Tractors can practically drive themselves with satellite guidance, robots are milking cows and livestock can be monitored remotely via the Internet, but not every business is leaping into the technological boom that affects most aspects of agriculture. The Kidron Auction in Wayne County will be celebrating 90 years in the Sprunger family this year and, quite frankly, many aspects of the business are not much different from yesteryear.
“We do not really use computers. The system is all paper,” said Jedd Sprunger, the third generation of his family to work with the auction. “It may be a little more efficient with a computer system and we may need to look at that. That is one of the things we need to look at moving forward, but it is hard to mess with something that still works and has worked for a long time.”
While computers could add some efficiency, the paper trail would still be needed for data back up for weight slips, buyers and numerous other things, anyway. So, for now, no digital records, though one noteworthy high-tech change at the auction is the presence on the Internet, with a nice website that features previous auction numbers.
“We provide our market data online. We were getting so many calls after the sale about what the market was doing,” Jedd said. “We decided to put it on the website so a person can sit and look at it in real time and look at it historically. It gives the producers a better chance to take a look at what is going on.”
The website is managed by Jedd’s son, Grant, who represents the fourth generation of Sprungers involved with the auction. The longstanding auction tradition in Kidron got its start in 1918, when a group of local farmers and businessmen held their first auction at the Jacob Moser barn located on the square in Kidron.
Those early monthly sales did not gain much traction, though, so in late 1923 they sold the business to a young local auctioneer named S.C. “Cy” Sprunger for $5. Cy held his firstsale on Feb. 17, 1924. After that, Cy tirelessly promoted the relatively new concept of livestock marketing through the auction and the sale frequency gradually increased from monthly, to twice a month and, by 1932, sales were held weekly.
“This took a lot of promotion through the years. In the 20s and 30s, people weren’t as mobile as they are now,” said John Sprunger, Cy’s son. “When they would have an anniversary sale to promote the business, it was kind of like a county fair. They’d give out prizes and had all kinds of entertainment.”
Since its earliest days, the auction has catered to a niche of non-terminal livestock sales.
“Dad took it over in 1923 when a lot of the livestock was going to terminal markets in Cleveland, Columbus, Pittsburg and so on,” John said. “And that was really the only outlet. A lot of the famers had livestock that would go back to the farm like dairy animals or calves, but there wasn’t really an outlet for that. Originally and today, a lot of our livestock goes back to the farm. That is still a big part of what we do. We still handle cull cows and we still handle a lot of feeder pigs.”
In the early days of the auction, most of the pens and selling took place outdoors. As the sales grew, the original Moser barn was continually expanded to accommodate the increasing consignments. In 1937, a new feeder pig and hog barn was added to the business. The following year, one of the auction’s largest construction projects was undertaken when a new enclosed pavilion and ring was built along with a new attached office and scale so that livestock could be sold by weight, instead of by the head.
“From there on, there were other pieces added as needed,” John said. “Our feeder pig numbers were high in the 80s too so we bought a veal operation and converted it to a feeder pig barn and we could heat it and cool it and we could wash it all down. That was a big addition in ‘89. Through the years we’ve added here and there.”
In his prime, Cy would sell at three other sales each week along with farm and real estate auctions. In 1948, the Kidron Auction celebrated 25-years under the management of Cy with a large two-day gala affair. And, in a tradition that continues today, machinery sales were started in 1947 to help raise funds to build a much-needed local fire department.
In 1956, Cy passed away and the sale continued under the management of Cy’s brother, Earl, and long-time office manager, Russel “Russ” Beals. The sale continued to grow and in 1973, John took over the management of the auction sales. In January of 1981, John added weekly hay and straw auctions on Thursday mornings prior to livestock sales.
While much has remained the same at Ohio’s oldest livestock auction through the years, the livestock industry has changed significantly. The business has continually evolved with the changes. High feed prices, consolidation of the livestock industry and fewer farms have created significant challenges
“The challenge for us right now going forward is that, as a livestock auction, there are not nearly as many farms that have animals,” Jedd said. “Some of the bigger farms have gotten bigger and they are more self sufficient. They have agreements with the packers and they don’t need to come sell their animals here. Back 20 years ago, it wasn’t uncommon on a Thursday to have 3,000 head. Now on a better day for us we’ll see 1,000 or 1,500. But, the small family farms still need a place to go with their animals and that keeps us a viable option. We have a totally dedicated feeder pig barn. I don’t think there is any other auction in the state that has this. We’re getting feeder pigs even from out of state just because of that. The community in this area is also a big part of it.”
There is still plenty of excitement in the air on sale days. There can be a fairly eclectic mix of people at the auctionson a given Thursday.
“If the weather is good and the farmers are in the field there won’t be many farmers here. You’ll just see two or three dozen of our dealer buyers,” John said. “We also get a lot of tourists here too and, when the weather is good, we also have a fairly large crowd at the flea market we have every Thursday and Saturday. People come from all over Ohio and we have buyers from out of state for feeder pigs, the flea market and we draw a lot of people for the hay and straw market, especially now that hay is higher than it has ever been.”
In an industry that is constantly changing, the Kidron auction, as it has done for four generations of Sprungers, will continue to serve the local community and agriculture in the region.
“We still have a number of farmers in the a
rea here and we still provide the livestock marketing service for them. We have a niche that a lot of markets do not have,” John said. “Farmers today have all kinds of marketing possibilities, but we offer a good, competitive situation. When you have two or three buyers bidding on an animal it helps, so as long as there are animals, there will be a demand for them with a good, competitive market.”