Ranchers face headwinds even as meat prices rise

‘More and more people are getting out of this business, and it’s scary’


By Michael Kohn, Mail Tribune (OR)

Jun 21, 2022


MADRAS — Inside Jefferson County’s livestock auction house, a crowd of mostly men in work jeans and checkered shirts quietly bid on cattle as an auctioneer asks the crowd to make higher offers. As each cow disappears behind a large wooden door, the auctioneer declares the final winning bid, before another cow is nudged ahead for another sale.


The scene, reminiscent of a bygone era, is becoming increasingly rare in Oregon, where just one auction house remains in the center of the state. Last year, two other livestock auctions in the region closed, one in Shasta County in California and the other in Woodburn in the Willamette Valley.


The shuttering of livestock auctions in Oregon and across the country reflects a change in the rural landscape, as farms are converted into subdivisions and large cattle yards become exclusive private hunting ranches. Meanwhile, U.S. producers now heavily rely on Brazil, Canada, Australia and other nations for beef imports to produce hamburger meat.


“Yards are closing. More and more people are getting out of this business, and it’s scary,” said Trent Stewart, the president and sometime auctioneer of the Central Oregon Livestock Auction. “It’s a food security problem.”


As livestock yards dwindle in number, Central Oregon cow herds have shrunk in recent years, too, which means less business for the auction yard in Jefferson County.


“We are in the commission business. When (a cattle rancher) goes out of business, I hate it,” said Stewart...


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