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Thoughts about a Sale Barn

Jennifer Bonnell
Loma, Colorado
Jennifer Bonnell

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Every respectable ag community has a sale barn. A sale barn may be like the agricultural version of Wall Street, but it is also more than just a place of business. It is the “weekly event” for many in an ag community. It is a social hub, a recreational activity, and a place to find that special deal on a livestock venture.

I have lots of good sale barn memories. My first memories begin somewhere around 5 or 6 years old. The sale barn was the place my parents bought me my many bum lambs, piglets, and other playmates. My memories linked to the sale barn include raising hundreds of bum lambs, and my father’s inability to grasp that cars are not usually considered for livestock transport.

My brother and I were only 3 and 6 when my dad decided one day that a little pig was a good idea; well, a little pig that was about 50 pounds, that is. He decided to put the pig and two children for companions in the back seat of the car. I’m not sure how he explained the new odor in the car to my mom, but most likely, he really didn’t have to because she already knew no vehicle was safe with him.

I loved the smell of the sale barn, I loved the bum lambs mobbing me daily for their bottles when they got home, and I thought the auctioneer was one of the best things to listen to in the world. Somehow, a kid feels extra important when they are taken to a place of “grown-up” business. Those memories will always be with me and shape the way I view the world and who I am. I will never forget my early experiences at the sale barn.

Recently, I went and spent time at our new sale barn. The Western Slope Cattleman’s Livestock Auction in Loma opened this past year. Good coffee, food, and fellowship are the trade marks of a good sale yard. This one has it covered. A quick look around confirmed that many people come to the auction to just enjoy the atmosphere. Old-timers can be seen up in the stands watching like a retired business man might watch the stocks. They want to see what is going on in the world they poured their lives into. Little kids sit with their parents watching the action, and I’m sure they are asking if they can buy something and maybe have a hot chocolate, too.

I know people simply come to smell the aroma of the working ag world, hear the cadence of the auctioneer, and talk to those who drift in and out all day long from places all over the Western Slope and further away. Of course there are serious buyers at the auction too. They make the auction a success. They are the people who actually make a living in the agricultural world. These are the people to whom we owe our ability to enjoy the atmosphere and joys of this unique ag world.

Like most sale barns, the Western Slope Cattlemen’s Livestock Auction is a hub of activity and hard work. The day before the sale, livestock begins to arrive. They are docked in and then checked by the vet if needed. At docking, vaccination records, weight, and age along with any other pertinent information is recorded for the buyer’s knowledge.

Like the rest of the world, even the sale yard has been subjected to 21st century regulations. I learned a lot about how livestock sales are handled now days. Careful records are kept for selling and buying. The cattle headed for slaughter are each given a back tag so they can be traced. Each state has a tracking number, and then the animal has its own individual tracking number. This is to insure quality and prevent the spread of diseases. Producers, sellers, and buyers are in the business of bringing the best to the consumer.

The actual day of the sale begins early for those working. What goes on behind the scenes of the sale arena begins around 5 a.m. and from there on the day only grows busier. First the livestock are fed. With up to 2,000 cattle at a sale, this is a rather large task. After feeding, the livestock are sorted. Pen riders come from all over the valley to work. They sort, pen, and handle the livestock with the help of some great working horses. I think most come just because they love being around the animals and using their horses.

Livestock handlers are on the ground or the catwalk pushing animals through, doing the finer details of sorting, and handling the animals in the ring. The sale requires a fairly large number of people to make things run smoothly. The actual details of the sorting and selling require knowledgeable handlers and attention to detail. Weight, sex, and age are all taken into account as they are grouped into pens. Hundreds and thousands of livestock are grouped and ready to be taken into the sale ring.

The sale officially begins around 10:30 every Wednesday. Sometimes, there is just too much livestock for one sale, so a second day is added. Then, once a month a special sale takes place; January 9th was an example of this. That day, a Stock Show special sale was held for primarily feeder calves. Though there are larger livestock areas across the country, this sale barn attracts buyers from all over the West. Buyers come in from as far as Arizona, Nebraska, and Texas. Other buyers are as close as a couple miles away. Feedlots, packers, local ranchers, farmers, and families all can find something at the sale barn.

The sale barn is really quite new to the market. Cliff Walls, manager of the sale barn, says he thinks it will only continue to grow. As I’ve listened and discussed the sale yard with others, I’ve found it already has a good reputation and inviting atmosphere in the eyes of the agricultural community. People find it an enjoyable place to conduct business and socialize.

I agree with Mr. Walls and look forward to watching it thrive. I hope that many people have the chance to make great sells, buys, and memories at the Western Slope Cattlemen’s Livestock Auction


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