Touring the Keady Market

Keady Market – Since 1951
“If a gate’s closed, close it again. If it’s open, leave it open or you’ll get in trouble.” Those were the simple instructions given by Howard Greig as our group of farm writers from the Eastern Canada Farm Writers’ Association followed him through the chutes in the cattle sheds at the Keady Market.
It was late Tuesday morning in early September. The beef cattle were just finishing up their sale while across the road the pigs and goats and sheep waited their turn. Chickens, ducks, geese and rabbits sat in boxes and crates of all shapes and sizes in the auction ring lobby, while outside, before the rain hit, up to 250 vendors sold market vegetables, antiques, deli meat, crafts, home baked goods and sweets.  Buskers played their instruments while neighbours shared greetings, a coffee and a few stories.
Located in the heart of Ontario beef country, the bustling Keady Market runs every Tuesday from May 19 to October 13, attracting thousands of customers, rivaling St. Jacobs in popularity. It is one of several regular livestock auctions in the province, joining regular sales in Brussels, Cookstown, and Kitchener, and occasional sales in Cargill, Hanover, Wiarton and Manitoulin Island.
Keady Market is 10 miles south west of Owen Sound, at a quiet crossroads where you’re more likely to hear crickets on the other days of the week. It started as an auction in 1951 in a church shed, providing somewhere for the locals to bring their cattle to sell.
Howard Grieg is the livestock manager and one of the auctioneers at Keady. He says that the auction has declined from 20 years ago but still manages to move up to 1800 head twice a week. Their four-day Calf-O-Rama sale of local calves remains a benchmark for the province. October and November are the big months for cattle, earlier if it’s been a dry year, but this year pasture has been good.
Prices have also been good: “Unprecedented” was the word Grieg used to describe the buoyant cattle market. Why? Numbers are down but demand is still holding, said Grieg. The prices started to take off back in February.
As he explained, when BSE hit, the typical seven-year beef cycle was just starting to rise up.  The cattle continued to come through at that time – the numbers were there then but the money wasn’t. “Lots just got out,” said Grieg, and farmers weren’t about to rent land for $180 an acre to run cattle, especially with seven or eight dollar corn, to start up again.
Bruce County is number one for beef; Grey County is number two, says Grieg, but farmland has been getting bought up and fences have been coming down. “It’s a slow process to re-build.” Heifers were let go then, and now they’re worth so much they’re going to market once again, a sign that herd size isn’t about to increase quickly. What would you do, take $2300 to $2500 for that heifer now or put her in with the bull? Charolais sell the highest; Angus isn’t far behind, then Limousin, but there’s not much difference anymore, says Grieg. If the quality is there, they’ll sell well.
There aren’t many pigs now, said Grieg. Most of them have gone south. Only one or two were in the pens that day. Pigs sell well in the spring because there aren’t many, but there are even less at this time of year. Sheep attract two or three large buyers. Mr. Greek – ‘Louis’ – from Toronto is a huge buyer. Sometimes he comes to the auction himself, sometimes he sends a buyer.
So far Grieg says they haven’t had any trouble with animal activists. “We’re farmers. We know how to treat an animal.” The vet is present all day during the sales, and has the authority to reject an animal or tag it for slaughter only. Up to seven inspectors from various levels of government may drop by at any time.
Grieg enjoys being an auctioneer. The most challenging part of the job, he says, is when you have to handle wild cattle. As a licensed RFID tagging facility, Grieg has had to deal with some crazy animals that may have been running in the bush for five years. And he’s careful to always respect a bull.
Grace Kuhl is the fifth generation of the Kuhl family to work at the market, joining our tour group with a warm welcome. Her great, great grandfather, Julius, was an auctioneer.  Her grandfather, Gary Kuhl, is now the manager; her dad, Scott, and uncle Ron are both auctioneers. Now Grace, who is just starting Grade 11, has an eye on attending auctioneering school next summer. There aren’t many women in that line of work but she’s proud to help carry on the family tradition.
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