BC Livestock Producers Co-Operative Association: Rancher-owned and -operated for 70 Years

Rancher-owned and –operated BC Livestock Producers Co-Operative Association (BC Livestock) oversees four stockyards throughout British Columbia. With locations in Kamloops, Williams Lake, Okanagan Falls and Vanderhoof, the cooperative works directly with over 1,500 cattle producers and holds weekly livestock auctions. Buyers then move the animals into feedlots throughout central Canada and the Midwest, resulting in a significant impact on the industry.

Since BC Livestock’s establishment in 1943, the cooperative has assisted ranchers in marketing livestock and maximizing profits. “We’re a rare breed,” shares Kevin Johnson, general manager of BC Livestock. “There aren’t too many cooperatives that have lasted as long as we have. We’re a business by and for our cattle producers.”

BC Livestock has come a long way over the last 70 years, now bringing in over $100 million annually. However, according to Johnson, the cooperative began with relatively no assets. “We started in Vancouver then Merritt with stockyards,” Johnson says. “Then in the early ‘70s things changed when the board of director’s Rudy Johnson, my grandfather, went to the bank and asked for a $2 million loan to build a new yards in Kamloops.”

As the story goes, the banker asked Rudy what he had to put down on the loan. “He threw an old typewriter and a calculator at the banker and said, ‘that’s what we’ve got’,” Johnson laughs. According to Johnson, since Rudy and the board’s determination in its early years, the cooperative has thrived; BC Livestock now owns upward of $3.5 million in property and assets. “Rudy was recognized for his contributions to the cattle industry in 2013 with a Governor’s General Award,” Johnson says.

Johnson has continued the family tradition following in his grandfather’s footsteps. “I’ve been doing this my whole life; I’m third generation,” he shares. Truly dedicated to what he does, Johnson works part-time at BC Livestock while also managing his own ranch, consisting of approximately 200 head cattle.

As Rudy had, Johnson worked his way up through the cooperative’s board of directors, which today consists of 12 members. Each board of directors’ member is a cattle producer and fully understands the ins and outs of a challenging and competitive industry.

“Our business is very labor intensive,” details Johnson. “Although we employ 75 to 80 individuals, we’re always looking for new people.” According to Johnson, the business needs the help of younger generations to continue building a labor force.

“We need the next generation to take over the farms but we’re competing with the mines and the forest industry,” Johnson says. “We just can’t pay what they offer to pay. It takes a skilled person to do this job. You need someone who’s been brought up on a ranch and knows how to work with cattle. Unfortunately youth is less and less available in the cattle industry.”

Johnson attributes much of BC Livestock’s success to not only the cattle producers, but to his dedicated staff and cattle buyers, who support the market. “Our people have been with us for a long time,” he details. “A handful of them have been with BC Livestock for over 40 years. At the end of the day though, this isn’t the biggest money making business. You have to really like what you do, and our people do.”

Supporting Ranchers, Wholeheartedly

Despite recent labor challenges, BC Livestock has managed to support regional ranchers for over seven decades. The cooperative revolves around critical relationships, always putting producers first.

“We guarantee a producer that when they bring in cattle, they’ll go home with a cheque that same day,” stresses Johnson. “We then collect from the buyers at auction. We carry a fair amount of risk in this sense, but have a history of dealing with trusted folks. We’re one of the last industries where a deal is still sealed on a hand shake.” The industry is limited in size, and according to Johnson, BC Livestock’s team knows everyone who deals with cattle throughout the Midwest.

The close-knit community allows BC Livestock to focus on serving its valued cattle producers. Without solid relationships the cooperative wouldn’t exist. “It’s all about service,” says Johnson. “We pretty much do whatever it takes to get a rancher’s cattle moved or bought.” The cooperative does so through private, direct, electronic sales, auctions and in-house produced videos.

“We deal with over 130,000 cattle on an annual basis,” shares Johnson. “We team up do to electronic sales with Calgary Stockyards. That’s about the only thing we outsource.” Johnson admits it would be too much for the cooperative to do all of the electronic aspects of an auction; teaming up allows for more efficient service.

However, BC Livestock does proudly produce its own livestock videos used at auction to demonstrate the cattle being sold. The cooperative’s video sale lots are available in all four locations. “This is our newest venture,” explains Johnson. “It’s not new to the industry but new to us.

The cooperative also stocks a full-line of specialized animal health care products, yet another way BC Livestock supports cattle ranchers. “We stock livestock health products and handling equipment,” details Johnson.

Grounded in Trusted Relationships

Overall it’s a two way relationship, if the ranchers do well, so does the cooperative. “Our industry is really built on trust,” adds Johnson. “We operate by developing personal relationships and supporting the ranchers who make the business possible. The operation just wouldn’t be possible without this connection.”

While maintaining relationships between producers and the intimate team at BC Livestock, there is room for alteration in other areas. According to Johnson, the Vanderhoof location is the cooperative’s newest facility. “We’re always trying to maintain and improve our facilities,” he details. “We’d like to expand but I am aware there will be big changes in the market in the future which could somewhat alter the direction we take”

The cooperatives first commitment is to its valued cattle producers who both own and operate BC Livestock. As the cooperative continues to grow, it remains rooted in this partnership, ensuring that local ranchers can sell and bring home – as Johnson would say – a cheque the same day. Due to the team’s honesty and long practiced values BC Livestock Producers Co-Operative Association remains one of the industry’s oldest and most trusted.