Sale barns set heifer value; provide interesting stories

Duane Dailey

(And don’t forget the many pies)

Going to heifer sales to report news is more fun than covering the story by remote. Saturday at Palmyra, the last Show-Me-Select sale of the season was great fun. Heck, it proved joyous in the F&T Livestock Auction lobby afterward.

Consignors and buyers wore happy faces. Sellers collected checks for a year they’d spent developing heifers. Buyers, especially repeat buyers, knew they’d invested in their quality beef future. Cow herds improve with proven genetics.

Buyers got healthy heifers that are guaranteed pregnant. They’d been examined, sorted, graded and approved upon arrival. Consigned heifers had to pass to stay to be sold.

For this reporter, there’s the big-dollar story and little personal stories. This was record high averages for the sixth of six sales. Quality beef depends on management. More than before, prices depend on data. It may take more than one reading of a sale catalog to begin to learn.

Beginners come to watch and learn even if they don’t bid.

Sale barn seats were filled, standing room only. That meant more watchers than bidders. That’s okay.

Between each sale lot, Daniel Mallory, New London, MU Extension regional livestock specialist, gave tips on heifers being auctioned.

It’s fast-paced learning. The morning before the sale allows studious looks at the heifer penned lots sorted out back. Consignors hang signs with more genetic information on the pen gates.

The owners are there to explain. Meanwhile, heifers munch hay, unperturbed by lookers. Most have had copious care. They calmly watch the action. Not one bolted in the auction ring. It’s a sign that they know humans.

The first salesperson I met on my barn tour was Nathan Penn, with his dad. He knew when their heifers would calve next spring and their sires. Later he told me he was 9-years-old.

His dad, James of Edina, is fairly new to selling beef heifers. He knows cows being a long-time dairyman and former ag teacher. He’s easing into beef cows. James’ dad remains a staunch dairy-cow man. The Show-Me-Sale was kind to them.

Over years, I’ve visited with Gene and Kim Dryden of Hannibal, since they first came to sell. This time, their lots, each one, got full attention of bidders. Their reputation has built for their mostly registered Angus heifers.

Kim recalls that starting artificial insemination of cows was not easy. She would have given up after her favorite cow did not conceive to AI and was sold. They soon learned.

A special story came from Bryan Evans of Spencer Creek Farm, Vandalia. He was a first-time seller of Show-Me-Select heifers. Most first timers don’t fare as well as veteran consignors. His sold right up with the best. There’s a reason, I learned.

He’s been buying Show-Me-Select heifers for years. The 200-cow herd has proven genetics, either bought or homegrown from SMS stock. Now that he’s not building his herd, he can sell replacements.

“My wife will like that I bring home a check, not another load of heifers.”

Increasingly, farmers learn it’s easier to buy proven developed heifers than developing their own. The MU Extension heifer protocols teach management.

Decisions aren’t left to a bull of unknown genetics. AI breeding allows using top bulls in a breed. That works for small Missouri cow herds.

The fun comes in these little stories. Everyone has a different one to tell. A Caribbean cruise this winter could depend on how well heifers sell.

Palmyra had one of the first two Show-Me-Select sales 21 years ago. World champion auctioneer Brian Curless summed it up. You’re seeing “super reputations.”

Repeat buyers concurred and bid one more time.

That last bid always wins.

There’s one more fun fact about going to a sale. Sale barn pie (not on the internet) is better than any other, except Mom’s pie. 

That fortifies for reporting news stories.

Send your heifer tale to or 511 W. Worley, Columbia, Mo., 65203.