By Tina Snell, Staff Writer
On Jan. 6, much of the Tri-County Livestock complex in Motley burned to the ground. Thankfully, it was Sunday evening and not many people were around. No one was hurt.
Owner Joe Varner lost a 75-foot by 124-foot cattle pole building and a 60-foot by 90-foot area that housed his offices, restaurant, kitchen and cattle arena.
Varner though, has not been sitting around, contemplating his losses. By Jan. 28, the new buildings on the same site began taking shape.
“The 90 poles are up, after augering through four feet of frost,” he said. “The scale pit is dug and the scale is scheduled to be installed Monday.”
That new scale will hold more cattle than the old one. It will be able to weigh up to 70 animals, 700 pounds each, at one time.
The new office and restaurant area will increase in size to 60 feet by 112 feet, about doubling the seating capacity to 125. The cattle arena will be about the same size as before.
One new feature Varner is adding is a catwalk from the arena to where the cattle are held, so buyers will be able to view the animals from above.
Another new feature will be the computerization of sales.
“When the cattle are sold, the information will go straight to the office and be processed faster than before,” Varner said.
Varner, who owns other sale barns in Bagley, Pierz, Winger, Fergus Falls and Frazee, said the loss of Motley’s sales barn has hit the local economy hard.
“Cattle buyers and sellers come from long distances to the weekly Motley sales. On an average Wednesday, Tri-County grossed $1 to $2 million and upwards of $5 million. These people come to town, buy gas, do business at local banks, eat at the restaurants and stop at the local bars. It has been a loss to the area.”
Varner’s Wednesday sales in Motley moved to Pierz after the fire, and because of the change, he has lost some customers.
“That, and the impact to the community, is why I am building so quickly,” he said.
Varner is grateful to Loidolt Lumber in Pierz and the two general contractors, Chad Poser and Mike Poster, who have worked through the sub-zero temperatures and snow storms to get his business up and running again.
“I am anticipating I will be having sales again by the end of March or the beginning of April,” he said.
By the publication of the Morrison County Record’s Feb. 17 issue, Varner expects the rafters to be in place. The following week the scale will be installed as will the tin on the exterior.
“Tri-County Livestock has had its troubles, but I am looking toward better all-around efficiency in the future,” Varner said. “I so appreciate all the support I and my employees have received. We will be better than before when we open again, for both the buyers and the sellers.”