2022 Black Hills Stock Show Agribusiness of the Year: Marc & Jill Hotchkiss, The Livestock Link
Technology in agriculture is nothing new, but the way it is being used and implemented is always evolving. Today, you won’t find many people without a phone in their pocket, many of which have direct access to the internet. Mark Hotchkiss saw this trend more than a decade ago and knew it had to be a part of his business, so he created the Livestock Link, a livestock marketing company dedicated to videos and online sales. This year, Mark and his wife Jill Hotchkiss are honored as 2021 Agribusiness People of the Year by the Black Hills Stock Show and Rodeo.
The Agribusiness Person of the Year Award has been bestowed on many people since the conception in 1992 showcasing the humble families in the region. “We are thrilled this year to honor the Hotchkiss Family,” said Amanda Kammerer, Black Hills Stock Show marketing and livestock director.
A working relationship between the Livestock Link and the Black Hills Stock Show has been ongoing for about 10 years, according to Kammerer. A clerking program written by Hotchkiss is part of what makes The Livestock Link attractive for many producers, especially those at the Black Hills Stock Show. With more than 200 different consigners during the BHSS livestock sales, keeping buyer and seller information, as well as animal information, can get a little hectic.
“The program is cool because (Mark) designed it, and he can fit it to your needs,” said Kammerer.
Kammerer says the best part of the program in her opinion is the ability to share information so seamlessly. The computers store all of the consigner information, so when a buyer invoice is printed, the consigner information is on the invoice as well. It works the same for consigners; on the check they receive, buyer information is printed and easy to find. At the BHSS, consigners are in charge of changing papers, so having buyer information on their checks when they are getting paid is easy and convenient.
“It (the program) will do media reports, averages, and so much more so they have all of the data on-hand right after the event,” said Kammerer.
When Hotchkiss started the Livestock Link in 2009, there weren’t a lot of people navigating the video sale space. Working many sales as a representative of Hereford America, a company he and his wife also own, the first video sale Marc saw was the Cross Diamond Sale in Nebraska. There were many things he liked about the video sale, but one issue he didn’t like was the layout of all the screens. At this particular sale, there were small screens spaced about 30 feet or so along the wall and the auctioneer had a few small tv screens in front of him as well.
“It just didn’t cut the mustard for me,” said Marc, “people were distracted, they weren’t keeping eye contact with the auctioneer.”
The Livestock Link started with projector screens to really get the size right. Three screens would be set up in the front of the sale block, similar to how a ring would flow. One computer would be used at the front for clerking and running the videos, and two computers would be in the back, checking out customers while the sale was going on.
For Hotchkiss, it was important to get people to turn their attention to the auctioneer and the front of the sale. By running a video sale, auctioneers are able to keep their momentum without worrying about live animals in the ring. Often during a live sale animals will cause a ruckus, chase down a ring man, or hold up the sale, with a video sale format that becomes a non-issue.
“It really makes a difference,” said Hotchkiss. He says more animals can be sold in a shorter amount to time thanks to the video sale format and the Livestock Link screen set-up.
Hotchkiss recalls writing the first clerking program in 2009 in just three months. It was tested out during a dispersion sale, and then BHSS became one of the first to use the program. Before the Livestock Link clerking system, the BHSS sales were all clerked by hand, which was time-consuming and took a while to gather the results. The Livestock Link allows buyers to check out before the sale is over, letting buyers pick up their animals and hit the road before dark.
In the early days of the Livestock Link, people were less trusting of videos and still images. Hotchkiss has seen it differently though. Video sales have helped producers sell livestock even when the weather is awful and live sales would have been a disaster. Video sales and online bidding open up the door for many more buyers to participate.
“I have never seen a guy switch to video sales and ever go back to a live sale,” said Hotchkiss.
According to him, more people are liking the video sale format with online bidding (which they started offering a few years ago). Hotchkiss says the video sales bring large payoffs, like fewer disruptions which halt bidding, producers can hire half (or less) help than usual for sale day, and clerking becomes a breeze.
Hotchkiss said The Livestock Link does a little more than 50 sales a year with the clerking program, as well as videos, and edits sale prospects for more than 70 customers each year.
“The Hotchkisses are super easy to work with and are very customer friendly,” said Kammerer, “they continue to get better and better each year and it has become somewhat of a one-stop-shop for livestock producers.”
As far as being honored as BHSS Agribusiness People of the Year, Hotchkiss says it has been humbling.
“I have always looked up to those people who have receive this award in the past,” said Hotchkiss. “It makes me humble that we have something like that to hang on the wall as well.”
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