North Dakota: Kist Livestock expands as other sale barns close

Farm Forum

Kist Livestock Auction in Mandan, N.D., has expanded to take on more cattle, but with two sale barns closing this year ranchers may still have problems selling.

Nine new pens and a cattle working area have been added to the Kist property, expanding the sale barn’s capacity by about 1,200 cattle, said partner Jerry Kist. Mainly, the addition was for bull sales.

“They need a lot of room, especially for purebred bulls. They require extra care and extra straw,” Kist said.

Kist Livestock Auction started selling more bulls and sheep after Farmer’s Livestock Exchange in Bismarck was sold to developers last February.

Now, Northern Livestock Auction in Minot also is closing. The last sale is Jan. 29, said co-owner Roger Sundsbak. The land where the sale barn sits was leased from BNSF Railway and the railroad needs it back because of increased rail traffic, Sundsbak said.

The sale barn has been open for 60 years and handles 61,000 animals per year, Sundsbak said. Land is available but it’s costly to build a new sale barn.

“They (ranchers) will have to find ways around it,” said Jeremy Doan, a rancher in McKenzie. “It has a big impact right now until they find other options.”

Sundsbak said a lot of smaller ranchers who once sold in Minot are not sure what they’re going to do.

“They can’t be driving another 80 miles to sell two cows,” he said.

“It’s strange that two long-time barns close in same calendar year,” said Julie Ellingson, executive director of the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association. Ranchers in the state are lucky that there are a lot of “quality outlets,” though, she said.

“Producers will have to make the decision (about) what’s best for them, distance-wise and attracting buyers,” Ellingson said. “The animals have to be sold somewhere.”

Ellingson said some ranchers may weigh fuel costs or reconfigure their marketing plan and travel farther. Others might consider selling at their farm instead of through a marketing outlet.

“Everybody’s individual situation will be a little bit different,” she said.

Fred Helbling, a Mandan rancher, has been selling most of his cattle on his farm for about 10 years and has seen his bull sales increase.

“There are options,” he said.

Helbling said even though space is tight at Kist Livestock Auction, the expansion will help and the sale barn has a pretty good market. Those ranchers having to travel farther will make up their freight costs by getting a higher price for their cattle. For smaller ranchers, neighbors can get together and take their cattle at the same time.

Some Minot ranchers may choose to sell in Williston or at the Rugby Livestock sale barn.

Rugby Livestock owner Glen Thiel said his sale barn has plenty of room. He said he sells about 1,500 to 1,800 cattle each week. In years past, he’s been able to handle 3,000 and has even sold up to 4,000 in one day.

Kist’s sale numbers have been up by a few thousand cattle because of strong beef prices and the closing of Farmer’s Livestock, Kist said. Butcher cows are sold late Tuesdays.

The sale might have to start earlier after one lasted until 3:30 a.m. — just in time for feeder cattle sale to start at 8 a.m. Wednesday. Some of those Wednesday sales have even been going until 10 p.m. or midnight, Kist said.

“It gets to be too much for the help,” he said.

The largest sale this year had 6,800 cattle, and the two after that one had 6,000. Kist said he tries not to go over 6,000 during a sale.

“If everything continues as normal, we plan to see even more,” Kist said. “We can only handle so much.”

It had been 20 years since the sale yard’s last expansion, Kist said.

“I don’t know where we can expand anymore,” he said. “The city is closing in around us.”

“All cattle tend to go south, though,” Kist said, so the sale barn might have to take on some of the cattle from Minot.

Napoleon Livestock Auction in Napoleon is another barn that can help take in the cattle from Minot. Co-owner Paul Bitz said his dad, George Bitz, was a co-owner of Northern Livestock Auction.

“Dad may have some customers that will still do business with him down here,” he