Beautiful buffalo business


A group of young heifers take center stage in the steel auction arena at Wednesday?s auction at Maxwell Wildlife Refuge. Surveying the action are helpers from the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks and auctioneers Roger Hiebert and Lyle Leppke (far right).

Marking the 30th anniversary of the first buffalo auction at Maxwell Wildlife Refuge last Wednesday, Mother Nature was in a celebrative mood.

?We caught probably the nicest day ever for the sale, weather-wise?at least in many, many years anyway,? said Cliff Peterson, refuge manager. ?It?s usually a matter of whether it?s cold and windy or warm and windy. But it was both warm and calm.?

With perfect weather, the turnout of buyers and browsers was better than last year, but about average overall?around 200 people?as 53 calves, yearlings and mature cows were sold as part of Maxwell?s ongoing efforts to manage the herd that roams the refuge?s 2,800 acres north of Canton.

?We have to sell animals to make room for next year?s calf crop,? Peterson said. ?You don?t want to overgraze, and you have a set number of acres. You have to keep your herd numbers maintained where they?ll be compatible with the number of acres you have. So we sell some to have room for next year?s calf production.?

In past years, most buyers came to add animals to their own herds. But with the market for buffalo cooling over the past several years, the motivation for most buyers was different this year.

?Most are buying for the meat right now,? Peterson said. ?They?re either in the buffalo-meat business, or they?re individuals looking for one or two animals to put in their own freezers.?

Prices this year were a little higher this year for about the third year in a row, said Lyle Leppke of Leppke Realty & Auction of Hillsboro. He and partner Roger Hiebert have been working the sale for the past 10 to 15 years.

?It was nice to see the price get a little better,? Leppke said.

?The first few years, price was really good?a lot better than now. Once the breeders had gotten in the business, the market really took a downturn because you were looking at what the meat market was going to be.

?Now we?ve gotten to the meat market, and that meat market is probably a little stronger than it was a few years back.?

Each year Maxwell sells about half of the current calf crop. The following year, the remaining animals from that crop are thinned by about half again.

?I keep most of my 2-year-old heifers for replacing older cows, and then I sell the 2-year-old bulls that I have left at the auction,? Peterson said.

?You keep your very best and sell any others to try to improve your herd. You don?t improve your herd by selling your very best.?

With the sale of the 53 animals, the current size of the herd is about 156.

?We?re still trying to get back to where we were several years,? Peterson said. ?We want to get up to where we?re around 165 after the sale.?

For Leppke, and for many who come simply to observe, the annual sale is more than just a business transaction.

?There is something special about the auction?there?s something special about those animals,? Leppke said. ?Being able to work the sale is a way that forces me to get to see them. Otherwise, you just don?t take the time to do it.?

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