Urbana Stockyards draws buyers from four states each Monday
Not much goes on in a town with the population less than 450 people, but on Mondays in Urbana, Mo., trucks and trailers travel along the main drag of the sleepy town, signaling yet another sale day at Urbana Stockyards.
Amy and Jeff Knight purchased the livestock market in 2001, continuing a tradition in auctions in both of their families. Amy’s family has been involved in livestock markets for decades, starting with her grandfather Noel Cox, who owned a sale barn in Ozark, Mo., and Jeff’s father, Gerald Knight, began Knight Auction Service in 1958 in Lebanon, Mo.
Amy can be found in the office of the barn on sale days, working to help keep things moving, even if that means sending a truck and trailer a half an hour down the road, less than an hour before sale time, to pick up a group of cattle.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s two head or 20 head, we’re going to do what we can to help you,” Amy said.
Urbana Stockyards is a full-service livestock auction and offers trucking to and from the sale, and pens with hay and water for cattle that come before the sale or stay a few days after. A veterinarian is also on site sale day.
The sale averages about 400 to 500 head each Monday, and draws buyers from across Missouri, as well as from Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa.
“If the buyers aren’t in the seats, they’re represented at every sale,” Amy said. “I think a smaller sale barn has an advantage because we know our customers. If we see you walk through our door, and your cattle haven’t sold yet, we’re looking for them to find out why. That’s the personal service you get with a smaller barn and I think that’s huge.
“We don’t want cattle standing around. We’re going to go back there, get them sorted up, get them sold, get you your check and get you on down the road. Your time is valuable. Our goal is to give personal service.”
Amy said prices for cattle sold at Urbana Stockyards, which Amy believes began in the early 1980s, are comparable to current market trends.
“We don’t want to go below market value,” Amy said. “We want to protect our customers.”
Livestock auctions in communities like Urbana have an impact on the local economy, Amy said. The barn not only employs 15 people on sale days, but brings people into the community for goods and services.
“It’s in a pretty rural area, so people will stop and get gas, run to MFA and get feed, go to the bank or post office, and things like,” she said. “In a community like this, that’s pretty important.”
Cattle producers across the Ozarks are becoming concerned about dropping cattle prices and soaring hay prices in the wake of the recent drought, but Amy said prices for feeder cattle are holding very steady across the Ozarks region, so she’s not expecting any large market drop in the immediate future.
“I think people are just getting scared,” she said. “I think, for the most part, people are going to try and hold onto their cattle, but if everyone runs out of grass, it will affect the markets.”
To help ensure sellers get the best price for their cattle, no matter what the weather or where they sell, Amy recommended a few tips.
“If you have calves, feeder calves, wean them,” she said. “Make sure they are weaned before they come to the sale and are ready to go. Also, improving your genetics can make a big difference come sale day. Investing in a good bull can make a big difference in your calves and the price you get for your calves.”
When considering livestock market, Amy said would-be sellers should seek out a market and a name they are familiar with.
“I think knowing who you doing business with personally is a big thing,” she said. “I also think you should stay with your local sale barn.
“Also, you want to go where you are treated with respect and everyone has different types of cattle, so you want them to be treated with respect as well.”
Urbana Stockyards offers special and dispersal sales. Amy said in order to have a special sale, they require no less than 300 head. If that number is not achievable, they will sell the animals during their normal sale day.
The barn held it’s first-ever dairy dispersal sale in July, bringing several dairy buyers.
“You want those herd dispersals to stay local,” she said. “Right now, with the rain situation and it being so dry, we’re seeing a lot of those cattle moving out of the area, which we also saw in 2012, but we like to see those cattle sold locally because that means they, or their calves, come back to us.”
For Amy, the livestock market continues to be a family affair. Her father, Dwight Cox, and brother, Gregg Cox, are on hand on sale days. Matt Whitney, who manages the barn through the week and serves as the field rep, is married to Amy’s niece, Macy, and each employee is like a member of the family.
“As long as I’m around here, I hope to keep everyone here who works here with me,” she said. “People talk about working with family, but there’s no one else I’d rather work with. You can get mad at each other, but you get over it.”
Being a smaller sale barn, just like a smaller farmer, Urbana Livestock must work hard to remain competitive in the industry, which can be a struggle, but thanks to her deep roots in the livestock business, Amy plans to stick around for a while.
“I hope we’re all still going for years to come here,” she said. “I know this barn isn’t capable of running 1,200 head, never has been. If you can run 500, 600 head and keep your market up, that’s what matters, and as long as everyone is happy.”
Sales at Urbana Stockyards start at 11:30 a.m. each Monday with baby calves, followed by bred cows, pairs, feeders, then weight (slaughter) cattle.
The barn also sells other livestock, including sheep, goats and pigs.
“If they come in, we’ll sell them,” Amy said.