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Bozeman, Montana

Stockyard finding ways to make it in competitive market 
By Ron Tschida of The Bozeman Daily Chronicle

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January 9, 2003

Pens at the stockyard on the city's northeast corner were bulging Monday with cattle trucked in from as far away as Havre.

By the end of the day, 2,660 cattle had tramped through the auction ring.

That's not a record -- the Bozeman Livestock Sales Company has had single day sales of more than 3,500 head.

But Jim Bowles, the market's general manager, said a recent upturn in fat cattle prices and cattle futures -- contracted prices on later sales -- brought buyers to the sale with a bit more optimism.

"That puts quite a different light on it," Bowles said.

In an ever more competitive cattle market, it sometimes takes an extra effort to make a profit. In the case of the stockyard, the once-a-year Hereford market is evidence of that effort.

The Hereford sale in recent years has become an early-January tradition in Bozeman, said Dale Venhuizen of Churchill, whose Churchill Cattle Company sells purebred Hereford bulls.

"It's maybe the most successful Hereford feeder cattle sale in Montana," Venhuizen said. "Each year we're drawing more animals to the sale from a farther area."

The cattle are sold by auction. Hereford and Hereford-cross calves of about 600 pounds brought $76 to $89 per hundredweight.

"It was a good solid sale," said Venhuizen, who helped sponsor the sale this week. "I think the cattle pretty much brought what they were worth."

Ranchers who buy Venhuizen's Hereford bulls breed those bulls with their cows and sell the calves at markets such as Bozeman Livestock. Buyers are typically feed lot operators in Colorado, Nebraska and elsewhere.

Venhuizen started promoting the annual sale here as a way to help bull-buyers get better prices for their calves.

"We think we have better-than-average genetics," Venhuizen said.

But he has to make sure sellers and buyers know about the sale and know about growers' success with progeny from Churchill Cattle Company.

That's where the extra effort comes in.

To a degree he's helping create a branded, rather than generic, product. If that brings even a penny or two a pound more for calves, it can mean the difference between profit and loss for some operators.

"If they can be successful, consequently we can be successful," Venhuizen said. "In a nationwide market, like our beef industry is, we can't control what the market is here, so what we have to do is add value to the cattle."

One buyer from Nebraska came prepared Monday to buy up to three semitrailer loads of calves, Venhuizen said. But the market was actually just a little too strong and the buyer left empty handed.

Copyright Ron Tschida and The Bozeman Daily Chronicle, reproduced by permission.



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