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Online livestock sales heat up

Many farmers, maybe even you, are jumping on the information superhighway, selling cattle, hogs, horses, sheep and goats online. It now makes sense to develop farm websites and post pictures and videos of animals for sale.

Online livestock sales heat up


Many farmers, maybe even you, are jumping on the information superhighway, selling cattle, hogs, horses, sheep and goats online. It now makes sense to develop farm websites and post pictures and videos of animals for sale.

Key Points

• Online buying and selling of livestock is no longer a novelty.

• Some breeders hold online-only sales before a traditional seasonal sale.

• The quality of the livestock photographer can make or break an online auction.


Why drive several hundred miles to a replacement heifer sale when the auction is live online? When the animals are video-taped as they walk through the sale ring, with close-up shots and pedigrees read, a farmer in Maine can sit at his kitchen table, sip coffee, and buy cattle from a rancher in South Dakota or Texas.

New frontier

Companies like Willoughby Sales and Caldwell-Willoughby Sales have been at the forefront of this digital explosion, which is helping producers all across the country market animals.

Dan Willoughby, of Willoughby Sales, Sheridan, says his company sells more dollars worth of show lambs and breeding stock than any other site in the U.S. Caldwell-Willoughby Sales, operated in part by Todd Caldwell, Elmwood, Ill., caters to the bovine industry. It’s an online auction site for show steers and breeding cattle.

Digital livestock photography and marketing has grown due to economics, convenience and keeping up with the times. People jump online to find about anything they need.

The change has moved livestock photography to a higher level. These people are doing the artistic work behind an advertisement that might sell a bull for $100,000. Yes, sometimes there are some creative measures taken, and the visual image alone may be a bit misleading. However, like any ad slick, these photos and flyers grab attention. They may prompt a phone call. Or maybe print media leads someone to a website with streaming video.

It’s best to view livestock through videos when available, but Willoughby believes that responsibility lies on both sides of the table when it comes to online purchases.

“Make sure that you’re dealing with credible consignors, and do your research before you bid,” Willoughby says.

Many worry they’re purchasing airbrushed artwork instead of a functional, productive animal. Misrepresenting your livestock can lead to the end of sales, because customer service is the best policy.

Seller advice

“Shoot the story straight,” Willoughby says. “Tell the good things about the animal, and also the bad things because you want return customers. If a customer asks you about the flaws, be honest, or you’re only hurting yourself.”

First-time online consignors need to find a sales agent who has a good reputation and is very clear in discussing their services from fees to video production. Consignors should be familiar with how online auctions work and what’s expected in terms of animal delivery. There should be no surprises on either end.

Good contracts and communication between online broker, consigner and buyer are essential in a cyber world, Willoughby says.

Livestock photographers must be good. They have to know the latest in digital photography, as well as how to edit videos and photos. If you’re hiring a photographer, do your research. View a potential photographer’s work online and in print.

“Hire someone who will get the job done,” Willoughby says. “Hire someone who will show up, be on time, and above all else, understands livestock and livestock arrangements.”

Learn more about the online sales industry at, or

Dickerson is a senior in Purdue University Ag Communications.

2 hours on a computer better than all-day trip


Picking out boars to match sows for artificial insemination is an August ritual for my friend. He operates a small sow herd, raising 4-H pigs. I assist in analyzing boars.

Our original plan was to visit two boar studs to view boars. Some offer open houses, others allow visitors by appointment. Running short on time, we spread out sales catalogs on the table and fired up the computer. In two hours, we accomplished what would have taken a day of driving to duplicate.

Here’s how we guided ourselves through the process.

Start with firms that have served you well: They must still have quality offerings, but it’s a service business. Semen must arrive healthy and on time.

Check the pictures: Here’s where photography counts. You can see bigger images using websites vs. a catalog.

Read the fine print: Some firms offer information about loin thickness and backfat. We discount anything with a loin eye under 8.0 and put a check by boars with loin eyes of 11.

Notice missing pictures: If they display front, side and rear views of most boars, but then omit a rear view of one, it may be a clue that rear width is a weakness.

Video helps: Some videos were more professional than others. The key was seeing the boar move. Could he walk? Did we see all angles?

Review price ranges: Why are some boars expensive, and others much cheaper? Typically, we found older boars that may still be sound and fit certain sows well were lower-priced.

How a livestock photographer thinks

Move that back foot forward. Get a little closer to the curtain. These are commands you might hear while trying to set a prize-winning heifer at the backdrop of a cattle show. Livestock photography is more than just capturing grand champion stock at the county fair. It’s an industry quickly becoming enhanced by technology.

Lucy Beckner, Jamestown, has been in the business for more than 20 years and has survived the digital revolution.

“The most difficult thing is to deal with all the different personalities of the people that I come in contact with,” Beckner says. “Working with live animals has become easier over the years because I have experience raising beef cattle, and I know how to manage them in the show situation and in the field.”

Beckner, owner of Photos by Lucy, recognizes the importance of quality, untouched work when marketing animals. “I try to make my pictures show the animals at their best despite their faults, without touching up the images to make them look better than they really are,” she says.

Potential buyers obviously don’t want to be duped by false impressions created by photography. Photos by Lucy offer services on the farm or at a show or sale. Visit


This article published in the April, 2011 edition of INDIANA PRAIRIE FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.

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