Joshua Dillen
The Baker City Herald

The smell of money was in the air as hundreds of cattle buyers from across the country congregated at the Harrell Hereford Ranch eight miles west of Baker City Monday for its 39th-annual Hereford bull and heifer auction.

Jay George, owner of United Livestock Brokers in Kansas, who has worked with Harrell Hereford’s sales since 1989, was very impressed with the bidding.

“It was the best sale in the history of the Harrell Hereford Ranch,” George said.

The top bull was auctioned for $52,500 — more than double last year’s top bull, which went for $21,000. The average price for bulls was $6,172, compared with last year’s average of $5,400.

While there were bidders from 15 states, as well as Mexico and Canada, the strength of the sale is that local and regional cattle producers have access to buy quality breeding bulls at prices that aren’t a reflection of those record bids received.

“The heart and soul of (Harrell Hereford’s) is selling commercial bulls to ranchers within the Baker Valley,” George said. “Without them, you don’t have a bull sale at all.”

He said the Harrell family’s goal is to sell top performance bulls to local and regional ranchers to help them produce better cattle and higher performing herds.

This year’s sale was held in a new facility with a new show ring, built by Farm & Industrial in Baker City. Heavy snow last winter damaged the building where last year’s sale took place.

“It’s basically the same layout, just a little bit fancier,” said Bobby Harrell Jr., who along with his family runs the ranch.

Up for auction were 210 registered Herefords — 155 bulls and 87 heifers — and 18 quarter horses.

Willard Wolf traveled from Valleyford, Washington, near Spokane, to buy about 20 bulls for several cattle ranches in Washington.

While he only runs a few cattle himself these days, Wolf has been in the cattle business for decades and said he has worked with the Harrell family since its first bull sale nearly 40 years ago.

Wolf said there’s a reason hundreds of cattle ranchers gather at the Harrell Hereford Ranch every year to bid on their bulls and heifers.

“They got good genetics and they got one of the most maternal cow herds in the western United States,” he said.

By maternal, Wolf explained that Harrell’s cows have the overall genetics — milk production, udder shape and other advantageous traits — that allow them to be good mothers.

Harrell said those maternal qualities, combined with his family’s herd’s other genetic traits such as docility, contribute to efficiency in cattle production.

Another factor that makes his cows desirable is the makeup of the rest of the nation’s cow herd.

“The majority of the nation’s cow herd now is black (Angus),” Harrell said. “Probably the number one cross to put on a black cow is a Hereford bull. That’s where a lot of our Hereford cattle go to is on black cows.

“It brings people here,” Harrell said. “Between the two sales, we’re selling close to 400 bulls and hundreds of females and horses. (It’s) bringing a lot of people to town.”

See more in the March 7, 2018, issue of the Baker City Herald.