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Building for success

First Farmers Cooperative’s new Livestock Center catapults popularity of the Co-op’s replacement heifer sale
Story and photos by Sarah Geyer 2/23/2018


Nearly 500 people attended First Farmers Cooperative’s Replacement Heifer and Bull Sale held on Nov. 5 in the Co-op’s new Livestock Center, located behind the Lexington location. Turnout is expected to meet or exceed 500 on March 17 when First Farmers will hold its Fifth Annual Replacement Sale in the 15,000-square-foot facility.
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Build it and they will come. This famous movie quote not only proved true for Kevin Costner’s character, but for First Farmers Cooperative, too — at least in regards to the Co-op’s new 15,000-square-foot Livestock Center. 

On March 18, 2017, the Co-op celebrated the grand opening of the newly constructed facility with its fourth annual replacement heifer sale. Nearly 500 people turned out for the event, practically tripling the average attendance of previous sales, which were held in the Lexington branch’s fertilizer shed.

“It was unreal how many people came to last year’s sale,” says Jeremy Jones, livestock specialist for First Farmers. “And they were ready to buy, too. We auctioned 34 lots open, bred, and first-pair heifers in sets of three, and sales totaled more than $180,000.”

Interest this year is even higher, says Jeremy, and the staff hopes the turnout for the 2018 Cattleman’s Profit Plus Replacement Heifer Sale, scheduled to begin at noon on Saturday, March 17, will surpass 500.

Attendance isn’t the only measure of the sale’s growing popularity, he adds. Producer interest exceeded expectations this year, too. For the first time, all 38 pens were assigned before the Feb. 1 consignment deadline.

As in previous years, during the sign-up period, producers are assigned a pen on a first-come, first-served basis. After the deadline, if any space is available, consigners can add a second, and possibly third, lot of three heifers.

“With the first few sales, we had producers with three or more pens, but that’s changing,” says Jeremy. “With each sale, the barn is filling up faster, and more and more producers want to participate.”

Ronald White and his brother, Mike, who raise row crops and cattle in Reagan, have participated in the sale every year.

“It’s an opportunity to show our cattle to a local market and brings more value with their quality control restrictions,” say the pure bred Hereford and cross-bred Hereford/Angus producers. “The new center not only brings more people to the sales but makes it easier and safer for the employees to handle the cattle.”

Based on the premise that preconditioned cattle typically bring a higher market price, First Farmers’ livestock staff created this sale five years ago  — with specific guidelines and requirements — to provide their customers with another cattle marketing option.

“From the beginning, our No. 1 rule has been that sellers must be a Co-op customer and must buy and feed Co-op feed,” says Jeremy. “After that, there are certain guidelines based on what they want to sell, whether open, bred, or paired heifers.”

A First Farmers livestock specialist and veterinarian screen the animals with a visit to each seller’s farm.

“The heifers have to be structurally sound,” says Jeremy. “If open, they have to be breeding age and size, and wart free. We give them a booster the day we visit the farm to screen them and pull blood to make sure they’re open and then also PI (Persistently Infected) test them [for BVD (Bovine Viral Diarrhea)].”

For bred heifers, the screening process is similar; the animal must be structurally sound, of breeding age, and large enough to carry to term.

“The vet does an ultrasound and makes sure they are bred that day,” he explains. “Then we also vaccinate and PI test them.”

The easiest screening, says the livestock specialist, is for the first pair.

“We make sure both animals are structurally sound,” he says. “We check to see if the mama is milking good and the calf is growing, then we vaccinate and PI test them.”

Strict preconditioning requirements benefit both the buyers and sellers.

“The value of it, in my opinion, is still there for producers who are selling and buying because you know what you’re getting,” says Jeremy. “Just because producers say [the cows have] had shots, doesn’t mean they’ve had correct shots. We know they have and the buyers can trust that.”

As a result of these requirements, the animals usually bring at or above market value.

“It amazes me what this sale as far as dollar amount has done,” he says. “Every year, Jason [Hearn, First Farmers livestock specialist] and I kid about how much a set of pairs will bring. We always wonder if we’ll see a pair bring $3,000, and every year so far we have. Several customers have a friendly competition about whose cattle will bring more. It’s fun.”

The Livestock Center, located behind the Lexington store, was built in three phases. The first two phases — a 7,500-square-foot barn and 4,500-square-foot sale ring and auction area, along with restrooms and an office — were completed in early 2017. The final portion, a kitchen and meeting room, was finished in December.

With the convenience of a permanent livestock facility, First Farmers staff have added a fall sale to their yearly calendar, and it includes bulls along with replacement heifers.

“A lot of our producers have spring bull sales, and we didn’t want to compete with them,” says Jeremy. “We also figured it was another option for our customers who put their bulls in on Dec. 1.”

The first Replacement Heifer and Bull Sale was held on Nov. 4 in the Livestock Center. And, with attendance tallied again near 500, the event proved just as popular as the spring sale.

The facility is also available for community use, and FFA and 4-H groups, purebred producers, and livestock associations have all held sales in the center this year. The recent addition of a kitchen and meeting room offers even more event options for local individuals and organizations.

For more information about First Farmers Co-op’s spring or fall sales or the Livestock Center, contact Jeremy Jones at

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