By the 1990's, there was one livestock sales yard in Twin Falls, Idaho, and by 2007, now there are 11 in the state.
Scooter LaCrone, manager of the Shoshone Livestock Commission, also manages the Emmett Valley Livestock Auction with Chad Lowry. "We've had the yards here (Shoshone) for two years." LaCrone says. "Our numbers were down a little last year, I don't think there is the number of cattle here that there used to be."
LaCrone sites a number of reasons for the changing number of auctions. "We used to get a lot of cattle from the high country above Horseshoe Bend." says LaCrone. "A lot of that property along the river was subdivided into vacation homes."
"The other thing that changed our markets was large dairies." LaCrone says. "When they sort their cows, the culls have to be marketed that day. They sort six days a week and whatever market is open gets the cull cows."
LaCrone's competition in the area includes four cull cow buying stations, a small processing facility in the Twin Falls area, as well as auctions in Twin Falls, Burley and Jerome, Idaho.
"The big ranches are using video auctions." LaCrone says. "Anybody that can put together 48,000 pounds of calves is selling there. I think the shrink they take on those calves is bigger than the commission they would pay us." One semi-truck load of calves weighs 48,000 pounds.
Many southern Idaho feedlots have been converted from fat cattle to dairy heifers. The Simplot Company's feedlots in Grandview, Idaho and Hermiston, Oregon are reported to be feeding dairy heifers.
In the mid-1900's, buyers traveled from farm to farm buying one or two cows to resell at auction yards or other farms. Many farmers didn't have access to trucks and these "Gypo's" provided a marketing service by coming to the farm. The advent of the ton trucks and later, light weight trailers put an end to this market.
Many of the 200,000 calves born on large Magic Valley dairies are contracted to companies specialized in raising replacement heifers and Holstein steers. These newborn calves are usually picked up each day for delivery to the calf raising facilities.
Economics isn't the only factor in the drop in number of auctions. Activists pushing to outlaw horse slaughter have brought that market to a standstill.
Mike Bott , Rupert, Idaho order buyer has supplied horses to slaughter facilities for decades. "They just closed the two plants in Texas." Bott says. "Those guys said it just wasn't worth fighting."
"I think we can still send a few thick (fat) horses to Canada and Illinois," says Bott, "but it's just a matter time before they close."
Small livestock producers seem to have benefited most from the public auctions in the west. The continued trend of aging operators and consolidation of ranches is mirrored in the continued trend for fewer public livestock auctions.
Tews writes from Shoshone, Idaho.
For more on this story see the May Western Farmer-Stockman, page 26.