Paying attention to details for 43 years

Chapter closes at the Great Northern Land, Cattle Company


FOND DU LAC, Wis. — For over 40 years, the Great Northern Land and Cattle Company has played an integral role in marketing dairy cattle, not only in Wisconsin but throughout North America.

Rick and Paula Bovre closed out a 43-year career earlier this year with the sale of the Great Northern facility in Fond du Lac.

While the site that has served as a gathering place for dairy cattle enthusiasts for years will take on a new life, the Bovres, lifelong members of the dairy industry, will continue to manage on-farm and online production sales. Paula plans to increase the volume of catalogs she creates for other sale managers.

“The highlight for us has been the people we work with: the buyers, sellers, sales staff and fitters,” Paula said. “We love working with the cows, but the people make this business what it is.”

Launched by David Bachmann, a well-known Wisconsin Holstein breeder, along with several partners, the Great Northern became a gathering spot for the dairy industry.

The first sales — the Great Northern Warm-Up and the Great Northern Inaugural Sale — were held May 6, 1981.

The Warm-Up, held in the afternoon, averaged $2,163 on 72 lots while the Inaugural Sale that evening averaged $8,440 on 67 lots.

The top seller for the night sale was a January-born Roybrook Tempo daughter of Gene-Acres Felicia May Fury EX97-5E, which commanded a price of $40,000 from Dreamstreet Holsteins of Walton, New York.

The final cattle sale at Great Northern Land and Cattle Company was Jan. 30.

The Bovres began their involvement in the business Sept. 1, 1981, just days after their wedding.

“Rick’s brother, Greg, was working with David, and they were looking for someone to manage the Great Northern,” Paula said. “Rick was classifying, and I had just graduated from college and was working in Al Piper’s office. We were young and eager; it seemed like the right step.”

The Bovres settled in quickly, buying an ownership share from an original investor within six months to become partners in the business. Over time, partnership shares have changed hands, and the Bovres continued to increase their ownership in the business.

Throughout the last 43 years, the Bovres have witnessed a bevy of changes in the way they have conducted business, from landline phones and catalogs complied with a typewriter to the advent of cell phones, the internet and online bidding.

Despite those changes in technology, one constant has remained: the attention to detail paid to each sale and each animal sold.

According to Rick, 961 sales have been held and each was managed the same.

“No matter how big or small, whether it was a high-profile sale or a monthly production sale, we always did it the same,” Paula said. “We always gave our best effort regardless of what sale it was.”

Managing the 2019 National Holstein Convention Sale in Appleton ranks high on the Bovres’ list of most memorable sales.

Having a football theme throughout, the sale featured two segments: a genomic section before dinner, which averaged $45,493 on 28 lots and had a $300,000 sale topper, and a live sale after dinner, which averaged $5,475 on 52 lots and auctioned a higher seller at $24,000.

The venue made it memorable for the Bovres.

“The cattle were housed on the rooftop of the convention center and were taken to the sale ring in the convention center via the service elevator,” Rick said. “This was kind of a thrill to watch and be a part of.”

The extra effort the Bovres put into their work became their trademark, shining through in each animal sold at the Great Northern.

“Every animal that went through the Great Northern was washed and clipped,” Rick said. “We appreciate how cattle look after you’ve done that; consignors and buyers do too. We’d have consignors come for the sale and say, ‘Where’s my cow?’ They almost didn’t recognize them. They change a lot after you clip and wash them and present them full of milk. You put the effort into presenting them and hope they bring the extra money.”

Thousands of dairy cattle have been struck off at the Great Northern and many are memorable, Rick said.

“A number of animals that became high-profile cows went through our sales,” Rick said. “They weren’t high profile at the time, but they became cows that impacted the breed.”

Two that come to mind for Rick and Paula are Stookey Elm Park Blackrose-ET and Wesswood-HC Rudy Missy-ET.

“It’s been interesting to watch how all that evolved, and everybody who has kicked themselves for overlooking animals like that after the fact,” Paula said. “A lot of cows like that have gone through the ring here, but those two stick out because you see them both in so many pedigrees.”

Blackrose passed through the sale ring as a bred heifer Dec. 6, 1991, where the final bid was for $5,400 to Mark Rueth and Mark VanMersbergen. She achieved acclaim and became a prominent brood cow in both sectors of the Holstein breed.

Selling as a 5-year-old cow, Rudy Missy’s potential attracted the attention of Matt Steiner of Pine Tree Holsteins Feb. 14, 2003. A locally bred cow, Missy was the top seller, garnering a bid of $8,100. Missy’s influence continues across three decades.

While their role in helping breeders market the best genetics is documented, the Bovres are most proud of the role they have played in helping develop leaders throughout the industry.

“I enjoy watching these people that we had employed here as young kids,” Rick said. “There have been hundreds of young kids that have worked here over the years: clipping, washing, watching nightline and that kind of stuff. A few have turned into Klussendorf winners, have nice farms and herds of cattle now. They are the people others are wanting to hire to clip for them.”

Paula agreed. She said the relationships developed with their workforce strengthened their commitment to their work.

“It’s not only been a good place for them to practice but to learn not only about fitting and caring for cattle but many life lessons in general,” Paula said.


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