Buying Registered Sheep at Auction


Herd Master
Mar 13, 2015
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Shadow Hills, CA
Buying Registered Sheep

Ridgetop/BYH November 2019th
Special thanks to Beekissed for the instructions on how to do a posting!
I posted this on another thread originally, but was recommended to post this information on it's own thread in the hopes that it might be of use to those of us looking for information on finding good quality registered starter animals, or adding good quality registered animals to an existing flock. Since I am putting this in its own thread I have expanded the article. I love livestock shows, and the auctions are really a good place to get information. It is a good opportunity to buy animals from out of the area breeders with different bloodlines.
First, things to know about buying any animal:

  1. Not all registered animals are good quality.
  2. Quality and type (the overall look of the animal) can be subjective to the breeder.
  3. Know what the animal is supposed to look like according to the breed standard.
  4. Know what you like in the breed and want to breed for in your flock.
  5. If you are breeding for meat production, learn about carcass and meat cuts to know where the meat is on the animal. This will help you choose good production stock.
Now on to the meat of this thread. I know – bad pun!
You have decided you want a certain breed of sheep. You want to buy registered stock. I assume that you know the health hazards of the animals and are aware of the questions to ask when purchasing. This thread is not about those things since they have been covered in other threads by other people on this site. This thread is specific to finding, locating, and purchasing at sales of registered sheep in most breeds. Not all breeds will have shows and sales like these. Heritage and rare breeds are not addressed here.

First, go on-line and join your national breed organization (club). Some breeds have more than one. Check them out to see which is the main one. Some organizations charge non-members more to register animals, transfer animals, etc. while some clubs won't allow you to do any of that unless you are a member. You will also receive interesting communications about the breed, advances in marketing, medical and health research, etc. Often the information will come as a quarterly magazine or newsletter, you will also get ads telling you when the national shows (which all have auctions) will be held and where. A lot of breed organizations will also post breed information in their websites - good place to check out occasionally.

When you contact your national breed organization, they will have a list of local and state clubs with the appropriate persons to contact for information. The "local" clubs usually cover several states, i.e. northern, eastern, central, western, southern or combinations. Join the one for your area. These clubs will also sponsor shows and auctions which will be closer to you than the national show.
Once you have joined these 2 organizations, the magazines and newsletters will have a long list of upcoming events. Usually the club sponsored shows and auctions will all be in one section by dates. Privately held on-line auctions will be advertised in the publications too. I suggest you investigate these private sales as well. Many excellent breeders consign quality animals to these sales. Some private sales are held only by tone flock owner at their ranch. Other on-line sales are held by groups of breeders consigning animals.

Sometimes the larger club sponsored shows will have a live on-line show and auction. The first Western States Dorper Association show I saw was on-line. I watched the show and was able to call in bids. I did not get anything because my max bid was outbid by $25 and my bidder did not go over what I had told him. Had I been there I could gone up another $25 myself and possibly gotten the ewe, however, there are always more at the next show. It is easy to get carried away by thinking "Oh, it is only another $25, $50, etc." until you are way over your max! Avoid that if possible.

Shows with auctions will have the animals at the show grounds for you to see in person. The benefit here is that you will see the animals, talk to the breeders, and be able to touch and feel their structure for yourself instead of relying on pictures and videos. Additionally, you will be able to see how the judge places the animals with an explanation of why he is placing them in that sequence. If you can go to these larger club sponsored shows and auctions you will learn a lot from the judges' comments. If possible, try to arrive the night before the show so you can wander around the pens and look at the sheep in person. Feel free to introduce yourself and ask questions from everyone. The exhibitors usually have flock signs advertising their ranch above their pens. The lot numbers (and pedigrees) of their entries will be posted over the sheep in their pens as well. I take a notebook and note the animals I am interested in as I walk around based on their bloodlines and breeders. On show day I get a catalogue (available at the check in desk) and check off the animals I selected the day before or that morning. During the show I mark the placements of the animals and the judge’s comments as they apply to what I want to add to my flock - thickness, size, masculinity in bucks, femininity in does, etc. This helps when the auction comes up since the animals will be auctioned off in order from Champion, Reserve Champion, 1st place down through each classification. Classes are in order of age, youngest to oldest, all rams first followed by all ewes.
If you do not go with your own trailer, or live several days away and don’t want to travel home with your purchases, you will have to arrange transport. Transport companies' information will be available before the show and auction. Sometimes you can arrange with , private persons to bring your animals to you if they live close. The consignors and auction personnel will help you find transport but do it before you bid so you know you have the transport and information. Nothing worse than buying and not having a way to get your beautiful animal home! At the last show we attended a buyer did not make arrangements with the show personnel or transport personnel before the end of the bidding. The transporter was full, and ended up leaving not knowing the buyer wanted him to load and transport his 4 animals. Luckily another exhibitor transported them to a local breeder who was sending animals out on another transport that had room for the sheep.

