Family owned, small town auction barns do not exist anymore, but guess what On the road viewers. We found one! We’re in Menno, SD and this is one you’re not gonna want to miss!
What happens in a day at the Menno Livestock Auction?
“I try and get here by 8. The rest of the guys come between 9 and 10. We start selling, hopefully we’re done by 3:30 or 4. Last week, the last truck loaded out about 7:30 or 8 that night. You’re back in here, the next morning,” said Kenny Wintersteen. “My wife will fix us supper after the sale and sometimes it’s midnight. There are many nights when I sleep on the couch here, just to be here for the trucks. So, and it’s a nice couch. So, it’s it, they get to be long days man. You put your 40 hours in by Wednesday afternoon pretty easy,” said Kenny Wintersteen.
Kenny Wintersteen owns the Menno Livestock Auction in Menno, South Dakota, along with his bride of 31 years, Lynn. “We were both brought up in families that taught us how to work and to appreciate a good hard day’s work. And a lot of it just comes from our upbringing,” said Lynn Wintersteen. “If we were going to make this work for our family, we needed to do it together and we needed to work hard, regardless of the long days, and the heartaches that go along with it,” said Lynn Wintersteen.
The Menno Livestock Auction has been in business since 1915. The Wintersteens purchase the sale barn back in 1996 which was previously owned by Arnold and Arden Dewald of Freeman. “I had no idea what we were getting into. We had two small children. My parents thought we were absolutely crazy. And I think his parents thought the same. And needless to say, we were scared, nervous,” said Lynn Wintersteen. “We were fortunate to have family and friends nearby that could help us when we needed, but it was just important that we could do this as a family,” said Lynn Wintersteen.
A family-owned livestock barn like this is extremely rare, and it truly takes a team effort. Up to 20 employees from the Hutchinson County area tackle the demanding work. “We are, I think, the last family owned barn that sells all classes of livestock. Pigs, sheep, cattle, goats, turkeys, donkeys. In the summertime, we sell fowl. But if it wouldn’t be for our employees, this ring gets shoveled out by hand, you know, because it’s so small. So, you have to really like what you’re doing or you wouldn’t be in business,” said Kenny Wintersteen.
Menno Livestock is the #1 family auction barn in South Dakota for hog sales and is #4 for sheep sales. It will also sell 10-12000 feeder cattle each year. “We buy livestock out of Wyoming, a lot out of Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska. So, a lot of our business comes from 200-300 miles away,” said Kenny Wintersteen. And of course, South Dakota too. Mike Miller raises cattle, hogs and row crops on the family farm in Viborg. He’s been coming to the Menno Livestock barn for 15 years. “I think the auction barn setting, still is the best for the farmer,” said Mike Miller. “Someone like the Wintersteens or some of the, the other local barns, they care about what they are doing and they want, they are working for the seller,” said Mike Miller. “Our job is to do the best we can and be as nice to people as we can. And I tell my employees, ‘We sell livestock, but we’re in the people business.’ And so that’s what we try to do, said Kenny Wintersteen.
A livestock producer’s livelihood is placed in the hands entire team of the auction barn, including the auctioneers, on sale day. The pressure is enormous. “These farmers and ranchers have spent their life, building a herd of cows, or raising feeder cattle year after year. They put their heart and soul into what they do. This is what they know, this is what they love, and this is what they’re passionate about,” said Lynn Wintersteen. “This is serious business. When people come in like today, they’re going to sell their entire lamb crop or their entire calf crop in about two minutes,” said Kenny Wintersteen. “We have one set of feeder pigs today. These guys are in their 70’s bringing those pigs and we will have 4 people on the phone to try and get them as much money as possible,” said Kenny Wintersteen.
The producers and the livestock from the ranchers and family farms are a big part of the Wintersteen’s life journey. However, community and charitable causes drive both of them in glorious ways, too. “He is constantly involved, him and Lynn in fundraisers, in donations, in helping with, whether Menno, or Freeman, or surrounding communities,” said Mike Miller. “They are volunteers above and beyond anybody I have ever seen,” said Mike Miller.
Their hometown of Menno receives the greatest benefit. You can hear the buzz and feel the energy, especially on sale days. “I’ve been told that it is, the busiest day of the week, no matter when we have our sale. And the night sales, holy smokes, they have to park down on the church parking lot, because there’s so many people here, it’s that crowded,” said Kenny Wintersteen. “It is something that would be missed. Ask any of these towns that have lost their sale barns. It hurts,” said Kenny Wintersteen.
So, what does the future hold for this century old sale barn? It has been around since 1915. With the Wintersteens at the helm, we remain hopeful. “About like anything, small businesses, small farmers, small sale barns, it gets tough. You know, it’s harder and harder but you can make things happen if you really want to,” said Mike Miller.
Kenny and Lynn want to…because this is about family, livestock producers included. “You get to know these people so personally. You, you get invited to their kid’s weddings and when their parent dies, you are part of their mourning process. These people become your family, and it’s, that’s one thing you can never replace is the friendships that we’ve made,” said Lynn Wintersteen.
So, what’s next Kenny? “We visited about it. Why would you quit? If you like what you’re doing, you know, why would you? However, a proverb tells you that if you like your work, you’ve never really worked a day in your life. That is an absolute lie. We love our work, but this is the hardest job a lot of people will ever do. Ever. It’s a lot of work,” said Kenny Wintersteen.
From April through September, Tuesday nights at the sale barn is the place to be in Menno. Families from all over the area gather to talk and of course, be part of the excitement of the big sale. Just like they have done in Menno since 1915!