From a drive into Crawford Livestock Market’s spacious and well-kept lot to its customer-based focus and success to the tidy and well-designed office, sale ring and yard, someone may think, “Shazam” – “Wow,” this is impressive. Current owners Rich and Alicia Robertson continue this pleasant and favorable impression began decades ago by her parents and former owners, Jack and Laurel Hunter.
The couple recently bought the barn from her parents in continuation of the Hunter family heritage of the sale barn.
“The best part of the transition is they’re (Alicia’s parents) still here,” Alicia said. “You can’t buy experience like they have. They are invaluable — their contacts, information and knowledge. Their customers are like family. We will hopefully continue to maintain and grow a successful business because of that.”
Alicia grew up in the sale barn industry, and her husband was Crawford Livestock Market yard foreman for ten years, so the transition to ownership was natural. They hope to continue the Hunter/Robertson family sale barn industry.
“For 40 years ,it has been in the Hunter family, and we will continue having it in the Hunter family, and Robertson." My sister works here, my brother is an auctioneer here, his son sells here, my niece works here. It is a family run business. We would like to continue the family heritage of the barn.”
Husband and wife working alongside one another can create certain challenges, at least for some, but the Hunters successfully navigated decades of being spousal business partners, and Alicia and Rich are doing the same.
“I always thought it was unique that my folks worked together side-by-side all these years in the same office,” Alicia said. “I thought that would be a challenge, but working with my husband building this business and doing something together is better than I thought it could have been.”
Alicia and Rich work together to continue and grow the business. Alicia manages the office, Rich the hands-on cattle stuff. Together, they are succeeding in the cattle sale barn industry. Part of their success is due to producers and their premium cattle.
“We have good cattle in this area. We have area producers that produce outstanding beef. It is easier to market those kinds of cattle,” Alicia said. “And we have producers that have pride in what they do, and pride in their product. We are fortunate to show that pride to buyers who buy those cattle here.”
Along with family working well together and producers raising, buying and selling premium cattle at the sale barn, another aspect of the barn’s success is the “wow” factor.
“Our business is about pride, pride in ownership and pride back to the producer,” Alicia said. “If they are going to bring in their calf crop that they’ve work the whole year for, blood, sweat and tears, then the establishment that is marketing those cattle should be the same – pride, safe, friendly, and clean.”
Even the best businesses face challenges, including the livestock market industry. “Market” itself communicates certain challenges. Markets today, not just the beef market, but most markets, have been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Prices right now are a huge challenge. Having packing houses close due to the coronavirus is a huge challenge too,” Alicia said. “We were to have 4,500 head at last week’s sale, but we had 2,000, and that is primarily because of the market — the virus and the economy. We attempt to get the best possible price, but in these markets we can’t get a premium for the product. There’s demand for the product, but there is nowhere to produce the product (packing houses). People need to know that even our industry is being hurt by the virus and our economy.”
Still, a sale barn is a great place to bring cattle for auction because it’s competitive. Instead of just one person looking at your cattle and offering a price, a sale barn offers the unique opportunity of several people looking and bidding.
“Markets are a big challenge, but a sale barn is the best priced discovery tool out there, that is, you have people competing for your cattle,” Crawford Livestock Market assistant manager Rex Micheel said.
Another challenge in a rural area livestock market is finding and scheduling workers.
“It’s also challenging to have a full-time business with a part time crew,” Alicia said. “The crew we have is outstanding, but we rely on area ranchers and college kids to come in to work. The challenge is to line up the crew.”
The Hunter family is used to overcoming challenges and obstacles, like the 1991 flood that hit the Crawford area, destroying much of the sale barn in the deluge.
“The barn was flooded in 1991 up to the ceiling in the office and stadium seats in the ring,” Alicia said. “The facility had to be rebuilt.”
The facility was rebuilt, but its spirit of pride, service and attention continues, attracting buyers and sellers, as well as agricultural college students who desire a reputable place to internship.
“The best part of the job here is the people; they are so fun to be around. They help me feel comfortable. They help me, not boss me. I enjoy sale day because I get to chill in the yard and operate gates,” internist Maddie Peterson said. “This market is important, anything agriculture is important. I wish more young people would be in agriculture.”
Crawford Livestock Market serves many producers in northwest Nebraska, northeast Wyoming, and southwest South Dakota. Its sale ring includes cattle from many areas. The barn even hosts special sales, like buffalo sales, longhorn sales, and bull sales.
The B Lazy T Ranch, Hot Springs, South Dakota, recently held its 16th annual Red Angus bull sale at Crawford Livestock Market.
“We’ve been selling at Crawford Livestock Market for sixteen years,” B Lazy T Ranch owner Brad Grill said. “They’ve been good to us, always taken care of us good, and helped us out in anyway. We’ve been happy with the service they’ve provided year in and year out.”