined today’s ideal cattle. “They’re grass fed cattle, haven’t had any antibiotics. They’re all natural, hormone free, and this is big to a lot of consumers and it’s growing all the time, and this is something we need to know as producers.” he says. “As this grows, we need to grow with it.” He summed up the new industry model. “The whole bottom line is a better product.”
Louisiana cattle ranchers have pivoted by selective breeding and crossbreeding their cattle to develop better genetic stock offering them new markets and better prices. Superior Representative Jeremy Richardson of Alexandria indicated their strategy is to produce faster growing cattle. “The genetic makeup determines how they perform in the feed yard, how they convert the feed, and that’s their game. That’s how they make money,” he explains.
Smith offered an example of how the market has changed. “We’ve got one company that’s been buying all our good calves pretty much for 10 years out of Colorado and used to, you couldn’t send Louisiana cattle to Colorado.”
To sell their cattle to buyers in Colorado, Louisiana ranchers had to meet their requirements. “It’s just like buying a car. You know what you’re looking for in specs,” Smith says. He indicated the shift didn’t happen by accident. “We strive every day to make these things like they want, try to produce them like they want, and it’s worked.“
Geography also plays a role in price Richardson says. “A lot of the southern calves they do real good to get them to weigh 550 (pounds) something like that, where up here the ground’s a little stronger. We can take the calves and make them weigh 650.” Even the distance and size of the nearest city plays a role in the price. “(A herd) that’s around Shreveport has less trucking than one that’s around Baton Rouge. Every time they go a little farther south or a little farther away from the feed yard it costs a little more money to get them back. That’s why you see the price differences,” he says.
Smith views the auction as an asset to city residents too. “All these hotels are booked up: every one of them. We’ve got people here from California, Minnesota and Florida (and) Montana all come here to this sale and it brings a touch of class to this community and they love coming down here,” he says. “No telling how much income it brings to Natchitoches Parish.”
Smith expects the auctions to continue coming to Natchitoches. “We like to build a buyer rapport. We like to sell these guys these cattle and we like for them to like them, and we like for them to do well. If they don’t they won’t be back.”