Cattle graze just over the hill, as seen against the winter sky in Malheur County. (Enterprise file photo)

BAKER CITY - Many bids came in via a computer screen rather than from shouts at the sale ring, but Bob Harrell Jr. was still pleased to see something resembling normal in the beef business.

Harrell said the 42nd-annual bull sale at his family’s Harrell Hereford Ranch in Baker Valley on March 1 was successful.

“I thought it went really well,” Harrell said. “We were very pleased.”

The turnout, both in person and online, was especially welcome after a year of uncertainty and upheaval in the cattle market, Harrell said.

“Ranchers are used to adversity,” he said. “No one knew what to expect. But we’re seeing that life can go on and we can do business.”

Harrell, who was driving to a couple of sales in Montana on Monday morning, March 8, said the average price for bulls was up by about $1,000 compared with the 2020 sale, which took place at the start of the pandemic.

“There was a lot of optimism,” Harrell said of the March 1 event. “Last year the crowd was way down.”

Yearling bulls

A total of 104 yearling bulls were sold, with the average price $6,073.

The top animal brought a winning bid of $22,500 from Brymer Ranch Herefords of Caldwell, Texas.

The rest of the top five yearling bulls:

• $18,500, to XC Ranch and Ottley Herefords of Pomeroy, Washington

• $15,500, to TA Lawson and Sons of New Pine Creek, Oregon (near Lakeview)

• $14,000, to Goose Creek Valley Farms of Richmond, Virginia

• $10,500, to Table Mountain Cattle Co. of Mitchell

Two-year-old bulls

The Harrell Hereford Ranch also sold 30 commercial replacement heifers to Belcampo Farms of Gazelle, California, for $44,250 (an average of $1,475), and three fall bred cows for an average of $3,083.

In addition to the Herefords, the March sale also included the annual Harrell-Mackenzie quarter horse sale.

Harrell said the horse sale was “outstanding.”

“By far the best we’ve ever had,” he said.

A total of 11 fillies sold for an average of $9,477.

The top filly, named The Savvy Sixes, went for $13,000 to Coyote Ridge Herefords of Kersey, Colorado.

Six geldings were sold at an average of $10,750, topped by the $19,000 that Charlie Kendall of Glendale, Arizona, paid for a horse named HR Irish Partner.

One mare, Sassy Like Shea, sold to Will and Linda Tiffany of Ontario for $13,750.

Thomas Angus Ranch sale

A day after the Harrell sale, and a few miles away, the Thomas Angus Ranch had its 18th annual spring bull and select female sale.

Ranch owner Rob Thomas said he agrees with Harrell’s assessment of the industry outlook.

“I think there’s a lot of optimism moving forward,” Thomas said. “There’s a lot of positive signs in the cattle business right now.”

Both Thomas and Harrell said the pandemic created a significant backlog in the American beef-processing industry during the spring of 2020 when several large packing plants closed temporarily due to COVID-19 outbreaks.

That left some ranchers with no outlet to sell their cattle.

But once the plants reopened, demand for beef — in particular high-quality beef, Thomas said — was strong.

And that was despite restaurants, a major beef buyer, being closed or restricted for much of 2020.

“The loss we’ve seen in the restaurant industry was offset by more people cooking at home,” Thomas said.

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This story published with permission as part of the AP Storyshare system. The Malheur Enterprise is a contributor to this network of Oregon news outlets.