Ralph Vold of Ponoka, Alta. became the first inductee into the Livestock Markets Association of Canada (LMAC) Hall of Fame during the association’s annual meeting in Winnipeg at the end of May.
The award was established to recognize outstanding achievements of members who have personally had an impact on taking live marketing to a higher level of excellence, says outgoing LMAC president Michael Fleury. Vold was in the deserving company of five other nominees: the late Charlie McKay (Stettler, Alta.), Terry Schetzsle (Veteran, Alta.), Wendell Sekura (Drayton Valley, Alta.), Roy Rutledge (Assiniboia, Sask.) and Rick Wright (Virden, Man.).
Vold was honoured to have been recognized in this way by friends and associates. He’s no different from anyone else in the industry, though, he says. Everyone rolls with the punches, taking hard knocks now and again in difficult situations, and bouncing back in the good times.
All in all, looking back on his 53 years in the livestock marketing business, he says it has been good to his family — wife, Del, and their five children, including Blair, with whom he has worked side-by-side for the past 40 years, and now his grandson Nansen — as well as the many employees who have helped make Vold, Jones &Vold Auction Co. (JVJ) the success it is today.
Dan Skeels, who nominated him for the award, says Ralph is from the old school. “His word is his bond; his handshake a contract. There is no job he would ask of someone that he wouldn’t do himself. He has had more significance in each of our lives involved in the livestock industry than we truly realize. His passion is a beacon for the agriculture industry and he is a true living legend.”
As one of the founding partners of VJV in 1957, Vold has been involved in a number of initiatives that have influenced the marketing of livestock through the years, though he is perhaps most well-known for his role in what hasn’t change. Despite Canada’s adoption of the metric system, cattle are still sold in dollars per pound.
Vold was president of the Alberta Auction Markets Association when the Trudeau government proposed to adopt the metric system in Canada. Eugene Whelan, a dairyman who sold cattle by the head, was agriculture minister at the time and he couldn’t foresee any problem with selling beef cattle by the kilogram. Vold figures he must have flown to Ottawa at least five times that year to try to convince the minister otherwise. The Alberta association’s viewpoint was that a change to metric could create total chaos in the Canadian beef sector, given that the U. S. wasn’t even considering a switch to metric for any purpose, let alone buying and selling live animals.
“Ralph was told that unless there was a unified national voice it would happen with or without the industry’s support,” Skeels says. “He left Ottawa on a mission and over the course of the next year attended meetings and met with every provincial association to discuss the cause. By 1969, Ralph returned to Ottawa with national support and as the first president of the LMAC to oppose the suggested ruling, and, as you know, they were successful in their efforts.”
Vold does believe that the day is bound to eventually come when beef cattle are sold by the kilogram for the simple reason that today’s generation has never known anything but metric.
VJV AUCTION CO.
Ralph and his brother, Harry, were the third generation of the Vold family to become involved in Canada’s livestock after their grandfather moved from North Dakota to the new frontier around the Ponoka district in 1896. His grandfather raised and traded cattle and horses and did some auctioneering on the side until his untimely death seven years later. That left his eldest son, Nansen, who was 14 years old at the time, in charge of the family and business.
It certainly wasn’t a given that Ralph would follow in his forefathers’ footsteps. He had pursued an athletic career in hockey and baseball and was pitching for the Brooklyn Dodgers when Harry, who was auctioneering for the Calgary Stockyards at the time, called to say that the Ponoka market was up for sale. Their banker didn’t view the opportunity with quite the same enthusiasm as the Vold brothers, though. The deal was cinched when Bill and Shorty Jones partnered with the Volds to purchase the year-old market for the grand sum of $22,000.
Vold says it was quite a challenge to convince buyers and ranchers to do business at a small country market back then. There were only a handful — Red Deer, and others such as Stettler, Olds and Innisfail were just starting up about that time. The big markets were in Calgary and Edmonton and ranchers weren’t that confident they’d get top dollar selling in the country. Things hadn’t gone well for the first owner of the little Ponoka market and didn’t look too promising either for VJV after that first sale when 17 head of cattle and two pens of feeder pigs went through the ring!
