A major cattle-exporting facility in southwestern Manitoba is out of commission after a devastating fire.
“The entire structure burnt down. The main building, offices, staff rooms, lunch area, the barn — everything,” said Brock Taylor, who owns and operates the family-run Taylor Auction Mart just outside of Melita. “Our plan, in a perfect world, would be to rebuild and be up and running by mid-August.”
Flames were spotted arising out of the building the evening of May 23. When fire crews arrived on the scene at 7 p.m., the tin structure was completely engulfed in flames causing the firefighters to take defensive action, containing the fire to the building.
“The last load of cattle went out at 9:30 on Friday morning. So there were no people and no animals on the site at that time, which was extremely fortunate,” said Taylor.
According to the local fire chief the fire began in the front of the building. Investigators ruled it as accidental, caused by an electrical malfunction. Losses were estimated at $1.5 million.
Taylor Auction is located along Highway 83 and has been a staple to the community of Melita since opening its doors in 1971.
“We bought the facility in 2004 but I had worked here several years before that. My father has been here pretty well right from the day the place had its first sale in 1971. He worked here and then we have owned it from 2004 on,” said Taylor.
In recent years, the facility hasn’t been used as an auction mart, but rather as an export facility, aiding cattle producers in shipping cattle, mainly to the U.S.
“This was a buying-gathering station and processing facility for cattle, mostly going south. When we were in our peak season, we were probably handling about eight to 12 semi loads a day, six days a week,” said Taylor.
Taylor notes that approximately 70 per cent of cattle they shipped to the U.S. was bound for Nebraska, but the facility also shipped the occasional load to Western Canada.
“Any time you lose those bits and pieces of infrastructure within the province it is pretty significant and Manitoba is a province where we have a lot of cattle moving whether it is east, west, or south, so this was a big hit for us,” said Melinda German, general manager of the Manitoba Beef Producers.
“It is such a diverse industry we have all through the value chain and assembly yards like this one was an important part of that fabric and an important part to allow producers access to various markets.”
Curtis Gervin, who farms 10 miles north of Melita with his brother, says the Taylors were the “go-to guys” for preparing and exporting cattle.
“This loss is going to have a big impact in southeast Saskatchewan and southwest Manitoba,” said Gervin. “There are certainly other facilities that are doing this, but no one that is handling the scale of animals that the Taylor family has been. My brother and I transported three feeder heifer loads through that facility about a month and a half ago, but there are cattle buyers that might ship three or four semi loads a day through that facility.”
Gervin said while producers can do the work and export the cattle directly from their own operations, the Taylor facility offered efficiency in the process.
“They specialize in this service. They were really a one-stop shop and it definitely saved time and the headache of making all the arrangements on your own. They were very good at it and knew exactly what to do to meet the necessary criteria,” said Gervin.
Now, as the prospect of COOL being eliminated increases, the Taylors are hopeful to get the insurance and reconstruction process underway to be ready for the possible future increase in cattle exports to the U.S.
“We are definitely planning to rebuild the facility as quickly as we can. We have insurance on the building and have already begun the process of filing,” said Taylor.