Selling options for beef cattle

You may be able to improve your profitability depending on the selling systems you choose. It is useful to keep up to date with selling options in case there is an opportunity to improve your returns using a new method. Options for selling beef cattle include:

Selling options

Paddock sales

Stock are inspected on the vendor’s property by the buyer and are sold straight out of the paddock. Price is generally negotiated on a dollars per head ($/hd) or cents per kg liveweight (c/kg) basis. This method is typically used for larger lines of cattle. Obviously if the sale is by weight the animals have to be weighed. This can be done on the property but is sometimes done on scales at a saleyard.

Saleyard auction

At present most cattle are sold through the saleyards auction system. Many larger saleyards have scales and sell on a liveweight basis. This usually involves a curfew where cattle have to be at the saleyard by a specific time before the sale. Cattle that do not make the curfew time are sold on a $/head basis. More information is available from the Australian Livestock Markets Association.

Over the hook sales

With ‘over the hook’ sales, stock are delivered directly to the abattoir. Stock may be sold with or without an agent. Change of ownership takes place at the abattoir scales. The terms of sale will vary between different abattoirs. Generally transport to the abattoir and the transaction levy are paid by the vendor. You are not paid for condemned carcases or bruise trim.

The actual carcase weight measured at the abattoir can vary depending on the carcase trim used, and whether it is a hot or cold weight. Initially, the carcase is weighed at the end of the chain while it is still ‘hot’. If the abattoir trades on cold weight, around 3% is deducted from the hot carcase weight to provide the cold weight. The actual deduction for the shrinkage varies from 2–4% to account for the water weight loss during cooling in the abattoir. A list of AUS-MEAT accredited abattoirs is available from AUS-MEAT.


AuctionsPlus began as CALM (i.e. Computer Aided Livestock Marketing) in 1987 as a method of selling livestock by description. Cattle sales are held weekly and bids can be taken through your preferred agent or home computer nationally. The sale is on farm. Stock are assessed prior to sale by an accredited AuctionsPlus assessor who enters a description of the cattle including photos into a computer-based catalogue. Potential buyers must register and receive a usercode and password that allows them to view the catalogue. AuctionsPlus combines the best features of the saleyard system – access to a wide range of buyers – while allowing direct consignment to the buyer. Selling livestock on AuctionsPlus is through your preferred Livestock Agent. Cattle can be sold on the basis of $/hd, c/kg liveweight or c/kg carcase weight or on a grid. Transport costs are paid by the buyer and transit insurance is offered by AuctionsPlus.

Other online options

Online classifieds such as, Livestock Connect, The Herd Online, Online Livestock and Farm Tender provide advertising of livestock to buyers nationwide. Listings are available for cattle marketed on farm, on AuctionsPlus or at upcoming sales. Fees vary for the type of listing. Social media and Gumtree are increasingly used for advertising livestock without agent, saleyard or platform fees. Agreements are similar to paddock sales and the Meat & Livestock Australia transaction levy still applies. Review the biosecurity requirements for buying and selling cattle online at NSW DPI Primefact- NLIS: online sales.

Forward contracts

A standard forward contract is essentially a contractual agreement between a producer and a processor for the producer to supply a given product at a given time for a given price. The contract includes details of:

  • the number, age, sex, breed type, weight range and fat range of the contract cattle
  • the fortnight during which they will be delivered
  • pricing arrangements.


An alliance brings together some or all of the individuals involved in the beef supply chain from breeder to customer. The purpose is to improve the returns to all parties usually by supplying a consistent, high quality product to the consumer. For this to occur:

  • the quality of the product needs to be accurately assessed (chiller assessment/yield)
  • the price paid needs to be directly related to the quality of each product (value-based marketing)
  • feedback on price and quality must be communicated from the consumer to producer.

Direct to customer

As part of the paddock to plate movement, boxed beef or whole sides can be sold directly to customers rather than selling to the abattoir. Meat is processed by a third party (butcher) or in an accredited onsite facility. Producers must comply with food safety regulations. More information is available at Food Standards Australia and New Zealand.

Selling costs

  • A transaction levy of $5/head is paid to Meat & Livestock Australia on all cattle sales.
  • Agents can assist with all forms of sales with commission up to 5%. Using an agent includes delcredere insurance which guarantees payment.
  • Saleyard fees range from around $4 to $7.50 per head. Additional charges apply for non-reader or replacing lost NLIS devices.
  • AuctionsPlus has a listing fee of $5.90/head. (Contact your agent for assessing or agent fees).
  • AuctionsPlus delivery is farm gate and the purchaser pays the freight unless offered.
  • Online classifieds have listing fees ranging from free to $75 for a featured listing. Price varies between per listing and per head depending on site.