With an on-line auction there is no in person inspection. Some of the consignors may even be out of state producers. The sale catalogue is posted with the lot numbers, and name of the breeder or consignor several weeks prior to the show. The minimum bid will be posted. Animals will be added, changed or omitted according to the breeder so check the catalogue every day if you are seriously considering buying. The catalogue also contains pedigrees, photos, u-tube videos, descriptions, and information supplied by the breeder about the animal. The photos and information is usually added to the catalogue about a week before the auction. This gives you time to look at the animal and pedigree, look up the breeders' web sites on-line to compare before you decide to bid on the animal.
If the flock is on Lambplan, or another testing organization, the breeder usually posts the test results on the animals. You can go on the testing website and look up how to read the testing report. Do this as soon as possible before the auction since it can be confusing to learn to read the report. Otherwise, ask the breeder to translate it for you, again before the auction starts. You are spending hard earned money so you need to know what those strange numbers and abbreviations mean. The breeders are usually very nice and helpful, not only because they want to sell, but they are proud of their stock. The good breeders I have met are just great people who want to be helpful. You can also call the breeders to ask further questions about the animals and their flocks in general. Most do annual vaccinations as well as other health tests, so check on this with the breeder. They will also give you information how you can get the animals you buy transported to your ranch, or a location easy for you to pick them up.
I also call breeders after the auction to get information on other things and they have all been wonderfully helpful and taken time to discuss whatever I need. This includes breeders in other parts of the country that I may have in my pedigrees but have not bought animals from. Other good resources are the Board members or Area Representatives of the breed clubs you have joined. The job of the Area Representatives is to talk to their local members and help them with questions or problems. That is why they were elected. Most are pretty good about this.

Most auctions will have either a minimum bid price, or a minimum price set by the consignor, listed in their catalog or in the auction requirements, along with methods of payment, registration for bidding, pick up information, etc. Don’t be confused if you see different prices posted as minimum bids. Often the breeders put a reserve on their animals if they have a backup buyer at home. I have been lucky to get most of my lovely animals for close to the minimum bid prices. Prices fluctuate in sheep just as they do in other livestock. Some years prices will be high, while other years prices will be extremely low, I was lucky to buy in a low cycle. Be flexible and earmark several different animals for bid, that way you should get at least one or two of them allowing for being outbid by other buyers.
Some on-line auctions take place in real time all at once. Others last several days usually over a weekend allowing as many people as possible to see the animals and bid. Sign up as a bidder at the beginning. There is no charge to sign on as a bidder. When the auction opens, wait to bid until the middle of the auction, don’t drive the prices up too fast. With an on-line auction, check in every few hours to see if you have been outbid. Don't let yourself be swayed on the maximum prices you decided to pay just because some of your choices are bid up high - complement yourself on having a good eye for a good animal and let the overbid one go. There will always be others just as good for the price you want to pay at other auctions.

The animals you buy at a show will be registered. At on-line auctions there will sometimes be “commercial” lots. These animals are purebred but not registered. Breeders with flocks in excess of 100 to 1000 animals do not bother to register all their animals. Registration is expensive and if you are keeping several hundred breeding ewes for meat production, there is no need to register them. They will be good brood ewes, but not good enough to be registered. Sometimes they are listed as “exposed” which means they have been with a ram and will hopefully be pregnant. Usually these ewes will be older, a bloodline no longer needed by the breeder, or less productive. The breeder is selling them to make room for younger replacement ewes. “Commercials” are usually sold in lots of 3 to 10 ewes. When you bid on any lot of multiple sheep, the minimum price listed is PER SHEEP, not for the entire pen. If you only want to breed meat commercially, these ewes, especially if exposed to a ram and already pregnant, can be a good buy.

At some sales the auction price will include the transfer fees on the paperwork, and the papers will often be mailed to you straight from the breed organization. Otherwise, the papers will be given to you and you will have to transfer the registration paperwork yourself. All animals must have specific health tests according to the state where the auction is held. In California shows and auctions a vet certificate showing no evidence of hoof rot is required for all sheep. Rams require a separate certificate showing a negative blood test for Brucellosis. Most states need the negative Brucellosis test to import. Check your state to see if you need any other special import health certificates if the auction is held outside the state.

