Dietterle, Harper purchase Faith Livestock after Vance family operates it for 57 years
May 19, 2017
Gary Vance has seen some ranches add 200 pounds to their calf weights. It didn't happen overnight, but neither did the success of Faith Livestock Commission Company under the Vance family's watch care.
After 57 years in the auction business, the Vance family of Faith, South Dakota, will hand the reins to two fresh faces – Mason Dietterle of Meadow, South Dakota and Dace Harper of Faith.
Gary Vance, said he feels good about the change of ownership that is set to be finalized in June.
"I think Mason and Dace will do a good job. I feel like we've left our customers in really, really good hands. That makes me feel good. They are local boys that everyone knows and trusts," said Gary.
“They are young, they are energetic, both are familiar with the livestock and the people here. It will be a good fit. They are going to have some ideas of what they want to do differently and that’s great
— something new doesn’t hurt.” Gary Vance, former owner of Faith Livestock
Dietterle, 28 and Harper, 31, have both worked as auctioneers at Faith Livestock and other barns throughout western South Dakota
In 1960, Gary's dad Lawrence Vance, along with local teacher Nip Vane, local rancher and entrepreneur Walk Weaver and cattleman Nels Babcock bought the salebarn enterprise from The Eddy brothers and Harry Krause. They had purchased it from Milt Sturgis, a prominent Faith businessman who had a dealership and other businesses in town. He had established the auction market in 1938.
The Vance family had homesteaded south of Red Elm, South Dakota, and Lawrence had managed bulk oil sales in Dupree, and had more recently managed the Mobridge sale barn for Billy Richardson, and worked at the Mclaughlin salebarn, according to Scott. Babcock had worked with Lawrence in Mobridge.
And when the salebarn in Faith came up for sale, he jumped at the opportunity – moving home to get into the business.
Within a few years of the four men buying the business together, they were down to two owners – Vance and Babcock. In 1964, the current barn was built. By 1971, young Gary bought out Nels's share and it has been owned strictly by the Vance family ever since. In 1996, Scott bought a third, leaving the window open for his brother to join the business. In 2002, Scott purchased another 17 percent to own half, when his brother decided to pursue other interests. He now lives in Texas and works for Equibrand.
When Gary was a kid, he recalls many 350 weight calves coming to town in the fall. The heavy ones were 450. "Now the bulk of them weigh 550 to 650 with some in the 7s," he says.
Lawrence died in 1980.
Gary added a ring scale in 1983, which sped up the sales. "When we put the ring scale in, it changed your marketing a lot. It made it a lot quicker and you could sell cattle better with less shrink and that kind of thing," he said.
Beginning in 1993, the Vances improved their pens in the back – replacing all of the wood with steel pipe and sucker rod, and re-vamping sort alleys and pens to make the cattle flow more smoothly and to minimize the stress on both livestock and staff.
Scott recalls some cattle trends changing.
"The first years when I moved back everyone ran three different bulls – a Hereford, a Charolais and a black bull. It was hard to get loads of any one color of calves. That has changed considerably," Scott recalls.
He also points out advancements made through technology such as artificial insemination, embryo transfer, preweaning shots and more.
For the last five years, Faith Livestock has sold about 80,000 to 85,000 head of cattle plus 25,000 to 30,000 sheep. Cattle numbers have grown consistently throughout the family's tenure with the barn, Gary said.
"The first of October you look at the list and number of cattle in our auction, let alone the whole state and it's overwhelming. By Thanksgiving, you don't know how you got it all to work out but it did," said Scott of the busy fall run.
Gary said that they kicked off their first ever "livestock week" in 1983 – with sales on more days than just Monday that week. Faith was one of the first salebarns to add additional sale days during the fall.
"We started having a sale every day of the week during livestock week – Monday through Friday. I think we were the first ones to try that. It was very successful." Now Faith Livestock sells cattle for three days during livestock week, the third week of October.
While the yard help and office staff was a bit apprehensive about the multiple sale days, they were willing to try.
"We've got good help. Your help is what makes all of this successful in the auction business. If you have good help, you'll get things done that you want to do and we've been very fortunate to have that all of these years," said Gary.
Scott said another big change he's witnessed is a drop in sheep numbers.
"When I came back, we were still selling 100,000 head of sheep per year. Now the barn handles 25,000 to 30,000 head, and draws from a much bigger area, he said. "We're selling sheep from Bismarck, North Dakota, from Montana. Predator problems and labor issues on local ranches have diminished sheep numbers in the region, he said.
Salebarns are crucial to a small town's success and Faith Livestock is an example of this.
Gary said the community has always supported the salebarn, and vice versa.
"Other businesses in town will have sales on Mondays or Wednesdays – whenever we are selling – to encourage people to come in to town." Gary said the town built a new school recently, and between the economic foundation from the salebarn and the new school building, families who might otherwise choose to send their kids to a different school are making the choice to educate their children in Faith.
Both Scott and Gary enjoy the fact that Faith Livestock has truly been a family business.
"I've had the opportunity to work with my dad to learn the business, I had a son here with me to be able to work with and it's been a family business. I appreciate that part as much as anything , to be able to have the opportunity to work with my father and son both," said Gary.
The two men have also enjoyed the loyalty they've enjoyed from customers – in some cases they say that a fourth generation from the same ranch is now selling with them.
"One of the things I feel really good about is we've had the opportunity to do business with ranch families that have spanned three and four generations. That makes you pretty proud of what you've done." Gary credits the loyalty of western South Dakota ranchers for the ongoing relationship. "If you do a good job for them, they are very loyal."
Scott said that when ranchers drop off cattle, he cares for them as as his own.
"I look at it as we're working as hard to market those cattle as they did to raise them. Our family has always taken pride in that. As far as sorting, handling, feeding, watering, loading and unloading – I want to treat them like they are mine," said Scott, adding that he and Gary have also made a point of treating buyers right and building strong relationships with them.
"We've had a wonderful crew over the years," said Scott.
Gary agrees, saying that their success has been dependent on the helpful and hardworking staff they've enjoyed over the years.
Dietterle and Harper say that they don't plan to change the staff, except to add Doug Dietterle, Mason's father and Faith Livestock auctioneer, as a field man.
"We've got one of the best crews around," said Dietterle, who ranches with his family about 50 miles north of Faith. "Vances left us in good hands with outstanding yard crew and office help.
"The stars lined up just right," Dietterle said of buying the barn from Vances.
Dietterle, who graduated from the World Wide College of Engineering in Mason City Iowa, five years ago, said worked out back at Faith Livestock before attending auctioneer school.
Harper, who lives with his wife Jodi and daughter Macy just south of Faith, said he and Mason will focus on managing the salebarn, not calling bids. "We will keep Doug Dietterle and Seth Weishaar as our auctioneers."
Both young men look forward to stepping into a leadership role, and believe their livestock experience as well as their familiarity with Faith area ranchers will be an asset.
"I've been around the business a while and I've been to a lot of different sales and barns and I think that we're going to take a little good from everyone we've experienced and add it into what is already being done," said Harper.
Gary is excited to see how the fresh blood influences the business.
"They are young, they are energetic, both are familiar with the livestock and the people here. It will be a good fit. They are going to have some ideas of what they want to do differently and that's great – something new doesn't hurt."