The pickup trucks and metal stock trailers that fill the once-empty dirt parking lot of Cedar Livestock Market are evidence of a busy day that is already underway.
The lowing of cattle adds to a cacophony of swinging gates and the deep rumble of the truck engines as ranchers from across southern Utah, northern Arizona and eastern Nevada await their turn at the unloading docks.
A frenzy of boots and hooves leave a memory in the dirt as each new load is carefully moved and sorted within the labyrinth of alleyways, chutes and holding pens to await their turn in the sale barn.
What may look like a menagerie of metal gates and wooden fences to the untrained eye is really a well-oiled machine that has facilitated livestock sales in the area for nearly 80 years, and at its heart is a handful of Southern Utah University students and graduates.
The outstretching alleyways and quaint sale barn of the CLM has offered a marketing service to ranchers in and around Cedar City since the 1940s.
Inside the auctioneers ramble off a quickly changing onslaught of numbers to the hoots and hand raising of the audience members that are offering to up the price and take home the animals in the ring below them.
When the bidding has ceased, the animals are whisked through a sweeping white door to be replaced by the next group.
The activities displayed within the sale ring are just the tip of the iceberg as far as all the operations that go into making the auction house run. Behind those swinging white gates is the maze of holding pens and sorting alleys buzzing with life and manned in large part by SUU’s agriculture students.
“We couldn’t survive without them,” Dave Cox, a yard manager for the CLM and recent SUU agriculture graduate himself, said of the students’ impact on the operation.
Dave is not the first in his family to graduate from SUU or work at the auction, nor will he be the last. Sitting atop a stout dark horse sorting the incoming cattle into holding pens, he is performing some of the same tasks he watched his father, Duke Cox, carry out more than 30 years earlier.
Duke Cox, an Orderville, Utah, native, attended SUU 1989 when it was Southern Utah State College. Having grown up around livestock, he sought out a job with the CLM while earning his degree.
After graduating, Duke continued to build a career at the auction house by attending an auctioneering school and becoming business partners with the sale barn’s then owner, Bret Whittier.
Now the SUSC graduate is the current owner of the auction house after purchasing the CLM from Whittier in 2019.
“It’s good for us to have kids that are willing to work,” Duke Cox said, recognizing the impacts that the students have on his operation.
The SUU students and alumni are woven into nearly every aspect of CLM’s operations.
T-Birds can be found aiding in the office work, writing the weekly market reports and upkeeping the website, but the largest concentration are the ground workers who drive, sort and organize the animals before and after the sale.
SUU junior Justin Jennings has worked in this capacity at the auction since his freshman year. On sale day, he will perform any number of tasks including moving, sorting, tagging and numbering the animals both before and after they are sold.
“Normally when I show up I help unload cows and then move to the penning side when the auction starts,” Jennings said. “But we rotate and just go wherever we’re needed.”
Each aspect of the sale operations is a team effort. When the animals are dropped off, the student workers will unload, pen and document the group by numbering the animals and providing a slip for both the seller and the auction house.
As the sale begins, the workers organize and move the various groups of animals to facilitate a continuous stream of livestock to the sale barn, followed by sorting the animals into numbered pens to easily facilitate pickup for the buyers after the auction is over.
“It’s easy when it’s good co-workers,” Jennings said. “Everybody here wants to work.”
High numbers of animals going through the auction on any given day can mean a great deal of running up and down the long stretches of alleyway making the work sometimes straining, but there is never a task that is not met with several willing hands.
Jennings, an Emery County native, grew up around cattle and horses and considers his efforts at the sale barn as rewarding to himself as they are to the CLM.
“I’ve always just worked for individuals with smaller operations,” he said. “Seeing how an operation this size works has been beneficial to me.”
Not only has Jennings been exposed to the workings of a larger scale operation, he has also been able to gain experience working with animals he has previously been around very little.
“Almost everybody here has been around livestock their whole life,” Jennings said. “But I’ve never really been around sheep before this; it was just cows and horses.”
Many SUU agriculture students just like Jennings have found similar benefits from their time at the auction and have been able to grow not only their experience with animals but also with people.
The agriculture students will be faced with speaking to livestock producers of every background as well as the feedlot owners, packers and brokers that purchase the animals, making their ability to communicate effectively within the industry very important.
“They’re all really personable,” Duke said of his SUU employees. “You deal with the public on [the sale] side and [the sorting] side, and they deal with the public well.”
SUU agriculture students are as much a part of the CLM’s history and traditions as the sorting pens and alleyways.
Each Thursday, a group of SUU students will return to the CLM to help facilitate another sale day. As these students move on and graduate, there is always a steady flow of new agriculture students ready and willing to take their place.
“SUU students have worked here for a long time,” Dave said. “They play a huge part.”
As these students come and go, many find relief in their time spent around the animals and the dust of the sorting pens.
“Most of them have an ag background,” Duke said . “This is good therapy for them to get a little manure on their boots.”
Story and photos by: Mikyla Bagley