Once you have registered for any on-line auction, whether you are a successful buyer or not, you will usually get a notice of the next auctions as they come up. I put the approximate dates on my new calendar at the beginning of each year. They are usually held in the same month each year, on specific weekends (i.e.2nd, 3rd, etc.). There are 2 good on-line Dorper auctions in California, in May and October. Most on-line auctions are sponsored by a group of breeders who get together to sell their stock, occasionally you will have a sale at someone's ranch if the breeder is a big outfit. There are also large auctions for club lambs (youth market lambs for Fairs) which doesn't concern us at this point. There are set auctions by breeders in different areas of the country. They will all be advertised in the various sheep publications.

The Breed Show will give you a very good idea of what the breed standard is according to that judge on that day. A different judge (or the same judge) might put the same class up in different placings the next day. Judging is subjective as to how each judge interprets the breed standard, and how he sees the animal on the day. Winners will praise the judge for his exceptional skills, losers will swear he is blind and has no business in the ring. You should have some idea of what you think the ideal animal should look like, then amuse yourself by placing the class. Once the judge finishes lining up his placements, write them down and listen to the judge’s explanations for his placings. When judging (and buying) livestock the truth is in the touch. You need to feel the animal to judge for yourself the width and length of loin, thickness of leg, is the meat carried into the twist. The judge is doing this, listen and write down any comments that are pertinent to the animals you like. After the show and before the auction next morning, go around to the pens of animals and ask the owners if you can feel the ones you are thinking about buying. The owners will be available to discuss the animals with you. You are a potential buyer - a VIP to them and they will be glad to show off their animals to you. If the judge has time after the show and you have already chosen some animals you are interested in, ask if he can give you his opinion on them personally. Some judges are happy to walk around with potential buyers and discuss different animals as to their suitability for what your needs. Faults in the ring that prevented them being Champion may not be a deterrent to your purposes. I.e. I planned to bid on 3 lovely yearling ewes, excellent bloodlines, but only upper middle placings in a large class. I asked the judge’s opinion of them and why they did not place higher. According to the judge their only flaw was that their heads were not as feminine as the animals that beat them. Breeding to a good buck that comes from ewes with feminine heads will correct that in one generation. The harder things to obtain, thickness, length, overall quality take longer to breed in but these ewes had those excellent qualities. Hs recommendation was they were definitely worth buying.
Now on to the auction itself. You have an idea of what your ideal ewe or ram should look like according to the standard. The judge placed the animals as he saw them. If you were able to get his recommendations, you have earmarked those animals you see as ideal for you. You know what you are planning to buy – a ewe, a ram, a starter flock, do you want the ewes breedable now, or are you willing to buy lambs and wait to breed. Ewe lambs often go cheaper since they won’t be breedable (safely) for another 5 months. Are you looking to buy a complete flock? If you want to improve your current flock - the saying "the buck is half your herd" is true. A great genetic sire can improve the worst ewes, improving your flock while you are saving to add some excellent ewes. A good ram will improve ALL the lambs born while a ewe will only improve the one or two per year she produces. If money is a problem, put most of your money into a good ram first, and if you have enough then bid on some late ewe lambs to breed next year. They are often cheaper than yearling ewes because you have to wait to produce from them.

Bidding begins, and when the auction is over, hopefully you are the proud owner of some beautiful sheep at reasonable prices. Now the paperwork – the auction will have a check out table where you will pay for the animals you bought, collect their health paperwork, and get your receipt. There is pandemonium in the barn as the buyers and consignors bring in their trailers to start loading up. If you are having a transport firm bring them home, you will need the paperwork from the cashier for the transport driver. Then you will have to find him and the seller, and make sure the right animals get on the trailer to be driven to your ranch. The transport driver will need the health paperwork if you live out of state since he will have to show it at the border. If you brought your own trailer, all you have to do is find the seller, collect your animals, load them, and hit the road.

If you are like me, you will spend the trip home reliving the excitement of the auction when the hammer came down and you triumphantly bought those lovely sheep. Oh yes, and planning for the next show and auction!


Herd Master
Aug 22, 2010
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Northeast Texas
Very good post Ridgetop! This explained in great detail, an excellent "how-to" buy a sheep at auction! Thank you!


Herd Master
Aug 3, 2008
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mountains of WV
I agree and I think this should be a sticky thread.....excellent information that many look for but few find when first wanting to start with any given livestock.

Thank you, @Ridgetop , for all your valuable information written out in such a comprehensive, well written article!