PASSING ON THE REINS: Burke Livestock handed down after 47 years
If you dated a Lambley you worked at the salebarn. That was the understanding around Burke, S.D., said Mary Lambley, who, with her husband, Herris, just retired from 47 years of owning and operating Burke Livestock.
If you were born a Lambley the saying held true too. The sixth generation of Lambleys “the rugrats” as Herris calls them, is now learning to ride great-grampa’s horse in the ring, sort calves and sit, transfixed by the cadence of Uncle Dillon’s auctioneering.
Herris Lambley grew up in Ainsworth, Neb., the third generation of his family to work in the livestock marketing business. His grandfather started the livestock market in Ainsworth in 1919 and Herris worked in the salebarn from the time he was a little kid. One of the early lessons Herris learned from his grandfather was that an auction gives the truest value of anything. “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,” Herris said.
After he and Mary started their family, they had the chance to buy Burke Livestock Market, so in April of 1967 they moved their kids and dreams to South Dakota. “Herris’s dad was going to come with us,” Mary said, “But he died suddenly that month. But we came ahead.”
From the beginning, the whole family has been involved. In 1967 the Tuesday hog sale was the big sale, with 2,000 hogs going through the salebarn every week.
“It was long days, long nights loading them out, but we made it through,” Mary said. “The kids would come out every night after school. They’d help in the yards. They helped load hogs on Tuesdays. On Saturdays they came and did yardwork.” Herris’s mother lived with them for a while and helped out with taking care of the kids and the office work.
Donivan Lambley, along with his sisters Karen and Jolene, were the kids that spent every day after school building the yards, working in the kitchen, sorting calves and loading hogs. “I’ve been working at the salebarn since I was in kindergarten,” Donivan said.
The early start at the salebarn gave Donivan the foundation to grow up and follow in his dad’s footsteps. And for his kids to do the same. Recently Donivan and his wife Brenda, and their sons Dillon and Chisum, and his wife Kaira, bought the salebarn and took over the ownership and management from Herris and Mary. Donivan and Brenda’s daughter LaNeal Schonebaum runs the office, and their youngest daughter, Cheyenne, who is a senior at Mount Marty College, comes home to help whenever she can.
“I had six grandsons and two granddaughters who grew up in it and took their turn, just like my three kids,” Herris said. Their daughter Karen married Tim Martin and their three kids are Jeremy (married to Kellie), Derreck (married to Danielle) and KayCee. Jolene married David VanMetre and have a son, Tyler, who is married to Val.
“The most certain thing is we couldn’t have done it without the help of our family. They’re our biggest asset by far,” Mary said.
Herris agreed. “It’s definitely been a family operation all through the generations. I’ve taught my son and my grandsons. I guess they’re all smarter than I am because I’ve taught them everything I know, and in addition to what they know, that makes them smarter than me.”
One of the things Herris taught three generations is that if you want a dollar, you have to earn it. “The little guys say, ‘Grampa, I chased them calves in the pen,’ or something like that. They get rewarded. They like a dollar bill. I come from the old mold. You work pretty hard for a dollar or you don’t get one. It just seems to make better kids out of them. If they earn it they know how to hang onto it, or have a better use for it.”
Herris and Mary plan to stay involved, but are looking forward to less of the day-to-day business. “I just call up and say I can’t be there Saturday if I want to take a day off,” Mary said.
“I’m on call already,” Herris said. “The phone rings and it’s ‘Grandpa, what about this?’ or ‘Do you remember where that water line is? We’ve got a leak.’ I plan on staying active as long as the good Lord lets me have my health.”
Herris and Mary have a small place and some cattle that Herris will be able to give more attention to now. “I’ll just continue to take care of my cattle. That’s about all I know.”
If he had the chance, Herris said he’d live the last 47 years over again, but with the knowledge he has now. “All I can do is pass it on,” he said.
“The first cattle sale we ever had, we sold Hereford calves for $.27 a pound. Today they are $3.27 or better. Quite a change for me was when some of the buyers on the seats showed up with pocket calculators. Now I’ve got grandkids with smartphones and they think I should have one. I said I’d have to go back to school to learn to run the doggone thing, but they’re very beneficial. We did everything back then with a pencil and your brain.”
Mary, who always worked in the office and did the paperwork, says switching to computers was one of the biggest changes they saw. “I had never run a computer and I thought I couldn’t do it, but the kids said, ‘Oh yes you can, Mom.’ So I did. That was a good change. It has made us more efficient.”
While Dillon’s memories go back only 20 years or so, a lot of those memories are of the salebarn. “I started working in the yards when I was 7. I can remember chasing escaped cattle and hogs down Burke Main Street.” At 26, Dillon has been auctioneering for more than 10 years. He’s at least the fifth generation of auctioneers in his family, and Herris said the great-grandkids–the oldest is 7 now–like to sit by Dillon and are picking up the trade.
Dillon went to college at Mount Marty where he played baseball and studied business. But he always knew he wanted to come back. “You can’t take it away if that’s where your heart is. I don’t regret my education. It’s helped me be the business person I am. I am happy and proud to say I can be doing this, hopefully for an extended period of time like my grandparents did.”
Other than the loss of most of the hogs when prices bottomed out in the 1990s, Burke Livestock has kept a steady business, and continues to grow. Donivan, Dillon, Chisum and their families look forward to carrying on the tradition of hard work and customer service Herris and Mary instilled.
“It’s my livelihood, and if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing you’re not going to be very good at it. It’s not hard for me to go to work every day,” Dillon said. “I enjoy helping others, knowing they put their trust in you to take care of them. When you’re helping those people in a small community it gives you a great feeling when they pick up their check and thank you for what you do for them. I enjoy being around livestock. That’s how I was born and raised. It’s like a bad disease, once it’s in your blood you can’t get rid of it.”