The Bow Slope Shipping Association (BSSA) in Brooks, Alta., dates to 1934 when some local farmers joined to ship hogs. The company was formalized in 1940 and the first auction sales were held three years later from seven pens alongside the rail line.
Today, producers can still become owners of the auction market by purchasing a $5 membership in the co-operative. This entitles them to one vote at the annual meeting and a share in dividends. There are currently 439 members.
Long-time director and BSSA president Del Giles can’t remember when he first became a member and he’d have to dig back in the books to find out when he began serving on the board of directors — he sort of grew into it. “My dad sold there and I’ve always sold there. I like that it’s a producer-owned auction market,” he says.
The board is responsible for hiring the manager to run the market and approves business decisions, such as sales schedules and improvements to the premises, the latest of which was an upgrade to the office area.
Manager Eric Fazakas says the yard and ring are designed to receive cattle in an orderly fashion, then sort and sell them promptly.
The ring is laid out so that cattle enter from the side, then exit straight through the door on the opposite side. The doors operate on remote switches controlled by the ring men stationed on each side of the auctioneer. A reweigh scale in a pen just off the ring saves time when pulling animals at a buyer’s request.
Fazakas counts the facility, great buyer support and a location alongside Highway One (with access to trucks moving in all directions) as the market’s major selling features.
A steady supply of quality cattle is the drawing card. “We’re right in prime cow-calf country and there’s a good supply of knife-cut ranch calves within about a two-hour radius of the market. Brooks cattle are well known here and in Ontario,” Fazakas adds.
The quality of the 2,700 head on offer didn’t go unnoticed by the 25 auctioneers and long front row of buyers during the 2009 Canadian Livestock Auctioneer Championship hosted by BSSA this May.
BSSA can accommodate up to 4,500 head at regular sales held every Friday year round. Annual sales reach about 100,000 head. Most of the cattle stay in Alberta, though Ontario buyers ship about 30 liner loads of Brooks calves east during the fall run.
Since 1987, “The Gather” has been the big event of the year. Some 13,000 yearlings sell through the five-day sale held during the first week in March.
Other special sales include one-iron yearling sales and all-breeds bull sales. Cow-calf, special stocker and yearling sales are organized to follow the regular Friday sale. There are two evening horse and tack sales in the spring and another two each fall. Purebred production sales round out the schedule. Pre-sort sales have never been part of the line up, largely because the layout of the yard would make it diffi cult to sort then feed and water the cattle, Fazakas says.
BSSA is an agent for Canadian Satellite Livestock Auction and broadcasts sales at the market every Friday morning, as well as for Direct Livestock Marketing Service, with Internet sales every Thursday morning.
The struggles facing BSSA are a sign of the changing times in the beef business. “There are fewer producers, but bigger cow numbers among those left out there, so there are more and more big strings in the area,” Fazakas explains. “They’re more inclined to sell through the Internet or satellite sales, or directly to the feedlots. It will be more of a challenge down the road to get them through the markets.”
The company’s website has proven to be an effective way of promoting sales and services. The monthly sales calendars are posted along with weekly sales reports and brief comments on market trends. The association also retails cattle and horse supplements as well as livestock handling equipment.
Fazakas and Ross Annett share regular auctioneering duties. Annett was the 2004 Canadian auctioneering champ and Fazakas was selected by a vote of his peers as the most congenial auctioneer in the 2009 competition. He received the Jim Raffin memorial belt buckle donated by the Raffin family of Valley Auctions in Armstrong.
Fazakas and Annett, along with field men and order buyers Rod MacLean, Ken Pickett and Lowell Johnston are available to discuss marketing needs and arrangements with producers. Call them at 403-362-5521 or visit www.bowslope.com.