There was a time when, as March approached, thoughts turned to the North Dakota Winter Show. For seedstock producers, it was such a huge event. It was THE place to be, to show and sell purebred cattle, hogs and sheep. And if you weren’t showing or selling, you went to look and buy.
The Winter Show spawned other shows, including the KMOT Ag Expo in Minot, the Agri International in Bismarck, the West River Ag Expo in Dickinson and the Winter Show in Crookston, Minn. The shows flourished, to a large extent because of the introduction of Continental or “exotic” breeds of cattle in the 1970s. Producers who were adopting those breeds wanted to show them off. The public came to see. There was a curiosity factor. But it’s been a decade or more since cattle shows were dropped from the big events in Minot and Bismarck.
Years ago, many small towns hosted feeder calf shows in the fall. They provided a chance for commercial and purebred cattlemen to show how their breeding programs were working.
Then there were bull shows in the winter – at Bismarck, Dickinson and Drake. Pens of yearling bulls were displayed, and the owner was given the opportunity to talk about his or her program.
The curiosity factor is gone now, as are nearly all of those events. Gone, too, are all those opportunities to visit with fellow cattlemen – in the barn, in the seats, standing at the rail, or in the lounge or beer garden.
There is still socializing. Junior livestock shows remain popular. And there are plenty of production sales to attend. But those sales, too, are changing. At many of the sales, a significant percentage, a growing percentage, of the cattle are sold online. Buyers study catalogs and look at internet videos, but don’t attend the sale. There are now sales that are entirely online. One cattleman, when talking about his upcoming production sale, said it was going to be just him and the auctioneer. Nobody in the seats.
More than once, I’ve heard cattlemen say, “It’s a people business.” It is. But as with everything else, times change.
Al Gustin is a retired farm broadcaster, active rancher and a member of Mor-Gran-Sou Electric Cooperative.