Backed up: Cattle market uptick causes traffic jam at livestock yards

Charlie Denison

A line of semis and stock trailers is seen outside of the Lewistown Livestock Auction last week. Cold weather and a small rise in cattle prices were factors.

Photo courtesy of Jan Allen

The Lewistown Livestock Auction on US-191 has turned some heads lately, as the line of stock trailers has exceeded the parking lot, making its way out onto the highway.

“Some people have waited at the sale for two hours,” LLA co-owner Jan Allen said. “It’s like this in a lot of places right now. Sidney’s livestock auction, for example, is experiencing similar traffic.”

Allen said these lines have happened before, but it’s been a little more common this winter on account of the cold weather, the recent rise in cattle prices and a fair amount of people who hung onto their calves until now coming around to sell.

Traffic has occurred on 191 both before and after the sales, as many of the cattle sold are loaded onto semis and shipped out of state. Fortunately, US-191 is a four-lane highway, making it easier for oncoming traffic to pass through.

Videos have surfaced of the long lines and people have been asking around town, “what’s going on at the livestock auction.”

Judith Gap rancher Bob Lee said one big reason the livestock auction is experiencing such high turnouts is continued business from ranchers, both locally and out of the area.

“The Lewistown Livestock Auction is doing a good job,” Lee said. “It’s a great opportunity to have a livestock auction in this area. There is a lot of supply and demand, and they’ve got the supply.”

This is evident in their numbers, as LLA has sold more than 3,000 head of cattle this month alone, and they’ve done so on higher markets across the board, according to their website,

Most of the sales have consisted of stocker cattle and heifer calves, as more than 1,000 of each have sold. Cows are also selling steadily, as almost 500 have sold this month.

This is a far cry from where things were last fall, Allen said, or where things were in 2015, as the cattle market experienced some serious setbacks. Now, however, the cattle market is looking up.

“Markets have been going down pretty steadily for a year, but we’ve had at least a little bit of a wiggle recently for people to take livestock to the ring,” Fergus County Extension Agent Darren Crawford said. “A lot of people have decided it’s time to pull the trigger.”

Crawford agrees with Allen as to why the LLA has seen an increase, adding that some ranchers who have been hanging onto their cattle may also be ready to sell because cold weather leads to higher feed cost, and more feed, for that matter.

“Considering the cold period we had, we’re probably looking at a 20-25 percent increase in feed,” Crawford said.

By and large, with the cattle market improving, albeit it slightly, Crawford said he expects some producers “see this as a good time to sell the cattle they were hanging onto.” A new tax year also might factor in.

“Things just came together,” Allen said. “The bump in the cattle market that occurred in late December has a lot to do with this, and it’s good to see.”





Where is your favorite place to go camping in Central Montana?