Advantages and disadvantages of each selling option

Advantages Disadvantages
Paddock sales
  • Minimal selling costs.
  • Minimal transport and handling.
  • Buyers know in advance the number and type of stock to be delivered.
  • Limited competition and carcase feedback.
  • Inefficient for buyers if small numbers are to be sold.
  • Potential for difficulties in agreeing on weights, for example, due to unregistered scales, non-defined curfews.
Saleyard auction
  • Wide competition and accessibility.
  • All stock types and lots of any size can be sold.
  • Vendors can set a reserve price and can compare quality and price.
  • Payment is guaranteed by the agents.
  • Transport costs, saleyard dues, weighing fees and commission must be paid.
  • Possibility of buyer collusion and no negotiation between buyers and vendors.
  • Limited feedback, no carcase feedback.
  • Generally the vendor has to accept the price on the day because of the costs incurred whether or not the cattle are sold.
  • Subsequent animal performance or meat quality can be reduced by stress due to transport, handling and time off feed.
Over the hook sales
  • Subjective appearance values do not affect the price received.
  • You receive clear market and price signals relating to carcase quality and are provided with feedback.
  • Minimal transport and handling costs and possibly no commission costs.
  • Lack of competition unless selling using AuctionsPlus.
  • Unless AUS-MEAT-accredited, abattoirs will set differing conditions regarding carcase trim, hot or cold weight and feedback.
(formerly CALM)
  • Competition and exposure is nationwide.
  • Vendor can set a reserve price; stock do not have to leave the property until it is met.
  • No transport costs for vendor.
  • Payment is guaranteed.
  • Large range of buying and selling options.
  • Particularly suits geographically isolated producers, although this method can be used anywhere with any numbers.
  • Feedback is provided to producers for c/kg and grid sales.
  • Minimal transport and handling damage.
  • Buyers have to adjust to using a computer and not viewing live animals.
  • Vendors and buyers need to have confidence in the AuctionsPlus assessors for accurate stock description.
Other online options
  • Exposure to an additional buyer base.
  • Pre-marketing of cattle before the sale day increases interest.
  • Limited fees with social media or Gumtree sales.
  • Payment not guaranteed with social media or Gumtree sales.


Forward contracts
  • Provides a guaranteed price therefore eliminating the risk of price fluctuations.
  • Enables the producer to confidently plan the purchase of store cattle and feed.
  • Enables the producer to implement appropriate feeding and grazing management strategies.
  • A guaranteed return can be of assistance in negotiating loans and managing financial arrangements.
  • Processors are able to clearly communicate their precise requirements to both producers and agents.
  • Processors can guarantee continuity of supply and maintain the reputation and integrity of their product brands.
  • Producer needs to have a high degree of control over the production system, supplying the specified product at the specified time (unforeseen circumstances may make this difficult).
  • If the cattle cannot be supplied as specified in the contract, the producer is required to supply the shortfall with an equal number of animals from an alternative source within seven days of notification.
  • Price fluctuations are reduced.
  • A consistent premium price can be achieved for a consistent premium product.
  • Price reflects the retail value of the carcase, not supply and demand.
  • Objective feedback from the consumer to the producer benefits breeding/selection decisions.
  • Having a known outlet and likely returns provides security for the producer.
  • Producer needs to have a high degree of control over the production system, supplying the specified product at the specified time (unforeseen circumstances may make this difficult).
  • Higher or lower prices elsewhere test loyalties.
Direct to customer
  • Direct customer feedback possible.
  • Seller can set the price.
  • Premium prices can be obtained through marketing.
  • Increased cost and time commitment.
  • Food safety regulations to meet.
  • Producer needs to have a high degree of control over the production system, having a consistent supply to meet market demand (unforeseen circumstances may make this difficult).
  • Distribution challenges.

To assess the economics of different selling options for your own situation, download the ‘Cattle Marketing Ready Reckoner’ tool.

Reviewed by Eloise Moir and Roger Sneath, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

This document was reviewed as part of the GrazingFutures Project. GrazingFutures is funded by the Queensland Government’s Drought and Climate Adaptation Program (DCAP) that aims to build drought and business resilience for Queensland livestock producers.