South Dakota has long been known for the high quality of feeder cattle raised in the state. Many of the herds are family-owned and have been building genetics over several generations. That quality is on display as part of the fall cattle run. Hundreds of thousands of cattle will be sold at livestock auction barns across the heart of cattle country through the end of the year.
Mason Dietterle is one of the co-owners of Faith Livestock. He says the genetics are second to none and cattle buyers come from several states and return as buyers because that attention to breeding translates into performance.
“We’ve got guys that A.I.’d (artificially inseminated) for years, you see these guys at bull sales, they’re paying top dollar for these bulls. The genetics are all there and that’s I think why we see such a good market and such a big range of buyers," he says.
Those sales have a huge economic impact on the state and rural communities.
“With the weigh-up cows, the calves, the bred stock, in this area we’ll see October through December we’ll see around 80,000 head go through this barn," Dietterle says.
Isabel cattle producer Mike Maher has sold his cattle at Faith Livestock for years and says the fall cattle run is like Christmas in South Dakota but especially for rural towns like Faith. The town has a population of just 400 people, so Main Street is dependent on the fall run for their survival.
“It has a major impact on the well-being, the business places up and down the street, small town and stuff. It’s kind of their Christmas,” Maher says.
“You know we get all these cattle producers to town. They go spend their money, whether it’s at the lumber yard, the vet, the grocery store, the gas stations,” Dietterle says.
Last year cattle producers like Maher held back some of their calves and split off heifers as they were waiting for higher prices, but this year the market is different.
“It’s probably a little better than it was a year ago but its no runaway yet or nothing,” Maher says.
Dietterle says although it is early in the run, he agrees with that trend assessment.
“I’d say the market is a touch higher than last year all the way through. The heifers are dang sure up, these lighter cattle are dang sure up and you know the five weights . . . last week I guess they were $25 to $30 bucks a head more than last year at this time,” he says. The hope is it stays that way all the way through the run.
Pasture and hay conditions were also improved this season verses 2019 when many areas had too much moisture and the calves that ran on that grass just didn’t gain well.
“I think the cattle are going to weigh a little better than they did a year ago yeah, which is a help you know if they’re a little heavier. So, they’ll dollar out a little more," Maher says.
“The cows are in the best conditions they’ve been around this area for a long time and the grass has a good punch to it and the calves they’re haired up. I think we’ll see the weights surprise a lot of people,” Dietterle adds.
Presho Livestock owner Cody Volmer says the yearlings also gained well this summer with some of the best pasture conditions they’ve seen in a few years in south central South Dakota.
“We were a little drier this year, but it made for the grass conditions to be a little bit more advantageous for gain. So, the cattle have quite a little bit more condition than normal,” he says.
He says yearling prices are also stronger than 2019.
Volmer says, “Comparable to what fat cattle prices are, we’ve got about a $40 spread on these nine-weight steers compared to what a fat steer is worth. So, we’ve got to be pretty happy about what we’re getting on these feeder cattle,” Volmer says.
And economically, that's a real shot in the arm to small towns like Presho and Faith.