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Fall cattle run boosts South Dakota economy

The fall cattle run has started in South Dakota, and it has a huge economic impact on the state's cattle producers and rural communities.

This is the time of year when most of the calf and yearling crop is marketed.

"I compare the fall run of the calves as big or bigger than pheasant hunting in South Dakota," says Steve Hellwig, co-owner of Hub City Livestock in Aberdeen.

He says thousands of calves and yearlings will move off ranches in South Dakota to be backgrounded or placed in feedlots.

"It gets started earlier West River than East River, but I suppose the first week of October is when the calves normally start the run. On a weekly basis West River, you're probably looking at somewhere from 50,000 to 60,000 calves will move."

He says fewer calves move East River, and the majority come to town a bit later in the fall, November and December.

Philip Livestock typically has one of the biggest runs in the state. Co-owner Thor Roseth says many of their Tuesday sales in October and November will have from 9,000 to 12,000 calves consigned from ranches all over western South Dakota and some surrounding states. Buyers come from in state, as well as Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota and even Kansas and Oklahoma. He says even though calf prices are down compared to a year ago, the dollars generated are a big boost to the community.

The quality of the feeder cattle in South Dakota is recognized nationwide, which attracts order buyers from all over the country. Many cattle operations have spent a lifetime or even several generations building the reputation of the genetics in their herds.

"Producers in this area have really focused on genetics for a long time. They've been very selective with their cow herds. They've been very selective with their bulls. It's all led to a nice set of calves to come to town every year," Roseth says.

Casey Perman, co-owner at Mobridge Livestock, says they have many operations that are repeat consignors and have sold with them for years. He agrees the quality of the calves is second to none.

"Ranchers retain ownership on their heifers and they go buy the top genetics at a bull sale for $10,000, $12,000, $15,000," he says.

"Our cattle are as good as there is in the world," Hellwig says. "There are cattle that go out of this area here to probably 30 or 35 of the 50 states. All the way to Texas, New Mexico, Missouri. These cattle travel a long way because the quality is as good as you can find."

The economic impact of the fall run is felt at the ranch level weeks in advance of the livestock coming to town as producers prepare to market their livestock.

"The run probably gets started more in August, September where ranchers start working the calves, get them fall vaccinated, you've got veterinarians involved with pregnancy testing, etc.," Hellwig says.

During the fall cattle run, millions of dollars will circulate in South Dakota's economy, which is important for keeping rural towns like Faith and Mobridge alive. Perman says buyers and sellers come to town a day or two before sale day, and the local businesses definitely feel the impact. It isn't uncommon to see 25 or 30 cattle trucks parked at the hotels in town or fueling up at the local gas stations.

"We sell cattle from Minot, North Dakota, to Billings, Montana. So people come before the sale and stay overnight at motels, eat at restaurants or may go downtown and shop," he says.

Perman says the fall run also adds jobs locally as the sale barn employs extra people to help with the sales.

"They are here loyally. Most of them are ranchers that have their own work to do, but they do their best for us every week," he says.

Plus, there is a long list of other businesses that are touched by the sale, including the truckers that haul the cattle hundreds of miles, the veterinarians that provide health certificates, the cattle/order buyers that attend the sales weekly and even the sale barn café that gears up for the extra meals that will be sold.

The sale barns receive a commission for consigning the calves and yearlings, but in turn they help schedule the sales and advertise and promote the listings to make sure they attract interested buyers to the sale. Hellwig says it all works together to keep the cattle industry vibrant and remain one of the leading industries in South Dakota.

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