Cattle farmers find other stockyards to buy, sell their livestock in wake of Lexington fire

Cattle Auction Blue Grass Stockyards East

Cattle auction in Mt. Sterling days after a devastating fire at Lexington's stockyards.
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Cattle auction in Mt. Sterling days after a devastating fire at Lexington's stockyards.

Central Kentucky farmers are heading elsewhere to buy and sell livestock in the wake of Saturday’s fire that destroyed Blue Grass Stockyards in Lexington.

Nelson County farmer Jeff Goff drove to Mount Sterling on Tuesday to buy calves at Blue Grass East, a satellite operation of the company that owned the Lexington stockyards.

“I don’t have Lexington to go to,” Goff, 60, said as he sat on the front row of the Mount Sterling sales ring. “So that’s why I’m here. This is the next place because Lexington is not there.

“It’s a big impact on me because it’s 50 minutes from home to Lexington and it’s an hour and 50 minutes to here. Two more hours on the road every Monday and Tuesday.”

Blue Grass East sold 631 animals Monday, and employees in the Blue Grass East sales office said perhaps 500 of those normally would have sold in Lexington.

Homer Hensley, 56, and his mother-in-law, Ann Glass, 83, sold calves Tuesday in Mount Sterling. Both have had a long relationship with Blue Grass Stockyards. Glass’s late husband, Billy Ray Glass, hauled livestock to the Lexington yards for more than 50 years.

Glass said that when she learned of the fire, “I cried. Yes, I did. It’s been part of our family for so long.”

Woodford County farmer Donald Mitchell, 53, can identify with that feeling.

“It may be crazy to say, but it’s almost like a death in the family,” Mitchell said in an interview Monday. “It was just the livestock marketing hub for most of us in the Lexington area. And all of a sudden it’s gone. Part of your heritage went up in the flames.”

In addition to Mount Sterling, Blue Grass Livestock Marketing Group has satellite operations in Richmond, Stanford, Campbellsville, Albany and Maysville.

Lynn Martin, 63, of Midway said he’ll probably take his cattle to Richmond and Stanford.

“It causes all kinds of logistics issues now,” Martin said. “You can’t just load some cattle up and take ’em to town. Now we’ve got to hire trucks to haul what we can’t haul with our own equipment.”

Goff, the Nelson County farmer, said longer trips to market put stress on the animals, and they’ll lose weight in the process. Cattle are sold by weight, so fewer pounds means fewer dollars in farmers’ pockets.

Competitors to Blue Grass, including stockyards in Owenton, Flemingsburg and Paris, might see some increase in sales volume.

Jeff Harding, senior vice president for livestock marketing for United Producers, the Columbus, Ohio, company that owns the Owenton stockyards, said he wasn’t sure what to anticipate in terms of farmers going to that market.

If necessary, the Owenton stockyards will add a sale day. “We’ll try to accommodate the needs of producers,” Harding said.

Stuart Wilson of Wilson’s Livestock Market in London said that yard might see a 10 percent increase in the number of cattle for sale.

“It’s going to affect the whole state,” Wilson said. “Cattle have to go somewhere.”

Gene Barber, a senior partner in Blue Grass Stockyards, was in Mount Sterling on Tuesday and said the company planned to rebuild in Lexington.

“We will build a real nice yard in Lexington,” Barber said. “We’ll build one as modern as we can and one as efficient as we can, something that will be handy for the producer.”

Ten years ago, the ownership sought to build a new stockyards in Midway, but Barber said that plan wasn’t on the table now.

“The city people down there didn’t want that in their neighborhood,” Barber said. “They thought that Midway was more of a historical town.”

Mitchell said he hoped elected officials would lend a hand to help the stockyards rebuild.

“It’s not going to reappear overnight,” he said.