WINDSOR, Mo. — Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, you can find the Drenons answering phone calls, sorting cattle and taking care of customers at the Windsor Livestock Auction.
After working in partnership with his dad for a few years, Rodney Drenon bought out his share of the barn in 1992. He knew there was opportunity, and now his sons Jake and Blake share in the family tradition.
Situated at the intersection of four counties in west central Missouri, Windsor Livestock Auction has developed a strong following of cow-calf, stocker and feedlot operators. Rodney said the barn sold less than 8,000 head in 1991. Today, their weekly calf sale averages 1,500.
“We started working the country and building the business up from there,” he said.
The Drenons take their job as marketers seriously.
“The sale barn business is always a challenge and always something you have to work at. We stress honesty and all our cattle are farm-fresh cattle,” Rodney said. “I think it’s one of the few businesses left in the world that is built on one-on-one relationships with sellers and buyers.”
Most markets have gone through some changes over the past 20 years, says Chelsea Good, vice president of government and industry affairs for the Livestock Marketing Association.
She says technology has allowed markets to reach a broader audience through the online streaming of auctions, allowing sellers to watch the sale even if they cannot be there. Online bidding is also popular with some markets, Good says.
Livestock markets are also involved in helping producers meet different requirements when it comes to rules and regulations.
“If you need an official ID if you are taking cattle across state lines, the livestock markets will make sure you stay in compliance,” she says.
Good says the LMA has made animal welfare a top priority, creating a guide to help train and educate market employees on how to properly handle livestock.
“Our markets go through an assessment of their animal handling techniques,” she says, adding changes could be recommended after that assessment.
The LMA and its members are also involved in disease prevention, working with the USDA and state governments on programs designed to limit movement in the event of a foreign animal disease outbreak.
Windsor Livestock Auction has seen a lot of change in the last 25 years, including auction declines. In fact, they are one of the few barns that have increased their sale size.
The base of buyers and sellers had to grow, Jake said.
“When dad bought it, it looked good because of the territory. But with cattle numbers declining and the competition with row crop farmers, we had to expand our reach,” Jake said.
Early on, most of the sellers lived within 50 miles of the barn.
“Now we get cattle from over 100 miles away. Our trade area has expanded by over double in the last 10 years,” he said.
Rodney said they often have eight to 14 buyers at their sale each week. A majority of the cattle go to Kansas, but the Drenons also have buyers in Nebraska, Iowa, Oklahoma and Missouri.
Their approach to building relationships with producers brought more cattle, and ultimately more buyers.
“We work the country to get the cattle and work the phone to get the buyers,” Rodney said. “You have to have the cattle to get the buyers and have to have buyers to get the cattle.”
Watching the markets
But just having a full barn on sale day doesn’t mean the bidding will be strong. The Drenons understand their responsibility to sell cattle at a good price. And they know what cattle are worth when they enter the ring.
“We look at the futures market every day,” Jake said. “We’re active in the market daily and keep in touch with current trends.”
The Drenons look at the cattle as they sort and determine how much frame, condition and muscle they have.
“The flesh and condition on the cattle make a ton of difference,” Jake said.
This helps them get an idea of what those cattle might be worth. When they enter the ring, Rodney decides where to start the bidding. And sometimes the last-second decision is different from the previous plan.
“You might have an idea of where to start the cattle when they hit the ring, but the buyer doesn’t know what he’ll give for one until they walk in and he sees them,” Rodney said. “It becomes an issue of weight and condition on the cattle. It’s a true price discovery.”
Part of his job throughout the sale is to monitor the bidding and make adjustments to keep the price accurate.
“The market will fluctuate while the sale is going on. Depending on the time of day, the market may adjust,” Rodney said. “We try to make sure there are no holes in the market.”
This may mean setting the floor price higher or lower, depending on how the bidding is going.
“Sometimes we dictate what the buyers will give. That’s our job to know what those cattle are worth,” he said.
Staying updated on markets and keeping cattle moving through the barn is a continuous job.
“What the public doesn’t know is it’s harder mentally and physically to run this if you do it right,” Rodney said. “You have to find a home for all the cattle. You have to fight it and work it all the time. It’s a mental challenge to stay aggressive every hour of the day.”
But the satisfaction of a happy customer makes the toil rewarding, he said.
“We continually work to make sure our producers get a fair market for those cattle week in and week out. And we’ve changed how we try to relate to the producer — what to do on their side to get the most money we can on their cattle,” Jake said.
With additional reporting by Jeff DeYoung.