Making the sale
When Dan Owens visited the Arends Sale Yard in Blue Earth for the very first time, he thought it would be “pretty cool” to own it and run it.
The problem was, he was only six years old at the time.
“My grandfather brought me here for a sale,” he recalls. “I just thought it would be a fun job to have.”
Now, 30 years later, Owens has that dream coming true.
Last Tuesday, April 15, Owens and his wife, Leah, bought the sale yard from John Arends.
It is the first time in 75 years the livestock auction barn will not be owned by someone in the Arends family.
“My dad started this business in 1938,” Arends says. “My brother Mike also ran it for many years, and then I took it over. So it has always been run by my family.”
Now ready to retire, Arends says he feels “lucky” to have found someone to purchase the business and someone who he feels will do a good job with it.
Arends plans to stick around and “help out where I can.”
Owens says he feels lucky Arends will be around to help out. And, he feels it is an honor that Arends is trusting him to take over this long-standing family business.
The new owner has a few changes in mind, but for the most part, he plans on things staying the same.
The first big change is the name. It will now be called Blue Earth Stockyards, LLC.
The second change is in the auctioneer for the sale. Although Wagner Auctioneering has conducted the sale for years, Owens is bringing his own auctioneer.
“His name is Travis Holck and he is from near Pipestone,” Owens says. “He has won numerous state auctioneering awards, and will be moving to Blue Earth.”
Owens plans to continue to live in the Truman area where he and his family live on a fourth-generation farm.
“We have a small cattle operation and we raise and train quarter horses,” Owens says. “We buy and sell cattle, do custom feeding and have pasture land. Cattle has been our main bread and butter of our operation.”
He says his five children are the fifth generation to live on the farm place. They are Cole, 14, Cheyenne, 12, Cody, 11, Cash 9 and Chase, 6. All attend Martin County West schools.
Owens says his wife, Leah, who works part-time at the Martin County Youth for Christ office, will be working at the sale barn, as will the kids when they can.
“In fact, my nine-year-old, Cash, has been practicing his auctioneering skills with our auctioneer, Travis Holck,” Owens says. “He may do some sheep and goat sales when we get some in.”
Owens says it all started on a cattle buying trip out west, with a couple of his sons and Holck along.
“All 800 miles home they auctioned off everything they saw fence posts, signs and cows,” he says. “Cash got very good at it.”
Owens and Holck met six or seven years ago, through their mutual interest in horses.
“Travis is a real outgoing and friendly guy,” he says. “I think people will really like him.”
Owens himself fits that description as well. A graduate of Minnesota State University-Mankato, he did some cattle trucking for a while during and for two years after college.
His wife, Leah, has a business management degree from Winona State University.
“We are both from the Truman area,” he says. “So, in 2002, we bought the home place and moved back here and have been here since.”
Now they decided to take another big step. Since they were into buying and selling cattle, this seemed like a good way to expand.
“There were three auction barns all for sale at the same time,” Owens says. “Jackson, Spencer, Iowa, and here. But this one was the best one for us. John has run a very good operation and he has kept the place up.”
Some things at the auction barn will stay the same. While one or two employees are leaving, many of them are staying on, Owens says.
“Sherry Abel will stay as our office manager,” Owens says. “She is irreplaceable to the operation.”
Jean Hougan will also stay working in the office, Brad Chaffee as yard manager and Milt Steele, Eugene ‘Buck’ Halverson, Norman ‘Bub’ Jahnke and Shawn Erichsrud will also be helping out for the sales.
“I get asked three questions a lot,” Owens says. “Are we changing the name, will we be having sales on Fridays and the third question is always, is the lunch counter still going to be open. The answer to that is yes, every Friday.”
Audrey Brod, Joanne Hall and Jane Brooks will continue to cook and run the cafe on Fridays.
“Our goal is to keep this business running as well as it has for the last 80 years in the Arends family,” Owens says. “This place has the best sale barn crew of any sale place I have been at. Our goal is also to exceed our customers’ expectations.”
While the whole sales barn industry has changed from the time when every farm had livestock, Owens says he feels there is still a definite need for this type of business.
“Sure, many producers ship direct to the packers, but a lot of them need a place like this to buy and sell (livestock),” he says. “We are getting more folks moving to the country and raising a few cattle and pigs or raising feeder cattle.”
The new owner says they will also continue to have machinery sales a couple of times a year.
“We really like this town and this area,” Owens says. “And I really like this business. I have since I was a kid.”
Office manager Abel summed up the feelings of many who were at the customer appreciation lunch held on Friday, April 11.
“We are just so happy this business will continue here,” she says. “It is a good business for the town, it brings in a lot of people. It would be sad if we lost it after this many years.”