Changing of the guard: Shawn Madden steps away from Torrington Livestock
For the first time in 29 years, Shawn Madden went fishing on an auction day with his youngest daughter instead of selling cattle at Torrington Livestock Markets.
Madden stepped down from the auction barn partnership, effective July 1. His brother Lex Madden remains an owner, along with Michael Schmitt. Chuck Peterson stepped in to take over Shawn’s piece of the business.
Shawn and Lex partnered in the business in 1988 and have established other entities throughout the years, including farms, feedlots and a ranch, in which they remain partners. Peterson, a field rep for Torrington Livestock, expressed interest in taking on a bigger role, Shawn said, which urged the recent decision to allow Peterson to take Shawn’s part of the business.
“I will still be going to the sale barn; I just don’t have to go every day if I don’t want to. It has gotten to the point where I’d rather try something else,” Shawn said. “We had people there that wanted to step in and that is good. They threw out the idea they would be willing to step in, and in a short period of time, I thought it wouldn’t be too bad an idea. They will come in with fresh energy and fresh ideas, and that is the way it’s supposed to work. The sale barn is in capable hands in Torrington, Wyoming. There will be a livestock auction in Torrington for a long, long time. They will do just fine. If they need any help, I will go in and help them.”
Lex and Schmitt were both receptive to Peterson joining the partnership.
Owning the sale barn was a very rewarding venture for Shawn, but he is ready to look around and see what else is going on. He said he may travel and will spend more time with his daughters, Cassie, 26; Emily, 24; and Tawnee, 15, which has already began with a few hours spent on the lake fishing yesterday with Tawnee.
“We are very excited for Dad to take this next step,” Cassie said. “He is more than deserving of some time off and to take a step back to do the things he has always wanted to do. He’s definitely planning to travel and to actually enjoy a fall and winter rather than work himself to the bone.”
Torrington Livestock Markets hosts three sales per week throughout the busy seasons in the fall and winter; the other two days of those weeks is dedicated to catching up, Shawn said. He will get a reprieve from the constant hectic speed of sale-barn ownership.
Shawn said he isn’t worried about keeping busy. In addition to working in his other businesses, friends have generously offered positions day working like riding cows or raking hay.
In the meantime, Lex plans to remain an owner of Torrington Livestock Markets and Cattle Country Video. “I’m not planning on dying there and making them drag me out, but I’m planning on staying in the business. I enjoy what I do,” he said.
There is no animosity between the brothers, people simply retire, Lex said. He added that the two are “still brothers. We will continue to do business moving forward. He had several strengths in the partnership and things he excelled in. We’ll probably be calling him with questions and guidance from time to time. There might also be times we ask him to help auctioneer.”
“The decision wasn’t adversarial or anything like that. He wanted to step into a bigger role,” Shawn said of the new partner and the relationship with his brother and business partner, Lex. “I just decided I am going to look around and see what else is going on. It was enough for me. I’m sure I will think of something to do.”
Though he left the business, he will surely still be seen occasionally on sale days.
“The catwalks of Torrington Livestock will surely not be the same without him, but I know he plans to still bug them with his two cents from time to time and invest in cattle,” Cassie said of her dad. “He jokes that now he only has to be there when he wants to. I’m definitely not worried about him being bored.”
After nearly three decades in the livestock auction industry, the only constant Shawn has experienced has been change. Through the years, the market has shifted from small feeders to large corporations.
“The small feeder doesn’t have much of a chance anymore. The outfits have gotten bigger, and they just have too much control for a smaller feeder to have much chance of being successful,” he said.
As producers and ranches have grown, so have their cattle. “Most everywhere, the cattle have gotten exponentially bigger and better,” Shawn said. “The genetics got better, the cattle got a lot bigger. The one thing I’ve seen over the years is during a major drought or when there is a lack of feed, people pretty much keep their youngest and best genetics and get rid of the marginal and older cattle. This has led to quality getting substantially higher and more uniform. Most people work hard on their genetics.”
As for young people who are coming into the beef industry, Shawn believes there are opportunities, but there must be a connection in order for there to be success. “They have to either inherit a ranch or come in on capital investment for someone starting out. They could get in a position to take over an operation and definitely be profitable, if they want to do the work,” he said. “As for the livestock marketing industry, there is definitely opportunity there, again, it just takes work and dedication to the customer. It’s a wonderful business with a lot of opportunities.”