WEST FARGO — Late Tuesday afternoon, Kelly Klein was shuffling down alleys, shutting gates and clearing pens to ready the West Fargo stockyards for the hundreds of sheep and cattle arriving for the Wednesday, Nov. 18, auction that would open at 8:30 a.m., just as sales began there each week for the past 85 years.
But Wednesday's sale at Central Livestock West Fargo would not be like the thousands before it. The auction will be one of the last at West Fargo's iconic stockyards as the property is listed for sale and employees were notified of a developer's interest to raze the entire grounds and build something new.
The sale would end decades of history, as West Fargo has hosted cattle sales every Wednesday, along with sheep sales once or twice a month and horse sales twice a year during spring and fall, all of which have drawn buyers and sellers from across the region since 1935.
Klein has been an auctioneer for 16 years and manager at Central Livestock for three years. In a public Facebook post on Nov. 12, Klein announced the closing.
"... All will come to an end later this month. The property is being sold and torn down by new developers. I want to thank the loyal customers for having faith in me to sell their livestock. Over the years I've met a ton of the industry's finest producers, cattle buyers, sale barn workers and made many life long memories and friends," he wrote.
The post was followed by a flood of comments by past and present visitors with fond memories of the grounds.
Real Estate Agent Neal Beitelspacher with Dakota Commercial listed the nearly 82-acre property at 700 Arena Drive for $2.375 million. While he confirmed there is an interested party, he noted a potential buyer has about 30 days to continue to do due diligence on the property before a closing is set.
At its peak, the former Union Stockyards' 2,000 pens could handle 6,700 head of cattle, 1,900 hogs and 2,000 sheep at any given time. The biggest single-volume day was Feb. 13, 1985, when 6,475 cattle were sold, according to Forum archives.
Central Livestock Association, a 95-year-old, member-owned livestock marketing company based in St. Paul, Minn., bought the West Fargo property in 1988. Central Livestock has since added Albany, Zumbrota and Rock Creek, Minn., properties. It also owned stockyards in Sioux City, S.D., and South St. Paul, Minn., but the properties were closed in 2009 and 2008 respectively.
A representative of Central Livestock could not be reached for comment.
A grand beginning
Union Stockyards of South St. Paul, Minn., announced in April 1932 that it would establish a public livestock market in West Fargo. Construction of the 182-pen facility, expected to cost $250,000, started the following year.
The first cattle auction was held during the first week of September in 1935, nearly a month before the stockyards officially opened on Oct. 1. The grand opening was celebrated with an “old-fashioned barbecue,” noted a Sept. 25, 1935, front-page story in The Forum.
“The invitation to attend the Union Stock Yards barbecue and partake of its results is a broadside one,” the story read. “It includes everyone and anyone from anywhere who can walk, ride or fly to West Fargo Oct. 1.”
Thirteen newly purchased stock-watering tanks were used to cook 7,000 pounds of barbecued beef over wood coals smoldering in ground trenches. Coffee was brewed in a separate stock tank.
More than 25,000 people from across the Midwest attended the grand opening.
Around 2004, North Dakota State University was in negotiations with Central Livestock Association of West Fargo to build a $2.8 million Center of Excellence in Beef Systems near the West Fargo stockyards.
Public opposition and the high cost of installing utilities were among the factors that led school officials to scrap those plans, according to an NDSU official speaking to the media at that time.
The tradition of passing the baton from agricultural zoned areas to commercial and residential is embedded in West Fargo's history and growth. The majority of North Dakota's fastest growing city both north and south of Interstate 94 is on land incorporated from farming and ranching families who either sold or donated to future development.
West Fargo High School's mascot, the Packer, is a nod to the former Armour and Co. meat packing plant that built the city's economy and made West Fargo a prime location for the Union Stockyards to build, which it did to compete with Armour. Much of the area's processing plants' final products originate through the chute at the stockyards.
In July 1960, the Armour and Co. packing plant closed, although the last meat processing company, Federal Beef packing plant, remained operational until 1999.
The stockyards are an integral part of West Fargo's history, and they're a prominent aspect of the city's flare for holding onto its small town feel. After a yearlong campaign to choose a branding philosophy for West Fargo's renovated downtown area, or northern Sheyenne Street, a committee of city officials, residents and downtown businesses branded the area "The Yards on Sheyenne" to note the city's historic base, a move approved by the City Commission in August.
West Fargo's former downtown business association was also renamed to The Yards Business Association.
As of Tuesday, Nov. 17, Economic Development Director Lauren Orchard had not been contacted by any developers inquiring about the property or potential city programs available.
Orchard said the property has potential but developers could face some challenges due to its position next to a city lagoon and the manure pile on the northeast end of the property.
The Nov. 18 auction will begin with a sheep sale at 8:30 a.m. followed by Central Livestock's Annual Sandhills Feeder Sale of an expected 1,200 to 1,500 calves. Customer Appreciation Day will be celebrated throughout the day with a lunch to be served.
The last listed sale at the West Fargo Stockyards at this time will be held Nov. 25 with a weight up cow special that is expected to sell more than 100 bred cows, among other livestock.