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Good Advice for a Better Sale

By Ellen H. Brisendine

On Saturday mornings at the intersection of Hwy. 75 and 79 in Buffalo, just east of IH-45, you'll find a line of trucks and trailers pulling into the Buffalo Livestock Marketing, LLC, parking lot. The sale starts at noon and the cattle have to be counted, have tags glued to their backside, have their description documented and be unloaded into the holding pens pretty quick.

Market owner Russ deCordova or one of his sons, Ty or Cody, is part of the group that greets the rancher driving every truck.

Market workers call out descriptions of the cattle while they smear glue on the yellow back tag and slap that tag on the cattle in the trailer. Since the cattle tend to shift against the trailer rails, the workers show considerable dexterity in attaching the tag and avoiding getting their fingers pinched between the livestock and the rails.

A co-worker on the other side takes down the notes on pre-printed sheets while one of the deCordovas hops on the running board to take a close look at the load.

"We're a livestock market, that is traditional with a touch of innovation," Russ deCordova says. "We receive cattle any day of the week, but basically most cattle are brought in Thursday afternoon, Friday and then Saturday morning and we sell cattle on Saturday at noon."

DeCordova purchased the Buffalo Livestock Marketing, LLC, in 2006 and he has seen first-hand how drought has affected ranchers in East Texas.

The first couple of years he and his family owned the sale barn, "we ran from 69,000 to 72,000 head through the barn. Then, it crept up to 80,000 and 85,000. Of course the drought year (2011), we had more than 90,000 head sell," he says, and the number of cattle sold in 2012 dropped about 30 percent to 62,000. DeCordova says 2012 was the lowest year they've ever had.

Fortunately, numbers are coming back up. "Last year we were in the upper 60s. This year, we're probably 5,000 cattle ahead right now year-to-date. We could be back up in the low 70s this year," he says, adding, "possibly."

I spoke with a couple of the ranchers who brought cattle in on Saturday morning for the weekly sale, and got to visit with a family who brought a framed 8 x 10 show champion photo for the deCordovas, thanking them for their support at the sale of champions at the county fair.

As a group, the clients and friends complimented the deCordovas for supporting their clients with good advice and good help when needed, and for being active supporters of the community. Certainly, Buffalo Livestock Marketing, LLC, is physically in the community, across the street from the local Dollar General Store and at the intersection of the 2 main roads.

DeCordova attributes recent growth in business to his family's customer service ethic. "We try to treat people the way we like to be treated and if we can help somebody with any part of the business we try to do that.

"I grew up in the back of a sale barn right here in Groesbeck," he says, speaking from his home in that town just a few miles away from Buffalo. My grandfather and a man by the name of Franklin Jackson built the first sale barn in Groesbeck. My father and his 2 sisters took it over in 1962. They ran it until 1972 then they sold out and my dad went to work for Hitch Enterprise in Oklahoma."

DeCordova finished high school in Oklahoma and then attended college at Panhandle State University on livestock judging and rodeo scholarships. He moved back to Groesbeck after college and "started a little order buying company. I hoped I'd own a sale barn one day," he says.

DeCordova and Burt Richards, then owner of the sale barn became close friends and deCordova spent just about every Saturday at the Buffalo sale buying cattle "for forever now, it seems like. I told Burt if he ever got ready to sell I'd be interested. I didn't realize Burt was going to wait until I was almost 50 before he decided to sell." But in 2006, the barn changed hands and the deCordovas bought it, with partner Tommy Burns. After 3 years, Burns left the partnership.

"I probably wouldn't have done this if I didn't have the 2 sons that I have. They have just been a tremendous amount of help to me. I know I can leave and do what I need to do and I don't have to worry about it because they'll take care of it. They take care of the people," deCordova says.

Another factor in his success, he says, has been having World Champion Auctioneer Joe Don Pogue on the block every Saturday. DeCordova and Pogue have had a 35-year friendship. "He's as good as has ever been in my opinion," deCordova says.

Advice – better bulls and a good vaccination program

DeCordova describes the area cow herd as being mixed breeds with about one-quarter or less Brahman influence. Area ranchers appear to be using Angus, Hereford and Charolais bulls on their cows.

The key advice he has for ranchers is to adopt a good vaccination program for their herds and to consider spending a little more on bulls.
"You can get by with a moderate-frame cow. Her job is to get bred and then raise a calf. As long as she's producing milk, she can raise that baby. To me, it's more important to buy a real good bull" with proven genetics and performance data such as expected progeny differences (EPDs). "Spend a little extra money on the bulls," he says.

DeCordova says herd health management is a big issue. He stresses the value of testing for trichomoniasis and the value of a proper vaccination program that includes a 7-way vaccine and a 4-way viral vaccination before weaning. "I'd rather see them use a modified-live vaccine," he says, suggesting the newer vaccines are not as stressful on the calves as earlier versions. "But if they use a killed virus that's fine. Just have a vaccination program."

Special sales

The deCordovas host special sales during the year to serve various segments of their client base.

One of those special sales is with the Texas Hereford Association. About 4 years ago they started hosting the event. "It's really grown," he says of the bull and female sale. The sale offering has been expanded to include Red Angus and Charolais bulls. "Last October, we sold a set of Hereford heifers that were bred to Red Angus bulls for $2,500, and that was before this rally took off."

Buffalo Livestock Marketing, LLC, also hosts sales of calves that meet specific weaning and vaccination requirements. Called value-added, or VAC 45 sales (all eligible calves must be vaccinated and weaned 45 days before sale day), these sales are held mid-week and draw a slightly different set of buyers – more stocker operators and feedyard buyers.

DeCordova continues to serve other clients as an order buyer, keeping an eye out for cattle that will fill the needs of these feedyard and packer clients. "We don't have a lot of order buying customers, but the customers we have we've had for a long time." He's had a similarly long relationship with Superior Livestock, helping to assemble cattle for that company's video sales for 27 years.

With all these lines of business, deCordova keeps an eye on the needs of the majority of his clients. "Most of our consignors are 25-cattle people. They may sell 20 to 25 calves a year, and those calves are very important to them. The last thing we want to do is sell one too cheap."

He encourages ranchers, regardless of herd size, to "visit with the people they do business with, such as the sale barn people. They are informed about what the packers, feeders and stocker operators want to buy." He urges cattle producers to seriously consider the advice of the auction market owners on beef genetics and health programs. "If they don't do their homework, and they don't do their job, it makes it tough on us to get the market for those calves," he says.

"We just try to provide a service, do the best job we can, be honest about it and treat people like we'd like to be treated if we were on the other side. All my life," deCordova says, "all I've wanted to do was market cattle and do the best job I could for the customer." -TC


"Good Advice ro a Better Sale" is from the July 2014 issue of The Cattleman magazine.