Erbs sell Livestock Auction to McCoys

Wednesday, March 4, 2020
Erbs sell Livestock Auction to McCoys
Erbs sell Livestock Auction to McCoys

Dillon’s John and Phyllis Erb have enjoyed a long and prosperous partnership. Their son Cal feels that the successful 67 year marriage has been built on a trusting relationship in which life’s decisions were made together, in agreement, for better or worse. Throughout a lifetime in agriculture, real estate development, and banking, their combined ability to do the right thing has been on the mark. In the past few months, the couple decided to sell the Beaverhead Livestock Auction, a jewel in the Erb portfolio.

“Well, I’m 88 and I get around with a walker,” said John on Sunday after noon, when asked why the time was right to sell the business. “I am going to miss the people. All the people who work there, the buyers and sellers. People like Judy Tash and Cody Brown, and Neal Larson who has been coming to sales for 35 years. But, I just couldn’t do anything anymore. I’m too old.”

John agreed with his son’s assessment of his joint decision making success with Phyllis.

“She makes the big decisions,” laughed Erb. “I make the small decisions.”

Cal Erb is an attorney and is heavily involved in the Erb business affairs. Like John, the son sensed it was just time to sell the livestock auction.

“Everybody is getting older and tired and they want to do other things,” explained Cal. “Labor is hard to find and some of the key people left, so it was time to make a transition.”

Cal revealed the bittersweet nature of such a decision. He said with the Coronavirus situation, there is a lot of concern about travel and arrangements for buyers and sellers and where sales are going to be and it is a relief not to be involved as global health scare unfolds and creates uncertainty in the business world.

“On the other hand, it is something that was part of our family and our structure for 41 years,” said Cal of family members gathering at the auction yard for Thursday sales.

John Erb grew up in Idaho Falls and when he graduated from high school, he came to Montana to learn the cattle trading business. He began driving for Floyd Skelton, a cattle man who owned the Idaho Falls Auction and for a time, the Butte Auction. John began learning the business of buying and selling cattle.

As time moved on, John and Phyllis invested in real estate in both Montana and Idaho and when his father-in-law started the Bank of Commerce in 1959, both John and Phyllis bought shares.

“Dad and mother bought shares,” said Cal. “It has always been the two of them. They’ve always done it together.”

Cal explained that the name change from Beaverhead Livestock Auction to Dillon Livestock Auction was necessary because of the corporate structure and assets that were not included in the sale with the Livestock Auction. Thus it was easier for the corporation to retain the Beaverhead Livestock Auction name.

“We still have a lot of assets in that corporation,” said Cal. “Rather than clean out the entire corporation, it is easier to transfer the physical assets.”

The assets transferred to Barry and Dannielle McCoy on Monday.

Barry’s journey to Dillon, Montana began in California. His grandfather Dave McCoy founded the Mammoth Ski Resort. Barry’s dad worked for the family business, but Barry came to Montana many times to visit his uncle Dennis “Poncho” McCoy. Dennis and his wife Bev ranched in the Dillon area and through that exposure, Barry made a life decision to become involved in agriculture.

When Barry graduated from high school, he moved to Bozeman and enrolled at Montana State. He would graduate with a degree in Ag business and a minor in farm and ranch management. He would land a job with Farm Credit Services and soon begin to lease land and run cattle. He now runs about 2,000 mother cows and 1,200 yearlings on leased and owned property in various areas throughout the county. The McCoy home place is on the East Bench where Barry and Dannielle are raising their three children.

Barry also became involved in the trucking business, hauling cattle to auction yards throughout Montana and Idaho. He now runs 13 trucks and spends a fair bit of time on the road.

“We had heard word of mouth that it might be coming up for sale,” said Barry. “Originally, I thought it would be a good valueadded business. We already run a farm and ranch, we have cows, and the other part of my business is we run a trucking company hauling livestock.”

Barry emphasized that he is not interested in “reinventing the wheel” and that there will be very few changes in the way Dillon Livestock Auction will do business compared to the way Beaverhead Livestock Auction operated.

“It is a well run business and it has good employees,” said Barry. “We’re going to do some updates, but beyond that, we’re going to have a traditional auction market on Thursdays.”

Barry and Cal have almost identical answers for the question of why a livestock auction is important to Beaverhead County. The cow-calf numbers of over 100,000 in Beaverhead rank first in Montana in a ranking by number, and according to both men puts Beaverhead among the top 10 counties nation-wide.

“Cattle is the biggest source of wealth and income in this county so it just makes sense to have a livestock auction in Dillon and Beaverhead County,” explained Cal.

Barry feels that local access to markets is very important for area producers. He also feels he might be able to get a bigger share of the Idaho market after the Idaho Falls Auction Barn closed this past winter. McCoy’s trucks travel loaded into Idaho and many times return to Montana empty. An increase of customers from Idaho would help both entities.

For now, Barry wants to assure long-time customers of Beaverhead Livestock Auction that is mainly going through a name change to Dillon Livestock Auction. He says longtime employees are staying, there will still be free lunch on sale days for buyers, sellers and employees, and he will be on hand to answer any questions and to address problems or concerns.

“He’ll have his ups and downs and he’ll have that learning curve,” explained Cal of the new owners. “They’re young, they’ve got lots of enthusiasm and energy. I think they’ll do fine. We’ll help in the transition and we’ll go to the sales and stuff. We’re still going to be around.”

Barry is indeed enthusiastic about his families’ new venture.

“I’m excited about it,” concluded Barry. “It is definitely a big undertaking for us, that is for sure. I’m hoping we can get 41 years in like John did and be able to pass the torch on to our kids or the next generation and it is something that is sustainable for the Dillon community.”

Spring renewal

Beaverhead Livestock Auction owner John Erb, at left, and his wife Phyllis recently sold the business to Barry and Dannielle McCoy. The Erb’s owned the business for 41 years. Barry, 41, and Danielle are shown on Monday, the day the sale closed, in the pen area of what will now be known as Dillon Livestock Auction. They will hold their first sale this Thursday when the Split Diamond Ranch puts up for sale over 130 yearling Angus bulls. Erb is pictured earlier this year at the sale arena, attending his last sale at Beaverhead Livestock Auction before heading south to Arizona. J.P. Plutt photo