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Coronavirus

Scaled-down bull sales to proceed in person

Tim Hearden Red Bluff bull sale
A bull is auctioned off during the 2020 Red Bluff Bull and Gelding Sale. The 2021 sale will be held in person in late January.
The annual Red Bluff and Klamath Falls events are considered essential business activities.

Amanda Bradshaw’s first Red Bluff Bull and Gelding Sale as manager will be considerably different from all the others.

While it normally draws a big walk-up crowd, the 80th annual Northern California event Jan. 26-30 will only be open to buyers and consigners because of coronavirus-related restrictions on public gatherings.

Those with a pass will enter through a fairgrounds gate. All the sifting, trials and livestock auctions will be held as normal, albeit with precautions, and there will even be an outdoor trade show billed as an “agriculture-essential swap meet,” Bradshaw said. But social get-togethers such as a buyer-consigner dinner and bull-riding exhibition were jettisoned.

The measures followed months of talks between the bull sale committee and Tehama County public health officials.

“I made the strong argument that it is essential for our buyers to be here in person,” Bradshaw told Farm Progress. “Our buyers need to be here from sift day to sale day to evaluate the animals all the way through. We were not capped on capacity and not limited in the number of attendees, but we stipulated to the health department that anybody who attends needs to be a buyer or consigner.”

Klamath also proceeds

If all goes according to plan, the Red Bluff sale will be the first of two major West Coast livestock events to be held in person. The Klamath Bull and Horse Sale will proceed Feb. 3-6 at the fairgrounds in Klamath Falls, Ore., sans the horses and stock dogs.

Because of state regulations to curb the spread of COVID-19, the sale committee had to cancel all the events typically held in the Klamath County Main Event Center, including a big trade show, stock tog trials, all horse events and a ranch rodeo.

“We are excited to still be offering quality bulls and heifers to our community” through the 61st annual sale in the fairgrounds’ Stillwell Arena, the sale committee wrote on the event’s website. As in Red Bluff, the Klamath event will include a modified “essential industry trade show” in and around the arena.

The in-person bull sales come as scores of agriculture-related seminars, conferences and shows have been cancelled or moved online as the West Coast has endured some of the strictest lockdown measures in the country. These events included this week’s Almond Conference and California Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting, next month’s Unified Wine and Grape Conference and the World Ag Expo in February.

First year as manager

A Red Bluff native, Bradshaw, 37, was announced in early 2020 as the second woman to manage the sale beginning in ’21. She spent her first year simply trying to keep the event going, at least in person. There was community speculation that the sale would move temporarily to the Rolling Hills Casino in nearby Corning, which has an equestrian center and is not subject to state mandates. But the committee soon decided against such a move, Bradshaw said.

“Our heart is always here in Red Bluff,” she said. “This is our community. This is where it began in 1941. This was obviously always where we wanted to be.”

To take precautions against the virus’ spread, the bull sale will shut down points of entry except for two gates. Masks will be required, and extra restroom and hand-washing facilities will be added, Bradshaw said. The bulls, dogs and horses will be kept “in cohorts” in different areas, and consigners in each area will have access to their own bathrooms, she said.

In another change, buyers will be charged a $20 entrance fee. In most years, admission is free but some attractions, including the gelding sale, are ticketed. But no additional tickets will be required this time. For those who don’t make the trip, all the auctions – including Western Video Market’s 13th annual online feeder and replacement heifer sale – will be streamed online and offer a chance to bid by phone.

“Luckily for us, primarily 99% of our activities take place outside anyway,” Bradshaw said, adding that the committee came up with a “good compromise” with health officials.

“Our bull buyers breed for this (sale) specifically, so … we’re just happy with the health plan we were able to push through,” she said.

Nearly 400 bulls

This year’s sale will have nearly 400 bull entrants, between 70 and 75 geldings and 20 stock dogs, with more dogs on a waiting list, she said. After sifting, 262 bulls were auctioned off in 2020 for a total of just under $1.179 million, edging the nearly $1.15 million collected for 302 bulls at the 2019 auction.

The 66 horses auctioned in 2020 collected a total of $796,400, edging the 2019 total of $785,850 for 63 horses.

Normally, one of the biggest attractions of the week in Red Bluff is the stock dog sale, which in 2018 saw a pair of female border collies sell for a record $30,000 apiece. Crowds usually line the fences surrounding a grassy area where contestants show their skills at moving cattle into a trailer a few hours before the sale. This time, all three outdoor dog workouts will be streamed online.

“We’re looking at a strong sale,” Bradshaw said. “One thing we’ve noticed in the sales they have had, including a lot of these horse sales and private bull sales, is the prices have been phenomenal. I’m hoping for a good outcome for our consigners.

“This is a good outlet for them,” she said. “We are one of the few that is going to move forward.”

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