Bunkhouse philosophy (a monthly column)
By W.R. Cochrane, Crowley, Alta.
Things have changed quite a bit since the old days when it was the accepted custom either to drive your beef to the nearest railway point and ship them yourself to one of the central markets in this country, or if you were willing to take a chance and speculate on what the market might be after a long haul, to export them to one of the U.S. markets or if shipping space was available, across the pond. As an alternative you could get in touch with some of the buyers and make arrangements for them to come out to the ranch and look over your offerings and make a bid on them.
We reckon that most cattlemen who have been in business any length of time have employed all of these methods at one time or another without arriving at any fixed conclusions as to which was the best. Sorting up the beef, making the drive to the shipping point, loading up, consigning them to your favourite commission firm, hopping on the caboose and going along, was always an interesting experience and highly educational too, as we always had a lot of admiration for the way in which the commission men sorted up cattle and priced them. On the other hand we always enjoyed having the buyers visit the ranch and wrangle out such things as shrink, grade, cuts, price and numerous other things a-sitting on the top rail of the corral with us and sampling each other’s tobacco, to see which brand would carry furthest against the wind.
We reckon they always bid them as they saw them and by the time most of them had made the rounds we could generally form a fair estimation as to how much coin of the realm we might expect to have when the shipping season was over.
From time to time plans were put forward to make improvements over the old systems of marketing beef but none of them seemed to be very satisfactory or to meet with much approval amongst the cattlemen. However, some of the more enterprising producers wishing to try and make some progressive improvements in the old system and believing in the old saying that “The Lord helps those who help themselves” got together and figured that if they could assemble a lot of cattle at a given point and advertise the fact to some extent that it might be possible to get the Packing and Feeder interests to send out their buyers and let the cattle go to the highest bidders by public auction.
Consequently, what we believe to be the first community auction sale for the handling of beef cattle (on a large scale in Alberta) was launched by R. P. Gilchrist, H. G. Minor, George Ross, Chas. Franklin and J. B. Linder, with Wilbur McKenzie as Secretary in August 1939. A charter was obtained under the name of the Community Auction Sales Ltd. Later in the same year some of the original shareholders disposed of their holdings to J. S. Smith and Stanley B. Earl of Cardston, W. C. Cooper, Nanton and D. E. Ball, Edmonton, and in December Max Bradshaw was elected President with H. G. Minor Vice-President and J. S. Smith Secretary, and they immediately made application to the C.P.R. for leases on sites for stock yards adjoining the yards of the railway at key points in the south country. It took a lot of organizing to get this new idea over and much credit is due to the early officers and members for their perseverance and stick-to-itiveness for they believed they had something that would eventually be recognized as an outstanding sales organization servicing a large section the range country of Alberta.
In 1939 with Chas. Franklin as manager, sales were held at Rain, Cardston, Pincher Creek and Lundbreck. The shareholders considered their operations to be satisfactory enough to continue on the next year when a total of 4,483 head of cattle were sold for $278,830, and in 1941, 5,121 head were put through the ring. But in 1942 the total number dropped back to 3,217, which was a trifle discouraging but still quite a lot of cattle. The Company, however, kept persevering in their efforts to put the auction sales idea over and instead of restricting their operations added to the points where sales were to be held and in 1943 they held 16 sales and sold 7,198 cattle for $597,540.52.
Walter Jenkins had been elected to the presidency for that year. He also managed the sales and devoted a lot of valuable time, assisted by the directors at the various sales points in getting new members, for in 1942 the original company had been reorganized under an act respecting Cooperative Marketing Associations with shares open to the patrons at $5 per share.
It is very interesting to note that the popularity of the idea has increased so much that the returns from 26 sales held in 1945 showed 11,583 cattle sold for $897,050.87 and the sales in 1949 showed a total of 49 sales held and 22,792 head of cattle sold for the huge total of $3,326,580.21.
After many years of faithful service Mr. J. S. Smith retired as Secretary-Treasurer in 1945 and Mr. A. E. Ryan was appointed and the head office of the Association was moved from Cardston to Pincher Creek where a year round office is maintained.
The pressure of such increased business necessitated the development of a speedy system of handling cattle which has been perfected to a high degree of efficiency over the past number of years under the supervision of Walter Jenkins and the directors at various sale points. A. E. Ryan has worked out a system of accounting that enables both buyer and seller to get their settlements through with a minimum of delay. It takes a heap of handing and figuring to assemble several hundred cattle, sort them up, weigh them, have the brands inspected, auction them off, get settlements, load them up and get them on the way to their destinations all in one day.
The auctioneering staff is composed of Warren Cooper of Nanton and Don Ball and M. F. Jacobs of Edmonton. Ball and Cooper are pioneers with the Association and Jacobs has joined the staff in recent years. That the selling of beef cattle by public auction was a worthy idea is borne out by the patronage in evidence at all the sales both by buyers and sellers. All the leading packers have their representatives on hand and feeder buyers both in Canada and States are taking a steadily increasing interest in this mode of obtaining their replacements and it is worthy of note that this method of selling has spread to the leading central markets where auction sales are now held regularly.
The boys who pioneered the sales in the country can now look with a great deal of satisfaction at the magnificent results of a lot of hard work and perseverance. Auction sales of live stock are a great meeting place for people engaged in the industry both as growers and purchasers and folks attending one for the first time are generally impressed by the friendly manner in which the whole affair is conducted.