|By SARAH B. AUBREY
LYNCHBURG, Ohio — Becky Thompson, cattle producer from Whitesboro, Texas, honestly didn’t know what she was getting into in 1997 when she and her husband, Ron, put up their first website.
At the time, their intensions were simple; they wanted to get more people to see their cattle and come to the farm to buy calves. They didn’t know they had just started a web design business.
“The first year we had a website, we tripled the business on our farm,” said Thompson, who is still surprised. “People, kids especially, would come to the farm with the entire website printed out and say, ‘I want that calf.’”
Today, the Thompsons operate a website called www.showsteers.com, one of the leading sites in the seedstock business where clients advertise and sell calves. Interested people can go there for a resource to a variety of industry links from trailer sales to cattle dog breeders.
More than three million people have visited the website since 2000. Thompson believes it is the most visited beef cattle site on the Internet.
Ben Kelly, with Kelly Cattle Company in Dallas Center, Iowa estimates that about 30-40 percent of his annual business comes from web traffic and that his website generates a new group of “sight unseen” cattle bidders each year in time for his fall sale. Kelly changes the site almost monthly to advertise different animals for sale depending on the season and what he has available.
In the summer and fall he advertised calves; in the spring he markets embryos, bred cows and semen using some innovative approaches.
“The most effective new thing we’ve done is using the video clips of calves. It’s so much easier than sending out VHS or CDs,” he said, noting that he uses the video clips only for feature lots in the sale to keep the site’s loading time quick. “This has improved our sales in one year and we’ve gotten new customers.”
Kelly has had a website since 2001. He also uses a downloadable sale catalog in addition to the 5,000 paper catalogs he mails out each year.
“The downloaded catalog is great for people who call last minute and want to see cattle; I can’t get them a catalog in the mail in time, but I can send them to the website,” he said.
Kelly also accepts Visa and MasterCard for semen and embryo purchases, and even live cattle.
“People may know they only have $3,500 in their checking account, but they might have $10,000 credit, and they might bid a little farther (if paying by credit card),” he said. “Every year, we sell two or three heifers paid for on a credit card.”
Kelly Long of Lynchburg, Ohio, is new to using a website for marketing and sales. She added her site last August and got great results “instantaneously.”
“I put the site up to promote a calf sale because I needed some immediate promotion, and boy did it work,” Long said. “We got national, not just local, exposure, and it increased our sale average. We sold cattle to new states.”
Long estimates that 50 percent of contacts that lead to sales come from the web.
“You can travel a long way in your living room,” she added saying that the Internet helped her generate interest in her sale from as far away as Maryland and Texas.
Besides promotion, the web is used by some cattle farms to actually transact sales. Edje Technologies, owned by Ed Tlach in Indianola, Iowa and his partners at semen distributor Cattle Visions operate www.onlinebullstud.com
Through links from Edje’s cattle website called www.breedingcattlepage.com, or by going directly to www.onlinebull stud.com, a buyer can look for semen on bulls from 16 breeds, plus composites.
The semen order is placed online through a secure site, then the order is sent by UPS to the customer after a credit is charged. Tlach said that many of his www.breedcattlepage.com customers list their bulls online with the Visa and MasterCard symbol allowing a customer to order and pay right from a producer’s home website.
“More and more beef producers want to advertise and sell online,” said Tlach. “Our business grows by about 30 new customers each month that add websites.”
Costs vary depending on the web designer and site administrator used. But, producers universally seem to agree that cost verses return is 2-to-1 in favor of web advertising beef cattle and genetics.
“A one-page website for 365 days will cost about $300, and for just a bit more, you can change out photos to have a new look. Websites are very economical,” said Thompson.
At www.breedingcattlepage.com, Tlach said setup will cost about $500-800, then around $500 per year for maintenance.
“Costs depend on whether or not it’s a multipage website and if we’re adding any video,” he said.
Website maintenance, namely keeping pictures new and different, is the biggest time factor to a successful site. Some producers use numerous pages for text, photos and pedigree information, as well as farm history, but Long has been successful keeping it short.
“I think you need to keep the information to a minimum,” Long said. “The most pages I’ve had are just two, because of the time it takes to shoot pictures and keep it up to date.”
Kelly believes in using only the best of what’s available.
“You don’t need 10-15 pictures if you’ve only got one good one,” he said. “We might spend 15-16 days taking shots for our catalog because the most important thing online is good photos.”
Thompson recommends that producers update the site at least monthly to keep potential customers coming back for something new. At www.show steers.com, producer websites are flagged with a flashing “new” button every time updates are made.
“The balance needed is between being creative on the site and keeping it fast loading. Most people are there just to look at the cattle,” Thompson said.
This farm news was published in the April 12, 2006 issue of Farm World.