Why are calves with frozen ears and tails discounted at sale time?

When the ears and the tail are frozen, quite often the feet have been frozen a bit too. Some times the feet are frozen so bad that it is obvious. Sometimes you have to look closely. Other times it is not noticeable until the cattle are pushed with grain. Then the feet start flattening out. The cattle walk and stand and feed similar to foundered cattle. Of course cattle like this do not convert as well and are not of the same value as healthy cattle.

Some of the 550-pound calves I bought cheap, in the sellers’ opinion, with their ears and tails half off, froze their feet last winter in the severe cold. The other cattle didn’t, so I am guessing the frozen-eared ones must have froze their feet a bit at birth when they froze their ears and tail. Their blood circulation had been hampered. It wasn’t obvious when I bought them but it was when I shot them. They were a total loss, as well as any feed I had into them. Looks to me with my cattleman’s logic, that I paid too much for them at any price.

Sometimes their lungs are damaged by frost at the same time as their ears and tail. Their growth is stunted for some reason in many cases. When a truckload of calves comes in and the frozen-eared ones are among the lightest, you have to wonder why. The short-eared ones must be the earliest born. Why aren’t they the biggest, they are the oldest? One thing that the frozen ears do give away is the age. If in November, that calf weighs 300 to 400 pounds it is obvious that he has done nothing in life so far. He has to be six or seven months old. There is seldom a killer frost in July. Buyers back off because he is a welfare case more than because of the ears alone. If he weighs 700 or 800 pounds he is not discounted much. Rule of thumb; a light frozen eared calf will be more severely discounted than a big one.

Another thing that makes buyers nervous is that if the ears are all right, but the tail is frozen off. What happened here? Did they save the ears with earmuffs? If the tail is gone maybe the feet were slightly frost bitten as well. These are all things that buyers watch for. Clues. Maybe not proof of future problems but certainly warning signs.

Another thing is just plain looks. Why pay as much for a disfigured calf as a complete calf? A good example of that was the hailstorm that went through our town a couple of summers ago. It damaged all the vehicles on the sale lots. The dealers had to discount them to get them sold. Why? Each new vehicle should be as mechanically sound as the next. The warranty is the same. Do you think anyone would pay as much for the hailed dented truck as they would for the non-damaged one? They ride the same. They may not be that old before you put your own dents in them anyway. Probably everyone agrees that the trucks are not of the same value. Well, neither are the calves if one has pieces missing.

I am not saying that you shouldn’t buy frozen eared and tailed calves. You can get them cheaper. Maybe ten percent or so of them won’t work out, but there could be some money to be made on the rest.

If you have some frozen eared or frozen tailed calves and you want to get the most out of them here is my suggestion. Keep them over the winter and feed them a growing ration but do not push them with grain. Then run them on grass the next summer. By that fall or by the time they are long yearlings no one will discount them too badly. They are grown out now and any problems will have surfaced by now. If you push them with grain to fatten them you will find out why more experienced buyers avoid them. You may get the opportunity to experience some of the pitfalls yourself.

Roy Rutledge

Market operator and Auctioneer.

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