Then & Now: Livestock at the Black Hills Stock Show® |

Then & Now: Livestock at the Black Hills Stock Show®

Rachel Gabel Spencer, Freelance Contributor

In 1958, 12 percent of the population was involved in production agriculture. According to the Black Hills Stock Show’s website, it was that fact, paired with the desire to protect agricultural communities and lifestyles, that spurred planners of what is now the Black Hills Stock Show to gather in a laundromat and make a commitment to protect the western heritage in the state of South Dakota. A South Dakota event second in size only to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, the Black Hills Stock Show draws livestock exhibitors, rodeo contestants, performance horse enthusiasts and fans. 

In the show’s first year, three breeds of cattle were exhibited, numbering a mere 140 head in an unheated barn. From its beginnings featuring only Hereford, Angus, and Shorthorn, it attracted agricultural producers for a chance to exhibit, visit, and visit vendor booths. In 1961, the Shorthorn World Magazine predicted the show’s success given its locale in the heart of cattle country. 

As the cattle shows continued to thrive and add breeds, the committee added a rodeo in 1978, another draw for attendees. The Black Hills Stock Show is celebrating 60 years in 2018 and while the face of the agriculture industry looks different than it did the day organizers gathered in the laundromat, the event has become a showcase. This year ushers in additional days featuring the South Dakota Cutting Horse Association, a National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) show, and a related Bridle Spectacular. Cattle exhibitors will roll into Rapid City with 10 breeds of cattle, attendees can enjoy the Truck Defender 2-Day Horse Sale, as well as hundreds of vendors, exhibits, and demonstrations. 

Amanda Kammerer, BHSS livestock coordinator, grew up exhibiting and consigning cattle at the Stock Show. Originally from Rapid City, Kammerer grew up on her family’s Angus operation. She gained an appreciation for the cattle industry growing up in cattle country and now serves the industry through her involvement with the show and sale. 

Unlike many livestock shows, the BHSS is a consignment sale for the 10 breeds of cattle. Heifers and bulls are exhibited and then sold in one of the most well-known consignment sales in the region. Kammerer said most consignments come from breeders hoping to reach both new and existing customers and this year will include breeders from South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Breed representatives use the show results to determine sale order. 

Though the facilities have changed, and the show and sale have grown, some traditions remain.  

Lori Maude, of Hermosa, South Dakota, recalls attending the sale when it was still located in the Soule Building at the fairgrounds prior to moving to the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center. She remembers going to what was then called the Winter Show with her grandmother and parents. The family exhibited and sold Shorthorn cattle, one of the three original breeds. True to the roots of the show and sale, Maude recalls it attracting local and regional seed stock producers and buyers who were able to attend prior to the start of calving season at home on ranches. She also, quite vividly, recalls the constant cold temperatures of the original facility in South Dakota’s January.  

Over the course of the growth of Continental cattle breeds in the United States, what later became known as the Black Hills Stock Show added Continental breeds, including the Gelbvieh cattle Maude’s operation show and sell. Together with her sister, Maude operates CJ & L Livestock and that seedstock operation, as well as Maude’s involvement on the BHSS Board of Directors, leads her to Rapid City each January. 

One of the qualities of the BHSS that sets it apart from other shows is the amount of input consignors can offer to sale management. Consignors, through their breed representatives and meetings, are apprised of rule changes and are able to influence rule changes, advertising decisions, as well as proposed changes to the schedule. 

“It really allows (consignors) to have input,” Maude said. “What are the things that could improve this event for you as a consignor? Also, as sellers, we try to talk to our buyers from year to year and ask them what would be better from their perspective.” 

Consignors are even integral in the selection of the three auctioneers, the individuals who truly play a huge role in the success of the week for both seller and buyer.

One change the original organizers may never have imagined is the addition of online buyers through DV Auctions. Buyers unable to be there in person are able to see the show and sale streamed live online and place their bids. Maude said this has expanded the reach of the sale, her customer base, and has allowed the sale to stay in step with industry trends. 

“It has broadened where the cattle are sold,” Maude said. “We still count heavily upon commercial cow calf producers in western South Dakota, eastern Wyoming, Nebraska, Montana, North Dakota. We still count on those folks coming and supporting us in person but the online auction has allowed us to sell quality seedstock to other parts of the country as well.” 

While the judging of the cattle shows takes place in the ring, the Supreme Drive takes place in front of the thousands of fans in the rodeo arena. Both grand and reserve champions are selected, and the grand champions are displayed on Supreme Row.  

Maude said having a breed champion bull or champion female displayed on Supreme Row is an excellent opportunity for producers to showcase their cattle to other producers as well as the public.  

Following the tie down roping at the Saturday night rodeo performance, all 10 breed champions of both heifers and bulls are led into the dark arena beneath a spotlight. In front of a full house, the Supreme Champion Heifer and Supreme Champion bull are crowned. 

“It’s such a cool atmosphere,” she said. “It’s great being able to really showcase your breed.” 

Rodeo fans in attendance for the crowning moment are, she said, a mix of rural and urban people so parading the best of each of the ten breeds ties the original organizers’ goals back to that moment beneath the spotlight. Fans are able to see the best of each breed, learn about the seedstock cattle exhibited, and be a part of the original mission of protecting the western heritage of the state. 

“It’s great to be able to showcase the breed and the breeders who brought excellent cattle,” she said. 

To the end of protecting the state’s heritage, Maude said producers have become more aware of the changing dynamic of attendees and make an effort to be consumer focused and to help educate about the cattle industry and the role they play from their ranch.  

“(They’re) not just representing their breed but the beef industry with every conversation you have,” she said. “People have become much more aware. Each positive interaction is a positive for our beef business.” 

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