Livestock auctions proceed with caution


By Mateusz Perkowsky, Capital Press

Mar 18, 2020


Livestock auctions often mix business and pleasure, creating a conundrum when many social gatherings must be canceled to avoid spreading the coronavirus.


The solution for multiple Northwest livestock auctions is to continue operating while emphasizing business transactions and keeping socializing to a minimum.


Due to uncertain exemptions to government prohibitions on public gatherings, the Livestock Marketing Association is advising auctions to remain functional but take all necessary precautions to prevent infection.


“We feel it’s important they do stay open due to the important role auctions play in the beef supply chain,” said Kristen Parman, vice president of membership services for LMA, which represents auctions.


State governments are frequently updating their prohibitions on public gatherings and haven’t been able to focus on specific exemptions, she said.


However, livestock auctions are critical for the meat supply chain, with about $30 billion worth of livestock being handled by such operations each year, including 35 million cattle, 7.7 million hogs and 3.2 million sheep and lambs, Parman said.


“Many farmers and ranchers rely solely on the auction market for their source of income,” she said.


Livestock auctions should limit their crowd sizes, disinfect commonly-used surfaces, provide visitors with hand-washing stations and make online or telephone bidding available if possible, according to LMA.


“Only let people in your sale yard if they absolutely need to be there,” said Jerome Rosa, executive director of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association.


The Toppenish Livestock Commission, a market in Toppenish, Wash., usually gets about 100 people on auction days and expects to cut that number by half by limiting attendance to livestock buyers.


“We generally know who are the buyers. We know who comes in to buy and who comes in to watch,” said John Top, the auction’s owner.


The facility has enough room in its pavilion to accommodate this smaller crowd with plenty of room between participants, and its cafe will only sell take-out food so people don’t “camp out,” Top said.


“We’ll keep the supply chain moving,” he said. “We’re not panicking. We’re just trying to be prudent about what we’re doing.”


Intermountain Livestock, an auction in La Grande, Ore., is putting out fliers discouraging livestock suppliers from sticking around for the bidding...