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Marketing your Highland Cattle

Marketing your purebred breeding stock requires a similar commitment as selling any product from your cattle. Selling your beef demands attention to assuring a consistent and quality product; likewise delivering your consumers a type of consistency and quality when purchasing live breeding cattle is also a must.

All cattle sold are not going to be “show quality”. Some animals are going to turn out better than others, with more pleasant personalities, more correct conformation, heavier milk production or consistent, growthy calves after weaning. You cannot guarantee that your cattle are all going to be identical in these characteristics. However, you can deliver consistently healthy cattle that are vaccinated, dewormed and handled in a manner to reduce stress at all levels. The most important thing you can do in marketing your breeding stock is to deliver to the buyer animals that meet his expectations.

Vaccinating cattle prior to delivery is becoming a standard practice in the beef industry. Animals going to the high stress, high pathogen environment of a feedlot require preconditioning to minimize illness. Yet those animals not destined for the slaughterhouse still undergo stress and exposure to disease organisms, although perhaps not at as high a level. This can lead to sick cattle and unhappy customers.

Preconditioning all calves with vaccinations is an excellent strategy for any livestock operation. Working with a veterinarian to design a herd health protocol will ensure the healthiest animals both delivered for sale or retained by the producer. Calves should be initially vaccinated 4-8 weeks prior to weaning, with appropriate booster vaccinations given at least 2 weeks prior to weaning. Deworming should be based on the time of year (see previous articles in the Bagpipe), but for fall weaning, calves should be dewormed at the time of vaccination, and again at weaning.

Personal opinion comes into play when it concerns weaning time and the physical delivery of a calf to its new owner. Common sense would dictate that the calf undergo the stress of weaning in a relatively familiar environment with herdmates that it knows. Studies on calves entering feedlots suggest that as long as the calves have been preconditioned with appropriate vaccinations, weaning and shipping the same day did not have a significant effect on overall weight gain of the calves. It appears that preconditioning may be the single most important factor in postweaning health of calves.

Vaccinations necessary for successful preconditioning of calves will include those for the respiratory viruses and bacteria. Vaccines should include IBR, BVD, PI3 and BRSV. An additional vaccination for shipping fever with a Pasteurella hemolytica toxoid is an extremely cost effective form of insurance for those calves sold as breeding stock, and should be given at least 2 weeks prior to shipment. Other vaccines may be necessary in certain operations, particularly for calves going into a feedlot, but for breeding cattle, the respiratory vaccines are the ones considered mandatory. Sale of females out of state may mandate that they be vaccinated for brucellosis. Brucellosis, or Bang’s vaccine, may only be administered by a veterinarian, to female calves of a specific age. (The age varies slightly by state, but is generally between 4 and 8 months of age. Females vaccinated for brucellosis must be tattooed with a federal veterinary shield, type of vaccine, and year, in the right ear, and if they are not registered stock with a breed specific identification tattoo, the calves will also require an orange brucellosis tag in the ear also.) Females that are vaccinated for brucellosis as calves become known as Official Calfhood Vaccinates (OCVs).

Older cattle should be current on their vaccinations and can benefit from a vaccination for Pasteurella hemolytica (shipping fever) at least two weeks prior to shipment. (Givng any vaccination less than 2 weeks prior to exposure does absolutely no good and can contribute to even more stress on shipped cattle.)

Delivery of something other than calves requires attention to a whole other set of conditions. Older cattle should be honestly represented to the buyer. Female cattle should be sold either open, exposed or bred. Females sold as open have never been exposed to a bull, or have had a pregnancy exam conducted by a veterinarian to assure the cow is not bred, with no possible exposure to a bull after the pregnancy exam. Animals exposed very recently to a bull will not be palpably pregnant, so it is important to keep bulls secured at a distance from cycling cattle. Bulls tempted by a female in heat will find a way through any fence if it is physically possible, and could potentially spoil a sale. Females sold as exposed are just that; exposed to a bull, and possibly pregnant. They may be so recently exposed that a pregnancy cannot be confirmed, or they have not been pregnancy checked at all. Females that are sold as bred, are confirmed pregnant following a rectal or ultrasound examination by a veterinarian. A popular term at cattle auctions is “safe in calf”. This term can be misleading, as it means the same as “bred”, and does not imply some sort of guaranteed delivery of a live calf.

Cattle sold out of state require an interstate health certificate completed by a veterinarian in the state of origin usually within 30 days of transport. The state of destination may require certain tests prior to allowing entry of cattle from another state. Brucellosis vaccination and/or testing may be necessary, as might tuberculosis testing. It is a legal necessity to fulfill the requirements for shipment to another state. Your veterinarian can determine exactly what requirements are necessary for the state of destination. Shipping or receiving cattle without proper health papers is illegal and can result is significant fines and possible incarceration.

Arranging for shipment of cattle is another responsibility of the seller. If the seller is delivering the cattle, then he must be clear if there is a charge for such delivery. Failure to plainly state that shipping is or is not included in the cost of the cattle is a major source of misunderstanding and disgruntled buyers. Many Highland cattle purchasers are new to the cattle business, and have no comprehension of the cost of running a truck and trailer, particularly over long distances.

Choosing the right time to deliver cattle is also the seller’s responsibility. Shipping cows that are imminently due to calve, or choosing a hot muggy day to haul a full trailer 8-10 hours are all potential disasters. Extremely hot weather, with or without high humidity, is dangerous for all cattle. Heatstroke, abortion and death are all possibilities. Even if the buyer is picking up his new purchases, or sending a truck, it is the seller’s responsibility to make sure that the cattle have every opportunity to arrive safely and in good health. While the cattle may have technically changed ownership once they are loaded onto the buyer’s truck, a disastrous journey may be blamed on the seller, regardless of fault.

Lastly, back up the product you are selling. The one factor that should be guaranteed when selling breeding cattle is that with routine care and feed, barring any illness or injury, females will conceive and carry a calf to term. Bulls should be capable of mounting and impregnating females, and be capable of passing a standard breeding soundness exam. If your breeding stock, through no fault of the buyer, cannot do this, you should replace it. It is recommended that all cattle be sold under the terms and conditions set forth by the American Highland Cattle Association. Sometimes, even when the buyer is arguably at fault, it is better for your reputation to just replace the animal.

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from fencing and feeding,

to selection and veterinary care.

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