Omaha Livestock Market - the move to Red Oak

By Tina Turney
Posted 12/16/99

The headline in the Omaha World-Herald on December 10, 1997 read “City Plans to Buy Omaha Stockyards”. What had been forseen for several years had finally come to pass.

As I told the history …

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Omaha Livestock Market - the move to Red Oak


The headline in the Omaha World-Herald on December 10, 1997 read “City Plans to Buy Omaha Stockyards”. What had been forseen for several years had finally come to pass.

As I told the history of the Omaha Stockyards last week, it became evident that the end was in sight for the midwestern giant.

The stockyards which operated in the same location since 1884 in South Omaha, began as a convenience to Western cattlemen and grew to eventually become the largest livestock market in the world.

In the late 1960s however, new companies such as IBP and others moved out into the country to be near small towns that offered economic incentives and where cheap non-union labor was available. It was becoming more profitable for cattlemen to bypass the middlemen and the great terminal livestock markets at Chicago, Kansas City and Omaha.

As a result of these changes, the numbers of animals brought for sale into Omaha declined and with that, thousands of jobs were lost. In spite of these losses, in 1986 the Omaha yards still handled 1.25 million cattle, hogs and sheep.

According to operations manager Carl Hatcher, it cost ranchers $8.25 per head to sell cattle through the Omaha market. The problem became that packers began buying from large producers, expecially huge feedlots that fed thousands of cattle at a time. For the smaller cattle producers, the only functioning livestock markets left were the large terminal operations in Omaha, Sioux City, Iowa, St. Joseph, Missouri and Sioux Falls, South Dakota as well as the more specialized markets such as Oklahoma City and small local sale barns.

In 1991 traders at Omaha bought and sold $164 million worth of livestock but activity at the market steadily declined since then. The Packers Bank closed in December 1992 and the twenty-five per cent vacant space in the Livestock Exchange Building was offered to non-agricultural tenants such as insurance companies and telemarketers.

The Long Branch Bar, a long-time landmark establishment, so well known by its clientele that it never needed to advertise, became the Long Branch Saloon and began to advertise live dance bands and free dance lessons to the public.

In December 1997 the City of Omaha announced its plans to buy the Omaha Stockyards and the turn the fifty-four acre South Omaha property into a business park for commercial and industrial use.

United Market Services Company based in St. Paul, Minnesota was leasing about fifteen acres from the owner of the stockyards, Canal Capital Corporation of New York City. Business continued at the stockyards from 1989 with United leasing the grounds until 1999 with the option to then extend the lease. Plans were also made to renovate the Livestock Exchange Building also owned by Canal.

Omaha’s Metropolitan Community College hoped to expand its nearby South Omaha campus onto about ten acres of the land.

In 1997 there were approximately 100 people working at the Omaha Livestock Market, which was United’s operating name; they included truck drivers, buyers and commission firm employees.

In June of 1998 the purchase of the Omaha Stockyards for $900,000 was announced by the Omaha City Council for development into a business park. The city and the South Omaha Industrial Park Development Corporation acquired all the land between 29th and L Streets.

The total value of the land sale and private capital investment was estimated to reach $40 million.

The eleven-story Livestock Exchange Building will not be torn down, and plans are for it to be turned into office and residential use. The huge ballroom will be restored to its former splendor.

So the deal was finalized after more than two years of negotiations and the end was in sight for the stockyards, the place for nearly 116 years where city and country met.

According to Jeffrey Spencer of the Douglas County Historical Society, it was the “end of an era, the end of the last great forces that built and developed this entire part of the country.”

“While the commercial development will boost Omaha’s economy and provide jobs, the high-tech sevice industries and light manufacturing businesses have no link to the land or the geography of the place. The stockyards and packing plants that sprang up in the surrounding area were the engine that drove Omaha’s economy and put the city on the map.”

The last Wednesday in October marked the closing day of business at the stockyards in Omaha.

On November 1, the 166-year-old operation moved to the Red Oak Livestock Market owned by Don Wolfe and his son Pat of Red Oak, Iowa.

The Red Oak Livestock Market is located just outside of Red Oak on Hwy. 34 which is 42 miles from its long-time South Omaha home. The Wolfe family has been involved in the livestock business for many years.

Carl Hatcher, who has worked at the Omaha Stock Yards for forty-four years, is continuing on with the livestock operation in Red Oak. And the facility is going to keep the Omaha Livestock Market name, according to Hatcher, “It’s been with us for 116 years, and we’re going to stick with it.”

I spoke with Carl Hatcher just recently about the move to Red Oak. He told me a little about the background of the business that he hopes will continue to give the small farmer or rancher another option for selling their livestock.

He said the Omaha business, whose parent company is United Marketing Services based in Minneapolis, is leasing the sale barn from the Wolfes six days a week. They have a five-year lease with an option to buy after that time. United Marketing Services owns two plants, one in Omaha and one in Minneapolis.

The Red Oak facility includes 17 acres which at present can handle a total of 1,000 hogs at a time. Presently the barn is operating three days a week, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Slaughter cattle are sold Monday and Tuesday by private treaty, and cows and bulls are sold at public auction on Wednesday. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday slaughter hogs are sold by private treaty to packers.

Hatcher reported that sheep, which sell every Monday, have been very good lately, and the hog market has seen some recent improvement. He said cattle sales have been a little light but recently cow and bull sales have started to pick up. The Wolfes also hold a feeder calf sale on Saturdays. Hatcher told me he has a buyer from Canada who calls the sale barn every day to check on livestock prices at Red Oak.

The facilities at Red Oak have been upgraded since the Omaha Market began operations there about six weeks ago. Sturdier new pens have been built, a new hog barn has been added and the lights are in. The City of Red Oak has run water to the site also.

According to Hatcher, the local people are happy with the move. Long-time Omaha stock yards patrons will have to decide whether to ship their livestock the extra miles to Red Oak. Some buyers and producers have indicated they would stay loyal to the Omaha Livestock Market if it is economically feasible.

The future will no doubt continue to be a struggle for the business, and according to agricultural economist Allen Wellman, this livestock market “is still viable, and if they can promote it and convince producers they’re a viable market, they can make it.”