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Buying livestock online

Before you buy your child’s 4-H calf with the click of a button, arm yourself with information

When you go to a sale barn to buy your child’s 4-H calf or other livestock, the animals are right there and you have a good idea of what you’re getting. Social media and websites such as Craig’s List are also bringing buyers and sellers together, but there are unknown details that you have to pay attention to.

Jim Krantz is an extension cow/calf field specialist at South Dakota State University. He says there are many honest and respectful people who sell livestock online. But like anything else you buy off the internet, be careful. Look at pictures with a critical eye. Photo editing software makes it easy for a seller to dramatically change the look of an animal.

"I’m not saying they all do this, but when some producers put their cattle online, they do doctor them to an extent, we know that that happens," says Krantz. "You can brush them and make them look more massive, or more hairy, or you can eliminate some distraction that an animal’s got. So I think it’s particularly important for buyers to be cautious of that, especially in still pictures."

A video may be a more accurate representation. Videos can be edited, but they can’t change the look of the animal itself.

When you see something that you’re interested in, it’s time to do your homework. Visit the seller to evaluate the animals with your own eyes. Even if that’s not possible, Krantz says it’s important to ask questions, research the seller’s background, and make a phone call.

"If you talk to somebody and it’s all about the ribbon placings, and the number of awards and trophies they’ve won, and they never talk about families or their cattle and their reputation, then I’d be really, really cautious," says Krantz. "There are people out there that just are out to sell cattle for a lot of money and forget about the families and individuals that actually purchase them."

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