Most of the time, ranchers can take a day off to attend a bull sale and find that next great herd prospect. However, sometimes the weather becomes severe, calving starts or other emergencies occur that make it impossible to attend the sale. Many bull sales offer buyers the option of purchasing an animal absentee by placing bids ahead of time with either the breeder, auctioneer, ringman or a third-party, depending on the sale.
Louisa Krebs of Whitestone-Krebs near Gordon, NE, says absentee bidding is an option they've given their customers for a long time. "Even before there was Internet technology available, we accepted bids by phone," she explains. "I think there are a number of reasons people can't make it to a sale - weather, travel distance, and time constraints seem to be the most common. Most of the people who buy bulls from us have been here, seen them, and made their decisions. They feel comfortable buying the bulls this way."
Jerry and Sharon Connealy of Connealy Angus of Whitman, NE, have offered absentee bidding since 2008. Although they like to see customers at the sale, they believe if the weather or workload keeps them away, it is good for buyers to have the option to bid off-site.
Joe Yedlicka of Fromberg, MT, has purchased a few bulls absentee in the last couple years. "Distance was one factor of why I couldn't attend the sale," he says. "We were also in the middle of fall work, which is a really busy time around here. We were gathering cattle, and I just couldn't get away. I placed an order after doing my homework and studying the catalog."
Bill Pelton, who purchases bulls for absentee buyers, explains: "There are two types of buyers I typically work with. One is the commercial bull buyer, who is a rancher looking for a bull to breed his cows. He usually doesn't have to travel to sales quite so far away because he can find the genetics he is looking for fairly close to home. The other is the herd bull buyer. He is looking to purchase one of the top bulls in the sale, and usually has to travel farther to obtain the genetics he is looking for."
Anonymity can be important to a herd bull buyer. "I purchase a number of herd bulls for seedstock producers," Pelton explains. "When a seedstock producer walks into a sale and raises his hand, they know he is willing to pay a pretty fair price. When I walk in and raise my hand, they don't know if I'm there to pay $2,000 or $10,000," Pelton says.
Whomever an absentee bidder decides to place a bid with, it needs to be someone trustworthy. "My dad always told me, 'If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember what you said.' I always tell a guy that once he tells me what he wants to pay, he and I are the only ones that know that number," Pelton explains. "If I can buy the bull for half that, I will. Unfortunately, I have seen others use every bit of what they are given, but it is important to me to use just what I have to. It comes down to experience, trust and integrity."
Most of the customers Pelton works with are familiar. "If I am doing a conference call at a bull sale, my process is for the proposed buyer to call the breeder and register for a buyer number, or qualify with the breeder," he explains. "I want them to have a conversation with the breeder, so on sale day, I at least know the buyer is legitimate. On occasion, I've had phone bidders who play games, but we do our best to prevent that from happening," he adds.
Connealy explains that since they use a video service for their auction, buyers are required to register prior to the sale, and are prescreened by the video company to eliminate any problems.
Yedlicka says he's purchased bulls after evaluating them first-hand as well as sight unseen. "I think it is very important to have confidence in the breeder and trust in what he is offering," Yedlicka says. "Since I couldn't look at the bulls, I really studied their [expected progeny differences, EPDs], picking out the above average bulls. I feel comfortable buying sight unseen because I had purchased bulls from this breeder in the past."
Most buyers who can't be at a sale either go to the ranch to look at the bulls ahead of time, or look at video of the bull online and talk to the breeder.
"They usually have a good idea if that bull fits the description of what they are looking for," Pelton says. "Sometimes a buyer will ask me to look at the bulls for him, but he might also ask two or three other people, and then compare what we all had to say. I have learned that if I am asked to look at the bulls, I make sure to really look them over. I try to give an accurate opinion of what I see. I don't try to overrate or oversell the bulls to a buyer - I try and tell them as I see it."
"We have some long-time customers who know our cows and operation, or have seen the bulls at other times," Krebs explains. "They know what they are looking for and are comfortable with a third-party buying the bulls for them."
Many customers who purchase bulls from Connealy Angus also view the bulls before sale day in person, or by viewing bulls via video on the Northern Livestock Video site, Connealy notes.
Since buyers can research records and EPDs themselves, Pelton is usually asked to evaluate bulls for soundness, depth, muscling, thickness and correctness of feet and legs.
"Birth weight and weaning weight are usually the most important factors to a commercial buyer, because that is what he is selling in the fall. They are also concerned with thickness, growth, thriftiness and soundness. Seedstock producers are looking for all those things, plus other important traits like testicle size and scrotal measurements which are highly-related to fertility," Pelton explains.
"After I placed the order, I depend on (my buyer) to look at the bulls and scratch any with traits like poor disposition or conformation that I wouldn't want in my herd," Yedlicka adds.
Pelton says he encourages buyers to be on the phone during the sale if they can't attend themselves. "I usually have a conference call set up so buyers can call in," he explains. "That way they know what is going on and can follow the sale." A conference call last year had as many as 16 buyers on the line at one time.
The conference call can offer buyers anonymity because when they join the conference call, all they need to say is their bidder number. Pelton says it also allows them to bid instantly. Buyers have shared experiences with Pelton of when they attempted to bid through an Internet service, failing to get their bids placed in time due to a delay in the system.
"All they have to do is say their number, and I am yelling 'yes' at the auctioneer. If they are the winner, all they need to do is give me their bidder number," he says.
Multiple buyers can be bidding on the same bull through the conference call. "It can be a challenge to keep them apprised of what is going on at the sale, and what the auctioneer is asking for, but through lots of experience, I am able to keep up with everything," Pelton says.
Yedlicka encourages buyers to purchase bulls absentee as long as they feel comfortable with the breeder, and have done their homework ahead of time. "I would always prefer to go to the sale myself, but if that isn't possible, this is a nice option to have. I have been very pleased with the bulls I have purchased sight unseen," he says.