5 Valleys Livestock to Close, Montana Knife Company to Transform Site

May 8, 2024

After May 11th, the iconic sale ring at Five Valleys Livestock Auction, situated west of Missoula, MT, will cease normal operations as a livestock market leaving many local livestock owners bewildered about what lies ahead. The last cattle sale took place at the yards on May 2, 2024. A horse sale this weekend will conclude sales at the facility. 

Frenchtown rancher Che Garrard shared his frustration with now having nowhere locally to market his livestock.

“Obviously, it's not preferred for us guys that have cattle and sell cattle,” said Garrard. “There is Great Falls and there's Ramsey that we can go to. I had four yearlings that I needed to get rid of, and I took them in last week, because I knew I would not have another chance. And, if we start shipping them somewhere else, it's going to cost us more money. So, you know, as far as the ranchers stand on it, it's not preferred at all.”

Watch the special report on the future of the Missoula area stockyards here: 

Amidst swirling speculations on social media regarding the fate of the land, the historic stockyards won't face demolition.

Instead, the locally-owned Montana Knife Company is stepping in by purchasing the site and unveiling plans for a new storefront on an undeveloped section of the property. The existing stockyards will remain and be used as transfer yard, to truck livestock to Montana Livestock Auction in Ramsay.

Josh Smith, owner of Montana Knife Company said a lot of thought, discussion with stakeholders, and planning went into the decision to purchase the land.

“It really was something that we did a lot of looking and talking to different people, and trying to figure out what we could do, because I didn't want it to go away entirely,” said Smith. “My own daughter has sold her 4H heifers through there, and I'm neighbors with all these ranchers.”

Smith explained that the livestock yards have been on the market for several years. Several local ranchers explored the option to possibly buy it, but never did due to several factors. He said he understands the frustration from area ranchers.

“We're actually going to keep it open as a transfer center,” Smith explained. “It is going to be a little bit of a change, but it was very important to me that ranchers had a place to take their cattle locally-- where they didn’t have to haul stock trailers clear over to Butte or to Great Falls or wherever they were going to go.”

Watch the entire conversation with Josh Smith of Montana Knife Company here:

Starting on Monday, June 3rd, Montana Livestock Auction (located in Ramsay) will begin utilizing the Missoula area stockyards as a receiving station from 7:00 AM to 1:00 PM. The pickups will then occur every Monday before MLA’s Tuesday sale dates. Cattle cannot be overnighted.

It is bittersweet watching the end of an era for the livestock market in Missoula County. It’s something ranchers in Western Montana and across the nation have experienced for decades as their local livestock markets close up shop for various reasons. 

“It's not the best feeling because it's the end of that chapter,” said rancher Che Garrard.

“We're going to have to deal with it and figure out how to sell our calves and our dry cows or whatever obstacle course we got to do. It's not preferred, and I don't like it. But I don't hold anything against Josh Smith that bought it. It's [the Livestock Auction] been up for sale off and on for three to five years. It’s been struggling.”

For Smith and Montana Knife Company, he hopes he can best serve area ranchers with a new arrangement and help support the community he calls home.

"I'm actually really proud of the business that we're growing in Missoula County and in the Frenchtown School District and the tax dollars that are going to that," said Smith.

"I started Montana Knife Company in my garage during COVID in 2020,” he reflected. “My kids started helping me grind knives and handles. We've completely bootstrapped it. We haven't taken on big time investment or any of that.”

With 56 employees, Montana Knife Company is outgrowing the shop that Smith built in his horse pasture.

“That's why we need this property,” Smith stated. “We're growing, and we're putting a new building up right along the interstate on the part of the ground that's not being utilized by the stockyards.”

Smith said he feels a responsibility to utilize the ground in a respectful way.

“When I was looking at maybe potentially not purchasing it, one of the ranchers locally said, ‘Well, if you don't buy it, somebody from out of state is going to buy it and they're definitely going to shut it all down,’ shared Smith.”

“We're very, very proud of the fact that it's not going to be a Hilton Hotel," said Smith. “It's actually going to be Montana based and started, owned and operated, and family run business that's providing a lot of jobs to, frankly, a county that's been losing jobs.”

Smith referenced several businesses that have recently closed in the area.

"Pyramid Lumber just shut down in Seeley, and the chipboard plant in Missoula shut down," he said. “I'm very proud of the fact that we're kind of moving against the tide, and we're actually growing a company in Montana. We're local and we're hiring a lot of people and we're a benefit to our county and to our area. So, that's kind of the plan for now.”

Source: Western Ag Network