Pick of the herd

By Jayson Jacoby / The Baker City Herald

By JAYSON JACOBY

jjacoby@bakercityherald.com

The optimism in the cattle industry is palpable these days.

Lori Thomas detected the rosy outlook Tuesday afternoon, when more than 100 ranchers congregated in Baker Valley to bid on some of the nation's most sought-after Angus breeding bulls.

"For the first time in a long time, cattle ranching is one of the most successful industries in agriculture," said Thomas of the Thomas Angus Ranch, which put on its annual spring bull sale.

"You can definitely feel that when you get a lot of cattlemen together."

And of course the peculiar psychology of an auction doesn't, as a rule, suppress prices.

The list of 110 registered bidders for the Thomas sale included several who participated in the auction via the Internet, Lori Thomas said.

In addition to the 24-percent boost in the average price, this year's top bull also fetched more money for the Thomas ranch - $8,600 compared with $7,500 last year.

This year's most expensive bull was born Sept. 10, 2010.

Sales statistics from the Harrell Hereford auction were still being compiled at press time this morning.

But Bob Harrell said the number of bulls sold, average price and top price were all well above average.

He said an estimated 300 to 350 people attended Monday's auction.

"It was as big a crowd as we've ever had," Harrell said.

Auction results aside, Lori Thomas said she and her husband, and the ranch employees, relish the spring sale because it gives them a chance to catch up with ranchers from across the U.S.

"To us, the hospitality part is important," she said. "Our customers are our friends. There's nothing that means more to us, professionally as well as personally, than these people who will travel so far."

Weather-wise, the Harrells were the fortunate family this year.

Monday's balmy southerly breezes - the high temperature was 59 degrees - gave way Tuesday to a frigid north wind and a high of 35.

"Thankfully it wasn't snowing," Lori Thomas said. "It was a little chilly, but these people are used to being out in the cold. We've had worse weather days."

But rarely, if ever, a better auction.

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