A few cattle buyers and sellers were on hand for one of the last official summer auction events at West Point Livestock Auction in West Point, Neb., a quiet time before the rush of fall cattle sales.
In early September, a lot of ranchers were weaning and vaccinating their calves, said Jon Schaben, who co-owns the sale barn. It takes about 30 to 45 days to completely ween a calf and to complete the battery of vaccinations against respiratory ailments to produce a pre-conditioned calf. That is a big portion of calf marketing at West Point, he said.
Before pre-conditioned calves were ready, the auction was fairly quiet. The season – coupled with the Tyson plant in Holcomb, Kansas, that stirred markets – made for a slow time at the barn.
One customer visited the Thursday sale in the first week of September to sell some tail-enders. The time of year he sells depends on supply and demand, he said, and he had yet to clear out all of his cattle.
Another rancher who works with cows and calves, mostly fat cattle, said it depends on the day if he’s buying or selling.
A fourth-generation rancher, Morgan Olsen of Lyons, Nebraska, was at the sale barn with her dad. She said they usually sell later in the year, but they were there in early September to sell her open cows.
The auction also had some tourists. Mary Lou Wenninghoff a West Point native, and Marlene Clausen, originally of Pender, Nebraska, brought their husbands John and Art, respectively. The two couples now live in Omaha, but the country girls wanted to expose their city-slicker spouses to the rural life.
“It was a bucket list item,” said Wenninghoff. This was the first trip to a livestock auction for Clausen since long before she had married.
It was remarkably different than the last time she was there. Jim Schaben Jr., and Jon Schaben purchased the West Point Sales Co., from John and Mary Ahrens in 2006. They renamed the business West Point Livestock Auction.
They have since updated and upgraded the facility with new pipe pens, taking their capacity to more than 4,000 head. A modern veterinary facility, which helps reduce stress and makes processing cattle go smoother and an improved load-out area have also been added.
“It’s always nice to have a vet on staff,” Jon Schaben said. “Anything that makes the handling of the cattle easier makes business better.”
The sightseeing group was in high spirits – a noticeable contrast to the cattle producers present.
Producers stated they were worried that the cattle industry was going to go the way of the hog industry in Nebraska. Small, independent producers were squeezed out of the hog market due to contracted facilities working for Farmland Industries (now Smithfield Foods).
The Tyson situation has had a negative impact on cattle commerce in the area, according to some.
One rancher who asked not to be named claimed he was losing about $500 per head.
“I realize farming is hard work and also has a small profit margin’” he said. “But, ranching is a 365-day-a-year endeavor. Livestock have to be fed whether it’s Christmas Day or just Tuesday.”
Schaben acknowledged that it has been a rough year for cattle producers in the state. But, he said the people he has had the honor to work with are some of the greatest agricultural operators in the country.
“They’re tough buggers,” he said. “They work hard to market a quality product to the entire world.”