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October 24, 2008

It’s the ‘last cattle drive’ for Hutchinson Sale Barn

<i>Originally published in the Oct. 17, 2008, print edition.</i>

The “last cattle drive” will take place Oct. 29 at the Hutchinson Sale Barn in Hutchinson. After 15 years, Gary Hotovec is shutting down this facility, one of the few remaining livestock sale barns still in existence in Minnesota.

Hotovec estimated at least 150,000 head of livestock have been sold at his barn over the past 15 years. Auctions took place 50 times per year, with “a couple hundred head each week” in a typical auction, he said.

Feeder calves in the 250- to 400-pound category have been the predominant species over the years at the barn but recently sheep and goats have also become popular. That’s because the third Wednesday of each month, Hotovec started doing a special sale just for these animals.

“Because of our more diverse ethnic population, there have been quite a few sellers and buyers,” he said.

Declining livestock numbers, declining cattle feeders, plus increasing feed costs combined, however, to convince Hotovec it was time to shut the doors on his facility, which actually dates back to the World War II era.

According to Curt Zimmerman, a livestock development specialist with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, there currently are 18 locations in the state licensed to auction livestock. But as livestock farm numbers continue to decline, he said the number of sale barns will also likely decline.

“Fifteen years ago we used to do considerable business with dairy farmers,” Hotovec said, “but not today. Now we deal with people who buy baby calves and raise them to 200 to 300 pounds and then bring them to the sales barn.”

He also indicated that a lot of livestock simply don’t go the auction barn anymore. “Our biggest group of buyers traditionally has been farmers who enjoy having a few cattle around their farmstead, and this is the smaller feeder who may only do 30 to 40 head a year. We used to have the customers who fed 400 to 500 head yearly.”

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