Technology Allows More Buyers to See Cattle
Spry Mitchell appears to be a typical cattle producer. He is, however, learning to sell his cattle in an ever-changing market.
Mitchell, who runs a stocker cattle operation near Florence, has been selling his cattle through a broker for many years. Recently they videotaped his cattle so they could easily be marketed to buyers out West.
When potential buyers wanted a look at Mitchell’s cattle for themselves, Mitchell bought a video camera and recorded the animals.
His broker, Joey Riley of Riley Livestock in Kentucky, then distributed the video to several buyers, some of which bought the cattle. Over a two-day period, Mitchell loaded and shipped four truck loads of cattle to Nebraska.
Mitchell noted this was the first time he had used video to market his calves, but it probably wouldn’t be the last.
Mitchell believes having his cattle registered with EID (electronic identification) tags pays him a premium. His broker agreed, though noted that when the supply of cattle is high, the benefit of the EID system isn’t always noticed.
In late August, Mitchell sold four loads of age and source-verified calves born from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31 of last year. The cattle were registered and certified with Southeastern Livestock and Agrilinks in Atlanta.
When marketing his cattle, Mitchell attaches vaccination records to the certifications. He believes in record-keeping.
Mitchell said they are close to being an all-natural operation, noting they only use antibiotics when necessary. The drugs would have to be eliminated from their program for them to qualify as all-natural.
Even so, typically the market does not pay a premium for all-natural beef at the present time.
Mitchell is, however, keeping an eye on the market, waiting for things to change.
Who’s on First?
Mitchell’s partner in the cattle business is his cousin Scott Spry. Together they make up Mitchell & Spry Enterprises or M&S.
Even folks familiar with the operation get confused when asked about the name.
Mitchell stands for Spry Mitchell and Spry stands for Scott Spry. Just say the name "Spry" if you want to turn heads around in the stockyard.
M&S has two places of operation, one called the O’Neil place. It is located in the bend of the Tennessee River just outside of Florence. The other part of the operation — M&S North — is located several miles north of Florence near Whites Lake. Scott Spry heads up the northern operation, while Mitchell takes care of things near the river.
Helping out Mitchell are James Haithcoat and Chipper Ezell. Hal Harbin helps Spry take care of the northern operation.
Planning Makes Perfect
Each truckload shipped from M&S contains 65 to 75 cattle depending on the total weight. More heifers than steers can fit on each trailer.
M&S typically sells four loads of cattle in the late summer and another four loads over the course of a year.
M&S likes to purchase truck-loads of cattle from local producers when possible for their operation.
"We’ve found calves tend to be a lot healthier when we purchase them right off the farm," said Scott Spry. "It’s not always possible to buy our calves that way, but we prefer it."
Buying cattle in large lots from local producers allows M&S to turn out a more uniform group of cattle when it comes time to market.
Larger groups of uniform calves make it easier to market the animals as most buyers search for a certain level of uniformity.
Mitchell said these four loads of calves are the largest he has ever sent to market. The steers averaged about 700 pounds while the heifers averaged 675. Mitchell attributed the weight to a wet spring producing a lot of grass for the animals to consume.
Design in Action
Watching the group of five men sort the cattle to make the most uniform loads is like watching a well-designed play develop on a football field. They have a plan — getting the calf to go into a certain pen — and then there is the reality. Usually things go as planned, but occasionally the design is altered by a calf having its own plans.
Once a group of cattle are brought into the catch pens, Mitchell begins calling out where he wants each one to end up. Then it’s a ballet of opening and closing gates until all the calves are separated like Mitchell wants them.
Then, a sample load is taken to nearby scales to get an average weight. Once returned, the calves are then loaded onto double-decker cattle trailers for their trip out West.
Lauderdale County Co-op in Florence helps supply M&S with their operation needs.
Ronnie Behel, who serves as the outside salesman for the local store said the Co-op provides M&S with fertilizer, nitrogen, minerals, salt as well as fencing supplies.
M&S also uses the Co-op’s own STIMU-LYX tubs for their operation.
According to Jimmy Hughes, who is the animal nutritionist for Alabama Farmers Co-op, STIMU-LYX tubs are an excellent way for producers to supplement their cattle’s nutrition.
"STIMU-LYX tubs are a low-moisture tub containing supplemental protein, energy, minerals and vitamins to aid in the increase of forage utilization and improved reproductive performance," said Hughes. "The tubs contain less than four percent moisture."
Hughes also noted the consumption rate for STIMU-LYX is less than one pound per head per day, which makes it an economical source of cattle supplementation.
Persons interested in contacting Mitchell about his operation may call him at (256) 762-2127. He would appreciate hearing from producers who have truckloads of uniform calves they wish to sell.
Susie Sims is a freelance writer from Haleyville.