The Exhibition Grounds, site of the 1902 Bull Sale, ca 1908
Postcards from the Past, PC 271
The annual Calgary Bull Sale was held for the 113th time last week at the Stampede Grounds. That makes it the longest running consignment bull sale on the planet. It began as part of the annual meeting of the Territorial Pure Bred Cattle Breeders Association, with the aim of providing the “small farmers to obtain pure bred stock as reasonably as the large rancher had been able to do by buying carload lots. “ Because of the size of the Territories and the cost of transporting less than a carload of animals, small farmers were limited in their access to breeding stock outside of their immediate neighbourhood. For many it was cheaper to buy stock from the East, but these animals weren’t necessarily the best for the climate out here. To level the field for the smaller producer, the stock was transported free of charge. The sale took place on the Friday of the annual meeting at R.C. Thomas’s Frontier Stables. According to the newspaper report, the bidding started slowly, but the bull Lord Kitchener turned the tide with a starting bid of fifty dollars which quickly went to one hundred. W.R. Hull paid $250 for a two-year old. Apparently the cows went much cheaper, being, as they were, “a little off colour.”
The sale was not just to benefit the small producers. Improving cattle herds on the prairies was a benefit to all producers. The cattle on the land at the time were descendants of the Texas longhorn, which was a tough breed, but not as well suited as the British breeds such as Herefords and Angus to our colder winters. Plus, as any steak connoisseur can tell you, they are better eatin’.
This year the average price of a Hereford bull was nearly $5000. The record price paid for a bull, one which has yet to be broken, was set at the 1981 sale when a Grand Champion Hereford bull from B and H Hereford Farm sold for $280,000. That’s a lot more than Lord Kitchener got at the first sale. The numbers from the sales tell a story, and it’s not always a happy one. Going through the excellent history of the Bull Sale by JoAnne Jones Hole, one cannot help but notice that although prices seem to remain steady, the number of animals at the sale has dwindled. In 2000 there were 572 bulls sold, in the last sale, 208. There is still optimism in the industry and the Annual Bull Sale still continues to draw buyers from both sides of the border, a testament to the quality of the Alberta herds and the early efforts of the Territorial Pure Bred Cattle Breeders Association to build them. Let's hope this optimism continues. Alberta beef is still the best!
We have the book Calgary Bull Sale 1901-2000 by JoAnn Jones Hole as well as several catalogues from the 1950s in our Local History Collection. These are just a small part of the collection of materials about the history of the ranching and the cattle industry in Southern Alberta. Drop in for a visit.
Dipping Cattle near Medicine Hat, NWT ca 1902
Postcards from the Past, PC 103