Ranchers typically buy calves by contracting with either large-scale dairy farms or registered breeders and choosing calves that are a good fit for their herds. However, most ranchers with established herds primarily breed their own calves.
The process for buying a calf is determined by how the rancher intends to use the animal. A small-scale farmer who simply wants to raise a meat calf for personal use may go to an livestock auction and buy an animal there. On the other hand, a rancher looking to replace an aged cow or to add new blood to a breeding program is more likely to research local breeding programs and carefully evaluate a calf for its bloodlines and quality. These ranchers generally buy directly from other ranchers.
A common source of calves is the dairy industry. Dairy cows must get pregnant periodically in order to maintain their milk supply. The ensuing calves are often sold through middlemen. Farming agencies contract with large-scale dairies to buy unwanted calves and sell them to ranchers. Other ranchers approach the dairies directly and buy from them on a more personal level.
Some newer ranchers also buy calves from classified advertisements in newspapers or local farming magazines. This is done similarly to buying any other product. The buyer reaches out to the seller, then inspects the calves and buys them. Some states may require a livestock inspection or other health papers before the sale is finalized.