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Big Tuesday: Aberdeen barn sees sales swell as pastures parch

ABERDEEN, S.D. -- Dry weather and seasonal shifts made for a record-high Tuesday sale of 2,400 for selling beef cows at an Aberdeen, S.D., sale barn this week.

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Pasture conditions are getting dry west of Aberdeen, S.D., but are probably worst in the Highmore, Miller and Faulkton areas -- perhaps too dry to revive for 2017, even if rains come, according to Dennis Hellwig, an owner of Hub City Livestock, Inc., Aberdeen, S.D. Photo taken June 7, 2017 at Aberdeen, S.D. (Forum News Service/Agweek/Mikkel Pates)

ABERDEEN, S.D. - Dry weather and seasonal shifts made for a record-high Tuesday sale of 2,400 for selling beef cows at an Aberdeen, S.D., sale barn this week.

Rick Hellwig, one of the owners at Hub City Livestock, said their June 6 sale was actually completed on Wednesday, after a 16.5-hour marathon at that ended at 1:30 a.m. The numbers were high with nearly 50 trailers lined up to bring in animals prior to the sale.

"It's a long day, long day," said Hellwig. Trailers were lined up on Monday, on both sides of the highway, for a quarter mile.

Dry conditions have parched fields and have made pastures "like this tile floor," Hellwig said, counting money in the early hours on Wednesday. "Even if it rains a little bit now, it's too late."

The Hellwigs said they expect more herd liquidations if rain doesn't come. Dry conditions usually come later in the summer, and cow-calf pairs typically don't come through the barn at this time of the year.

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The facility moved 1,600 "weigh-up" cows for that will go to kill, compared to the 1,000 that Hub City was expecting. They also had 50 cow-calf pairs, 175 bred cattle, 30 baby calves and 750 sheep all in one day.

Prices held up well through the entire sale, Hellwig said. "These packer-buyer stood right in there and bought till the very end; prices didn't go down at all," Hellwig said. Kill cows were running 65 to 85 cents a pound, with most in the 70- and 80-cent batches. Bulls ran in the 90s to 1.05.

Hub City has cows, bulls, pairs and sheep on Tuesdays and all of the fat and feeder cattle on Wednesdays.

"We're going to have to add a few Saturday sales if it isn't going to rain 'cuz we can't keep doing that every Tuesday - running that many cows on one day. "It's hard on the help, hard on these packers to buy that many in a day. We'll see. Hope it rains."

Added sales would be for pairs and bred cows, Hellwig said.

On Wednesday, June 7, the crew was scheduled to start at 9:30 a.m., and sold 4,500 feeder cattle. Many of those were heifers that people had kept for replacements for their herd, but owners were selling quickly before they use up too much feed.

Dennis Hellwig, the senior partner in the sale barn, said sale barn operators don't want to see this much activity with cows this early in the year. Producers are trying to "lighten their load" on their grass and feed. "If we don't get rain here in the next week or two, we'll probably see more of them moving," he said.

Conditions are worst in the Highmore, Miller and Faulkton areas in South Dakota the situation.

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"I think it's probably getting too late for rain (to revive pastures for 2017) out there," he said.

"It's hard to get enough feed piled up to feed those cattle for both the summer and the winter," Dennis said. "The only option is to sell the cows. I'm hoping they can keep the cows long enough to get the calves big enough so they can wean them and probably keep the calves. If they can do that, it might save some of the expense of moving the whole herd."

Some ranchers have up to a couple of years of feed supplies on hand, but many do not, Dennis said. "This cow deal is really serious; it's getting worse. It isn't going to stop until we get some serious moisture."

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