MARKET ACCESS: Salebarns carry on tradition of service, profitability
for Tri-State Livestock News
Whether selling 40 head or 400 head, livestock auction markets connect buyers and sellers.
Herris Lambley, long-time owner of Burke Livestock, in Burke, South Dakota, told Tri-State Livestock News, “Regardless of what the merchandise is, whether it’s livestock, machinery or dry goods, the auction is the most fair way to all sides of the business, whether you’re a buyer, consumer or seller.”
“My husband and I have complete confidence in the salebarn,” said Delia Johnson.
She and her husband Dean have been selling cattle at the Fort Pierre Livestock Auction for 20 years.
“I can’t stress how important it is,” Johnson said. “It’s the only transparent market we have. The only way you know what a calf is really worth is if everyone is sitting there bidding.”
The Johnsons get their mail at the little town of Fairburn, South Dakota. The salebarn is about 200 miles away.
The Johnsons generally sell their calves in June when they weigh in the 700-pound range.
“We usually pull the calves in December and background them through the winter on cake and hay,” Johnson said. “The dry cows usually go in July.”
The Johnsons keep a closed herd with their own replacement heifers, raising black and black baldie calves, which went to organic buyers for the last few years.
“There seems to be a niche market for that,” Johnson said.
“Our industry gets manipulated enough, but not at the salebarn. I hope we never lose it.”
Brad Klostergaard is one of the owners of Sioux Falls Regional Livestock in Worthing, South Dakota. The business is locally owned and operated and the staff has a combined 200 years’ experience in the livestock industry. The operation has two smaller salebarns at Sioux Center and Sheldon, Iowa. The salebarns are about 60 miles apart.
“We’ll sell about 3,000, 3,500 feeder cattle on Monday,” Klostergaard said. “A thousand to 1,500 sheep on Wednesday and about 1,000 fats (slaughter cattle) and replacement cows on Friday.”
Klostergaard said while a few cattle are sold on video, most of his business is live sales. Much of the stock comes in the night before and Klostergaard said all are put on hay and water all night and the pens are bedded in the winter.
Klostergaard has been in the salebarn business for nine years and he said sales have gotten steadily larger. He said approximately 60 to 70 percent of the feeders he sells go back to the country with the rest going to feedlots. Almost all the stocker cows return to the ranch.
“A lot of these guys are backgrounders you know,” Klostergaard said. “They buy these feeders and take them home to grow them out.”
Klostergaard said the main operation is one-third under roof and most cattle leave the yard the day of the sale. He speculates most of the cattle sold there come from herds of 100 head or less.
“Twice a month we have a dairy sale at Sioux Center,” Klostergaard said, “and once a month we have a Holstein steer and heifer sale.”
Sales at the Sheldon salebarn are held on Wednesdays.
“I think we’ve got a chance of it getting larger,” Klostergaard said of the salebarn business.
Brian Little and Jimmy Ted King are owners of Coffeyville Livestock Market in Coffeyville, Kanas. Both are auctioneers and were raised in communities near their business.
The pair bought the salebarn in 2004.
The barn was built in the 1930s and most of the pens were wooden. “There were some metal pens in the back,” Little said, “but they were all in pretty bad shape.”
Now the facility has been rebuilt and refurbished.
“We rebuilt the new pavilion and we were never shut down,” Little said. “It was in July and we tore the old pavilion down after the sale on Thursday and we had a sale the next Thursday with two walls. We brought in some mobile bleachers and fans.
“We sold about 1,500 head that day I think, so we thought we just couldn’t shut down on our customers.”
That is what King and Little strive to do, please the customers.
“When Jimmy Ted and I bought this barn and rebuilt, our goal was to modernize,” Little said. Overnight pens all have hay racks and automatic waterers.
“We only buy the best hay and keep the water clean. We want customers to have the confidence of knowing that their cattle will have the best quality hay – something they will eat. Plus if we don’t feed high quality hay, it just makes a mess we have to clean up.”
Little said Rick Coxsey, a long time employee of the barn, can be seen each week on the skid steer making sure pens are kept clean and dry.
“The grass roots of our business is guys with I’d say 30 cows or less,” Little said. “We have some big consignors, but most of our consignments are six or seven head. For instance, this week we sold 1,300 head and had 170 consignors.
“If you have small numbers to sell, buyers out in the country are not going to be knocking on your door because they don’t have anywhere to go with 20 three to 400 weight cattle that are both steers and heifers.”
And that’s why salebarn markets are doing well. Little said the average Thursday cattle sale is 1,200 head. “We sold 61,000 head last year,” Little said.
“We sell 3,000 to 4,000 a year on video,” King said.
“We sell more cows on video because most calves are on a load lot basis and that doesn’t cater to our customer base, although we do get some that way. We can sell 20 cows on there and get along pretty well.”
When a consignor sells video cattle, he receives a check on sale day as if they were sold through the sale ring. The barn is fully bonded. Usually the salebarn staff produces the video.
“They rely on our opinion of how their cattle should sell, cow-calf or whatever, so it works better if we make the video,” King said.
On the day cattle are picked up by the buyer, King or Little is present to make sure the contract is completed as written.
“Customers don’t have to bring their cattle to us,” King said. “We want them to know that when they do, they will get as good or better care than they would at home.”
Little and King see a bright future for salebarn auctions.
“There was a lot of heifer retention last year,” Little said. “I’m optimistic on the numbers. I don’t look for any decrease in numbers and I can see growth over the next five years.”
In addition to the weekly Thursday cattle sale, Coffeyville Livestock Market has a hog, sheep and goat sale once a month. It is on the second Tuesday beginning at 5 p.m.
“It probably doesn’t make any money, it’s more of a community service,” Little said. “I see it as a way to get people in here to see our facility, and maybe that will make them want to bring in some cattle.
“We take a lot of pride in our facility,” Little said.
Jack Hunter at Crawford Livestock Market in Crawford, Nebraska, sees his salebarn as more than an auction.
“We always feel we are a livestock market,” Hunter said. “We work hard to put cattle together for them (the producers) and market them.”
During the fall months, the Friday sale will be 5,000 to 6,000 head. “We’re selling 300 to 500 head now,” Hunter said.
“We sell both full loads and (consignments) from 100 or less herds,” Hunter said.
“My books are already full for next fall. We know who’s going to be on which sale,” Hunter said. E-mails and letters are sent to buyers advising them when consignors will sell.
Hunter has a thriving market in video sales, selling 25,000 head that way last year.
“We work with Western Video,” Hunter said. “That way we are dealing with people who do this (make cattle sale videos) every day. The consignment fee is a little higher at 1.5 to 2 percent, but they don’t have any trucking fees.”
The operation at Crawford is all outside and 75 percent of the cattle arrive on sale day. Any early arrivals are put on hay and water.
“We’re in an area here where guys all make their living ranching. They’re our friends,” Hunter said. In fact, Hunter grew up about 30 miles from his salebarn in South Dakota.
“Our numbers are very strong,” Hunter said. “We lost a lot of cattle in a blizzard a year ago, but most retained heifers because the steer prices were good.
“We got a good rain last week, about an inch. It’s greening up and growing.”