The sound of the seasoned auctioneer echoes through the sale barn welcoming the hustle, bustle, and anticipation that comes with sale day. Cattlemen and women watch the sale ring intently as their cattle get sold, or they might be there to buy cattle. Either way, they are most likely sipping on a freshly brewed cup of coffee and visiting fellow ranchers on their “trip to town.”
Ranchers work year-round to raise healthy cattle to produce delicious, nutritious, and safe beef for us to eat. The lifecycle of a beef animal includes several phases (check out this blog post on the beef lifecycle), starting with the rancher whose cows raise a calf each year. Once that calf is old enough, it is weaned from the cow and then sold. The livestock auction is a tried and true way to sell one’s calves. It is a place of camaraderie, jovial interactions with friends and family, and, of course, a little business mixed in. In a sense, it’s like a community center for ranchers.
The Willcox Livestock Auction barn, owned and operated by Sonny and Barbara Kay Shores, is a true family business and that is quickly felt upon walking through the door. Not only do Sonny and Barbara Kay work and run the sale barn, but all their children and their children’s significant others also work or have worked there, and pitch in if more help is needed. This is the kind of place Sonny and Barbara Kay’s grandchildren beg their parents to take them. Lots of activity, friendly people, and wholesome fun are had by the children and adults alike. The sale barn history is lengthy, with this being the oldest sale barn in the state of Arizona. Sonny’s father started as an auctioneer at his father’s (Sonny’s grandfather) sale barn in New Mexico in the 1960s. In the 1970s Sonny’s father came over to Willcox, purchased the Willcox Livestock Auction barn, and continued on the work he was raised to do. Sonny, having grown up in this world, has always known the sale barn life. When he turned eighteen, it just made sense that he continued and bought in on the business too, making him the third generation of sale barn owners and operators.
The sale barn owner’s job is both incredibly complex and eventful, with some stress mixed in. They are the middlemen in layman’s terms between ranchers and the buyers of their cattle, helping to sell their customers’ cattle at the best price possible. They also must take care of the buyer to bring them back year after year. The Shores stand by supporting the beef community in their area because, as they share, it is a matter of good business and just what you do as a good neighbor.
While Barbara Kay holds down the office and all of its particulars, Sonny is most often found talking on his cell phone in the cattle pens. But don’t think that makes him unapproachable. With his open and calm demeanor, he somehow makes a person feel like he has all the time in the world when, in fact, he has many pressing issues to address. He answers his phone for any call and often gets questions from ranchers about the current cattle market and whether it is a good time to bring cattle in to sell. Sonny stays up on the current cattle market and its prices, but he also has to stay up to date with cattle and beef trends, and other goings-on in the beef community. All of these are important to his business and the business of the people he works with at the sale barn.
The Shores family has always looked to the future and continues to find ways to help their local community. Sonny’s father started a bull sale many years ago to support the local ranchers in purchasing good genetics for their herds and to stay up to date with trends and what the consumer was looking for in their beef. This bull sale, and the many that have happened since its inauguration, bring bulls in from all over the country, which would otherwise have been a challenge for local ranchers to purchase. With the help of this sale, ranchers from the surrounding area have increased access to cattle genetics to raise a healthy, well-marbled beef product.
Staying on top of the new technological innovations is integral to the auction business. Buyers can either purchase cattle in-person at the sale barn, or they can buy cattle online. Online sales are good for sellers and buyers as the market is expanded to those who can tune in, especially when people are not able to travel as quickly. Social media is also in use at the Willcox Livestock Auction in the form of a Facebook page. Sonny was hesitant for a long time, but with some coaxing from his daughter, Kayla, he has found it to be a huge asset.
They are tech-savvy in the online world, but they also work hard to keep the physical sale barn up to date. A new scale to weigh cattle right in front of the buyers was recently installed. This helped increase purchases from buyers who need to know the weight of the animals before purchase and allowed online bidders to have more information before buying.
Sonny’s role is to protect and support the job of the rancher. The auction barn works hard to get the best price for the cattle brought here. This is accomplished by expert sorting and putting cattle together as a package to help the rancher earn a fair price. Some buyers might be taking cattle to a feed yard and need to fill a pen, so if Sonny can put together that package of livestock, it makes it easier for the buyer and allows a higher price for every animal in the group.
Spend any time around Sonny and his family, and it becomes blatantly evident that his desire to support ranchers runs far deeper than just the brick and mortar sale barn. The Shores family, much like other ranching families, have a deep passion for this lifestyle and want to see it carry on for generations to come. They care about their neighbors and want to help, as any good neighbor should.
This blog post is made possible by the generous support of the Arizona Cattle Industry Research and Education Foundation.