Families Growing Our Food: Ranchers Save Livestock Market

Husker Home Place

When they almost lost their local livestock market, Sandhills ranchers sprang into action to save it.

Published on: May 31, 2013

Curt’s Comments:   Sandhills cattle are renowned around the world as some of the highest quality, healthiest cattle. The grass conditions in the Sandhills are perfect for raising cattle, and this shouldn’t be lost on consumers looking for a perfect cut of tasty beef. That’s why keeping the Valentine Livestock Auction open was so important to local ranchers and the community of Valentine, literally located in the “heart” of the Sandhills cattle country.

If you’ve never been to Valentine, you need to visit. The ranch folks around that area are about as independent and self-reliant as they come, but friendly and down-to-earth. So, when a bunch of ranchers banded together, putting their creativity, their financial resources and their reputations on the line, to keep Valentine Livestock Auction alive and well, it was a testament to how a bunch of very independent operators can bond, compromise and make good things happen. What they’ve done in Valentine should serve as a lesson for community-minded folks everywhere.

SAVING CREW: Some of the shareholders in the Valentine Livestock venture gathered for a sale day photo during my visit in 2011.
SAVING CREW: Some of the shareholders in the Valentine Livestock venture gathered for a sale day photo during my visit in 2011.

Here is their story…

Ranchers and investors around Valentine reached a milestone in 2011. A group of stockholders who resurrected Valentine Livestock Auction in 1992, were able to burn the mortgage on their new sale barn facility opened in 2003.

This action put an exclamation point at the end of a statement made over 20 years ago by local residents, when they re-opened the sale barn after it had been closed. Valentine Livestock is important not only to ranchers and cattlemen for selling and buying cattle, but to the city of Valentine too.

Lawrence Turner of Sparks, who served as the stockholders’ first president 20 years ago, says that it is almost unbelievable what the group of investors and loyal employees of the barn have accomplished together.

“When we started, our skeptics said it would never work,” Turner says. “To have the facilities and corrals that we have and to have it all paid for - I guess we proved them wrong.”

Today, a typical fall or winter feeder calf sale might bring a run of over 5000 head of cattle through the market. Selling over 100,000 head annually, Valentine Livestock is consistently ranked as one of the top two or three busiest sale barns in the state. Before the barn closed and was purchased by stockholders two decades ago, they were selling around 50,000 head a year, so business has doubled.

“Back then, we just felt that we needed a barn in Valentine, and maybe the only way for that to happen was for a group of us to own it ourselves,” Turner says. Twenty-nine stockholders, ranchers, business owners and residents in the area, purchased the barn and offered vision for the market’s future.

Now, Turner says that there are still around 26 stockholders, with some second generation families holding shares in the venture. Greg Arndt has managed the sale barn almost from the beginning, and most of the barn’s employees have been there the entire time. “A lot of the credit for our success has to go to Greg and our employees,” says stockholder and Springview rancher, Corky Worth. “Many of the employees have been there from day one. When you have good help, it makes you successful.”

An executive board consisting of six stockholders is elected each year at an annual stockholder meeting, usually held in late summer. The executive board meets regularly. “We all get along pretty well,” Turner says. “That’s how it goes when things are successful and we don’t have many problems.”

“I enjoy being involved in the cattle business and the merchandising business,” says Arndt. “Around here, it is what we do. We raise cattle. So, we offer a merchandising opportunity for whatever ranchers have to sell.” According to Arndt, Valentine Livestock is important because it provides those opportunities to market much of the agricultural production of the region.

Turner says that it is no accident that cattle come in from over 200 miles away. “Our employees do a great job of sorting cattle, and that brings buyers back,” he says. “And the quality of cattle that we have is very high.”

Turner says the Valentine market guarantees area ranchers a place close to home to market cattle “at top dollar.” He says, “It’s also a huge success for the community and city of Valentine. We employ people, and on sale day, we bring people to town.”

If you like this story or learned something you didn’t know by reading it, please pass it on to your urban friends who are interested in farmers and food production. Be sure to watch the last Friday of every month at Husker Home Place for more stories about the real families growing our food. Next month, I’ll focus on the technology side of agriculture. Folks who aren’t involved in agriculture won’t believe how important technology is to the production of their food.