Sale day on the farm: Wulf Cattle Opportunity Sale brings ranchers to Stevens County
MORRIS – For some folks in this area, the first robin is a sure sign of spring. For others, it's the Opportunity Sale at Wulf Cattle at Spring Valley Farm just outside of Morris.
In the 26 years since the first Opportunity Sale in 1989, the basics of the event have remained the same.
Although having the option to purchase animals through online sales means that buyers don’t have to come out to the farm, ranchers from around the world still trek to Stevens County on the last Friday of March for the live sale to enjoy the sense of camaraderie and the atmosphere on sale day.
The Limousin herd
Wulf Cattle started more than 50 years ago as Leonard Wulf and Sons, and they have been raising and selling Limousin cattle and seedstock for nearly 40 of those years. Several years ago, Wulf Cattle also started raising and selling registered Angus animals.
Wulf Cattle starts collecting data on each of their animals the moment they’re born. Each catalog listing for the Opportunity Sale includes statistics like birth weight, weaning weight, ribeye size and pedigree that create a genetic profile of each animal that helps buyers improve their herds.
Limousin cattle originated in central France, and were first exported from the region in 1969. The Wulf’s started cross-breeding Limousin cattle with the farm’s commercial herd in 1971. Since then, the herd has grown into one of the largest herds of registered Limousin cattle in the country.
Limousin is known as the “carcass breed” because Limousin cattle have more lean muscle than other cattle breeds. Genetic research shows that Limousin cattle also perform well in feedlots because of their better conversion rate – it takes less feed to bring an individual animal to market weight.
“We track that genetically – a lot of sales are driven off of that data for the commercial ranchers to get a better price when they sell their calves in the fall,” said Kurt Wulf, operations manager at Spring Valley Farm, the location of the sale each March.
About five years ago, Wulf Cattle started working with an online auction company, Superior Livestock Auction, to offer sales online. They put up video of each of the available animals, which shows buyers how an animal moves – which is important as the bulls will travel many miles of pasture land during a breeding season – as well as gives them a view of the animals’ size and conformation. This is especially important for buyers who bid online rather than coming to Morris for the sale.
Camaraderie in March
The Wulf Cattle Opportunity Sale still draws buyers to the community from around the world. Wulf Cattle has sold cattle in about 25 states and to countries in Europe as well as Brazil, Australia, Canada and Mexico.
A production sale brings buyers together to give everyone a “fair shake” at the best animals and is the best way to establish a fair market value for breeding cattle.
“A production sale gives us the opportunity to put a catalog together, put all the data in there and then people look at it so they can make an informed buying decision,” said Kurt.
March may not seem like the best time to head to Minnesota, but it’s the optimal time to select bulls for a breeding program. Cows are usually bred in June, so purchasing a bull in March means a buyer can get it back to their farm to acclimate before breeding season, said Kurt.
For many ranchers, the trip to Morris is a vacation from their everyday work and a chance to network with other people in the cattle industry.
“It’s like any industry – when you get together with lots of people who like the same thing that you do, you can talk the same language and talk about what’s going well in the industry, frustrations you’re having, and sharing ideas back and forth,” said Kevin Wulf, human resources with Riverview.
“There are still so many people that come to the live sale because they do enjoy the atmosphere of it,” said Erin Spangler, records management with Wulf Cattle.
Several years ago, Wulf Cattle added a brisket supper, educational seminar and discussion the Thursday evening before the sale to capitalize on the time ranchers are visiting the community.
This year’s panel, moderated by Jerry Wulf, will focus on feed efficiency, research and data collection happening at Wulf Cattle.
“Right now we’re collecting a lot of data on feed efficiency – that’s the hot topic this year,” said Spangler.
The community effort of sale day
The set up for sale day has remained largely unchanged since the first sale in 1989, except for small tweaks to the format designed to increase the efficiency of the sale. The goal every year is to keep the auction under six hours while selling more cattle, said Kurt.
Keeping everything running smoothly on the day of the sale involves more than just getting animals from their pens and through the sale ring – it truly is a community effort.
Auctioneers facilitate in-person and online bids. Volunteers drive shuttles to bring visitors from their vehicles up to the farm. A financial team keeps track of sales and payments. The food committee organizes meals and snacks for the more than 750 people who come out to the farm. Veterinarians and technicians with the Morris Veterinary Center help issue health certificates for animals being transported to other states.
“There are a lot of neighbors that pitch in and volunteer for the day, which is much appreciated,” said Kevin.
More than 430 Limousin and Angus animals will be sold at the sale this year, which represents between 80 and 90 percent of the total genetics sales for Wulf Cattle throughout the year.
While most go to ranchers producing cattle for commercial feedlots, some are sold to other breeders looking to increase the genetic quality in their programs.
Over the last 15 years, the average sale price for cattle from the sale has been between $5,000 and $6,000, but there’s quite a range between the highest and lowest prices.
“Over the years we’ve established relationships – we have a lot of repeat customers,” said Kurt. “They come and buy our bulls and we turn around and buy their calves to put in our feedlots because we know the genetic quality of their calves.”
Planning for next year’s sale begins almost immediately after the current sale concludes – animals that will be up for auction in 2015 are being born this spring.
“It all accumulates towards the sale,” said Kurt. “I always like to tell people that sale day is the easiest day of the year because the work’s all done.”
2014 Opportunity Sale
The public is invited to attend all aspects of the sale, including a beef lunch that starts serving at 11 a.m. on Friday, March 28 at Spring Valley Farm. The farm is 10 miles south of Morris on Hwy 59, just off of 320th Street.