Producers should be proactive, initiating and following through with the age and source verification process. They need to have records in place and start the paperwork well in advance of the sale to properly verify the age and source of calves. Dahlen recommends producers talk to a third-party certification agency to learn if their calves and records qualify for age and source verification. Similar organizations can help producers certify that their calves are suitable for natural and organic markets. For a list of third-party certification agencies, visit http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRD3320450.

“I encourage producers to spend time evaluating production costs and returns to ensure that they are obtaining a sufficient premium when marketing under a natural or organic label, compared with managing and marketing calves in traditional markets,” Dahlen says.

Auction market representatives can be great resources for producers with questions about improving the value of their calf crop. The market representatives deal with questions about feed yard preference for calves, status of calf supply and demand, whether feedlots are running at capacity and the latest market trends daily, whereas many cow-calf producers evaluate these questions once a year.

In addition, auction markets may offer their customers alternative marketing avenues, such as special sales, Internet sales and video auctions.

Producers should remain in contact with auction market staff and be flexible in their marketing strategy, according to Dahlen. Consign cattle well in advance of the sale and let the auction market know as much about the calves as possible (for example, what color they are, when they were born, when they were vaccinated and whether they are age and source verified). The more information the auction market has, the better job it can do of marketing those calves.

In addition, producers should ask auction market representatives about other ways to improve their cow herd and calf marketability.

“No silver bullet will make you consistently top the sale each time you sell calves,” Dahlen says. “Concentrate on creating a uniform set of calves with cows that work in your environment. Manage your herd with good BQA practices, vaccinate in a timely fashion, age and source verify if the market is rewarding the effort, and remain flexible with marketing strategy and dates.”