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Is there a Correlation with Summer Stock Shows and the Live Cattle Market?

Published May 8, 2024

The cattle industry is no stranger to changes and fluctuation both historically and economically. In today’s landscape, one of these is no doubt, the show cattle sector.

Stock shows have become major events across the nation. They have moved far beyond a simple display of a farmer’s best stock and casual competition. They are events in their own right, spawning an entire industry dedicated to breeding and developing animals specifically for the arena lights.

And naturally, they may raise some questions as to how much crossover there may be over into the commercial industry, especially in the peak summer season, and what impact it has on the industry economics.

“Since we have been raising both commercial and show cattle, it has become just that; two separate herds that we manage differently,” says Lance Sennett of Sennett Cattle in Waynetown, Ind. “What we find ideal in the show ring doesn’t necessarily have any correlation to what we find ideal in our commercial calves.”

But there is one thing that he says stays consistent. That is the desire for quality cattle that generate success no matter the sector.

Considering the Market

There are multiple factors that impact the beef cycle and its markets, not only across but also within each year. Not only does consumer demand sway into the price points, but disruptions and import/export demand also feed into it.

For example, steer prices posted high in early April 2022 when war broke out in the Ukraine. With forage shortages and expensive grains, calf prices are impacted more deeply than usual. Plus, historically cattle prices as a whole tend down in the summer when there is a lot of availability – including excess show calves – in the sale barns. Typically, that rebounds in the fall, as observed by livestock marketing specialist Derrell Peel in a BEEF article, Cattle Markets Transition to Summer.

Cattle markets have typical trends and waves of events. Identifying trends is important to improve and stay on top financially during downward trends.

“The increase in cattle on feed means there are more cattle that are moving into the supply chain and thus removed from future inventory, as the cattle cycle continues its contraction phase.The cattle cycle refers to expansion and contraction in cattle inventory in response to farmer-perceived profitability,” writes Farm Bureau economist Bernt Nelson in his October 2023 article, Cattle Market Volatility: Increasing Risk for Farmers May Lead to Record Beef Prices.

“Each cycle typically lasts about 10 years. The current cattle cycle has been in a longer phase of contraction, driven by high input costs, drought and difficult profitability since 2018 – none of which is going away anytime soon.”

Show Season

Now how much, if at all, do show stock impact commercial sale channels?  Not much at all, according to Sennet.

“There are several events at these summer shows that are showcasing parts of the commercial industry; however, we believe they have no direct impact on the markets,” he shared.

It isn’t uncommon for some sectors of the diehard commercial background to critique show cattle for not being designed to perform “in the real world.” But there are many breeders that are making their calves perform in both worlds – and making money on both ends.

“Bottomline, we are all a part of the same industry. We also all have a common goal in producing cattle – just for different purposes,” says Sennett. “Showmen should be aware of what is going on in the commercial industry, and lucky for those kids, there are several opportunities both with commercial and show cattle producers and organizations.”

Sennet notes that their herd is made up of multiple breeds. Some do better in the show ring, and others on the finishing floor.

“We feel each cow has their place in the industry, so we make calculated decisions come breeding season. We do find the value in hybrid vigor, so when we are making those planned matings, it comes back to how we appraise each cow in our herd. Simply, breeding decisions are extremely important in how we maintain quality in our herds.”

On the local level, it may not be uncommon to see periodic spikes according to show seasons depending on the region. Regions heavy in 4-H, FFA or club and jackpot shows may arrange their breeding for certain windows of the year, and after local fairs wrap up it isn’t uncommon to see these animals moving through the sale barns pushing prices up or down for a limited time.

The commercial and show cattle industries, while distinct, share a fundamental goal: producing high-quality cattle. While the stock show sector is likely to always have different priorities than their commercial counterparts, breeders are increasingly finding ways for their animals to excel in both arenas.

Understanding market trends and economic cycles is crucial for both sectors to navigate the ever-changing landscape of the beef industry. By recognizing their interdependence and embracing innovation, show cattle producers can contribute to the overall success of the beef industry.


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