“Harry had a U. S. connection in Colorado who would buy as many four-and five-weight cattle as we could find and we could almost guarantee prices — in fact we did back then — so it wasn’t long before we could hammer against Calgary and Edmonton,” Vold recalls.
Another of VJV’s traditions since the earliest days has been flying out to ranches to look at cattle. “I could get around to 10 or 15 places by truck and maybe get half the cattle we needed each week,” he says. “I don’t know why, but with the plane, I could get them all.”
With top-notch service and a strong buyer, it wasn’t long before ranchers decided they liked the price guarantee and the convenience of trading at a country market rather than having to fight traffic to get their cattle to and from the yards in the cities.
VJV shipped orders out east and down south by train. They even paid the rail company $1,000 for each double-deck built onto 10 rail cars. It turned out it was such a good idea that they rarely saw the double-deckers — though the cars had the VJV name on them they were usually snatched up by other cattle shippers along the way back.
The growing network of paved highways and advancements in the trucking industry during the 1960s changed the way many commodities, including livestock, were shipped to and from markets.
Harry sold out in 1967 to start a rodeo company in Colorado and three years later, Blair began working his way into the family business. He now manages the company and has since bought out Shorty Jones, while Ralph contemplates complete retirement and selling his remaining shares in the business to Nansen, who has really taken hold of things, he adds.
KEEPING AHEAD OF THE TIMES
Having two and now three generations involved in the business has made it somewhat easier to keep pace with the changing times, especially when it comes to computer technology, Vold says.
VJV partnered with the Fort MacLeod-Highwood Auction Co. and Schetzsle Livestock at Veteran to introduce the Canadian Satellite Livestock Auction (CSLA) to the industry back in 1993. It is now owned by VJV and The Auction Co. with sales aired every first and third Friday of the month on Star Choice channel 299 and at www.agrimart.ca. CSLA is still the only regular remote sale set up with an auctioneer taking phone-in bids as videos of the cattle at the farm roll across the screen. Vold says the satellite sales remain especially popular in the fall for moving large lots of calves and yearlings. Ranchers like them because they get wide exposure for their cattle and they still have the security of dealing with the local markets who, as CSLA agents, list, video and weigh the cattle and handle the financial transactions.
Next came webcasts of the weekly sales in progress every Wednesday at VJV Ponoka and Thursdays at VJV Dawson Creek.
Blair Vold and auctioneer Bob Bergevin partnered to purchase the Foothills Auction Market at Stavely, which has operated as VJV Foothills since 2005. There, all cattle are greeted with bedded pens, feed and water, which offers another marketing option for producers.
The most recent addition to the sales schedule at all three locations is the Canadian Gold Show Alley, which Vold says has gone over very well since it was introduced in January, 2009. To be eligible, cattle must be one-owner, age and source verified. Each producer’s cattle are sorted into uniform groups and a show list is created, posted to the website and circulated to buyers the day before the sale. It provides the name of the owner along with the weight and weigh condition details, breed, vaccination and feed program for each pen of cattle. The cattle stay in their pens and are auctioned via webcast to a screen in the ring. The buyer and selling price are posted to the show list during the sale and the seller is eligible to participate in branded beef programs for which his or her cattle qualify.
Today, VJV Ponoka has holding capacity for about 8,000 head and sells through two or three rings simultaneously depending on the time of year. Vold estimates that they sell upwards of 200,000 head annually, including those the market lists for the CSLA sales. He adds that the big sell down of the cow herd in Western Canada is starting to show up in the number of calves and cows moving through the markets. They noted a 10 per cent decrease in volume last year, which seems to be in line with numbers other markets were indicating at the 2010 LMAC annual meeting.
Though they get some complaints from residents about the noisy calves in the fall as the town continues to expand out and around their 30-acre yard, you’ll never hear a peep from the business people — the one thing that hasn’t changed through the years is that market day is still the busiest day in town.