- Associated Press - Sunday, February 5, 2017

ALMA, Neb. (AP) - A sale barn has been a part of the Alma community for nearly as long as there has been a community.

However, that chain of history was nearly broken a year ago, until a group of local investors stepped forward to purchase the Alma Commission Company and restart Tuesday cattle sales on July 12 that had ended in March, the Kearney Hub (https://bit.ly/2l0jhRv ) reported.

“I’m not sure when it originated. Maybe 100 years,” said sale barn steering committee president Terry Kauk of Alma, adding that researching more about Alma’s livestock sales history is on the to-do list. “It’s been here a long time.”

He said a sale barn originally was where the city’s Harlan County Lake boat dock is now. The business was along the railroad tracks, before the tracks, barn and other buildings were “moved up the hill” and out of the way of the lake project.

There were several owners along the way, most recently Jim Barta of Norfolk. “That’s who we purchased it from,” Kauk said, adding that the closing was on May 4.

“Right now, the steering committee and its members own the barn,” Kauk said, but the business soon will be rolled over into a new company, Alma Livestock Auction, LLC.

When that change is complete, the business will have a seven-member board for which there already have been nominations submitted.

“It will be producer-owned by the entire group. We haven’t reached that benchmark,” Kauk said, but the group is getting close. “We’ll be getting close to 100 when it’s done.”

He added that the limited liability company will be operated similar to a co-op, with patronage dividends and votes weighted based on investment in the company.

Steering committee treasurer Dená Dunse of Republican City said the goal is $350,000 of investment. She and her husband. Nate, have a cow-calf business and do some backgrounding.

“We’re going to put some money into it obviously,” Kauk said, when asked about building improvements. Work has started with a new computer system and office remodeling.

“Structure wise, it’s fair. We know we need to do some pen work, but the general appearance is pretty good,” he continued. “We have to get the business model completed and then we can get working.” Kauk said employee safety is a priority.

The effort to purchase and restart a livestock market that had seen dwindling sales in recent years began with two public information meetings in January 2016. Kauk said the 100 people who attended each meeting understood that saving the business was good for the community, the employees and agriculture.

Kauk credits longtime Alma Commission Company employee Brenda Molzahn, who died unexpectedly three weeks ago, as the leader of that effort.

The next step was creating the 13-member steering committee that has representatives from Franklin, Harlan, Phelps and Furnas counties in Nebraska, and Phillips County in Kansas.

Kauk and Alma sale barn manager Matthew Hegamen said there used to be livestock markets in Franklin, Oxford, Holdrege and Phillipsburg in addition to Alma. Now the closest regular cattle sales are in Kearney, Lexington, and Norton and Plainville, Kansas.

“I think that was one of Brenda’s things. That between Plainville and Kearney is a long stretch,” Kauk said.

The Tuesday sales in Alma that start at noon primarily is for cattle, but Hegamen said there are sheep and goat sales on the first Tuesday of every month.

“There used to be swine through here,” said Kauk, whose cattle business includes a cow-calf herd, backgrounding and fat cattle. His family’s business also used to have swine and dairy cattle.

Hegamen is the only full-time employee at the sale barn, located on Seventh Street west of Highway 183, but there are 24-25 part-time workers.

Hegamen said five or six come in on Mondays to help unload cattle, but nearly all of the part-timers are needed on a sale day. They receive and check-in cattle, add sale identification tags for animals not sold in groups, and sort cattle and calves by gender and size.

Working in the crow’s nest above the sale ring with Downs, Kansas, auctioneer Craig Heinen is a clerk and a “penner” who instructs the outside crew on which animals go together in pens for loading after the sale. There are two ringmen, and people to move cattle into and out of the sale ring.

“I don’t think people understand that you still have three or four people in the office because some sellers, as soon as theirs (cattle) are sold, want their check,” Kauk said. There also are buyers who want to settle up quickly and head down the road.

Another feature at the Alma sale barn is an in-house cafe operated by Marilyn Shaw of Red’s Country Catering in Roseland.

Dunse described sales since the July reopening as “steady and improving.”

“The numbers have been surprisingly pleasant and very positive,” Kauk added. “It’s hard when people have changed and gone somewhere else to get them back.”

Having a Tuesday sale day has helped.

“We have the same exact buyers as the big barns have. Tuesday is not a real popular day in Nebraska for auctions, so the buyers come. They don’t get a commission if they don’t buy,” Kauk said, explaining that the order buyers work for both large companies and private buyers.

The Alma sales also are linked to DV Auction, an online service that allows anyone to log on and bid. “They just have to be approved a day or two ahead of time,” Hegamen said.

Although there is a mix of cattle on sale days, he said there are more small calves right off the cows early in the year, with bigger weaned calves arriving later. More cows are consigned when producers are doing pregnancy testing and culling open females.

Sale day cattle numbers are up and down, according to Hegamen, with a high of about 1,500 head. At the Jan. 10 sale, the total was just under 1,200, Dunse said.

Although the staff doesn’t see a lot of breeding livestock, Hegamen said the plan in the next year is to look at offering some special bred cattle sales.

Ian and Christine James of Bloomington have reserved the Alma sale ring on March 14 for their James Angus bull sale.

When asked what is behind the successful effort to get a locally owned Alma sale barn going, Kauk said, “The key things are the importance of the business being here. We’ve had wonderful support from the area businesses and community interest in saving it.”


Information from: Kearney Hub, https://www.kearneyhub.com/

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